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What exactly IS Loose Leash Walking?

Loose leash walking is one of the most common goals people have for their dog, but it seems every third person has a different idea of what “loose leash walking” even is. Does the dog need to be on the left side? Can they stop and sniff? Can they ever walk in front of the person? How much does any of it matter? The answer is: it depends!

So, to start, I want to give my definition of loose leash walking. Loose leash walking is simply when your dog can walk on leash without pulling or adding tension to the leash. The dog doesn’t need to be staring at their person the whole time, but should have some awareness of the person attached to them. Depending on the dog and situation, we may add more criteria on top of that definition, but as a baseline goal, it doesn’t need to be much more complicated.

When I’m walking in my neighborhood and there is no one around, my dog is allowed to walk in front of me, stop to sniff, and I even let her pick the route we take most days. She is simply not allowed to pull me. If we need to get past another person, I do ask her to walk closer to me for that short stretch, and then she’s allowed back in front of me. I let her zig-zag in front of me, but I don’t let her go behind me, because it’ll tangle up the leash. When we are within our apartment complex, however, she needs to walk right at my side because there are lots of spots where people and their dogs can suddenly pop out. I can’t let her go straight up to other people’s doors or go around blind corners. Both of these count as loose leash walking, but they look really different. It just depends on the context!

 Here are a couple other examples to consider:

  • If you live in a downtown apartment with an extremely reactive dog, you’ll need your dog to walk right at your side with great focus until you get to a patch of grass for a potty break. You probably won’t want your dog to be stopping to sniff along the way, because you need to keep moving in case triggers pop up.

    • Take that same environment, but with a calm, social dog. You’ll still need the dog to walk closely at your side to navigate the hallways and get past other people, but you could allow for a bit wider radius, and sniff breaks won’t hurt anything.

  • If you live in a quiet neighborhood with a calm, social pup, you will likely be fine with letting your dog walk a bit ahead of you, zig zag in front of you, and stop to sniff every other bush.

    • Take that same dog and neighborhood, but add a stroller into the mix, and now you’ll need the dog to walk closer to your side, and certainly not cross in front of the stroller.

It’s not a matter of one right way that dogs must walk, but instead teaching the dog to walk in a way that works for you, the dog, and the environment. For any of these situations, as long as the dog isn’t pulling on the leash, it counts as loose leash walking!

I do also want to differentiate between loose leash walking and heeling. Heeling is when the dog’s shoulder is right at their persons’ leg. The dog stops, slow downs, and turns exactly when the person does. They are not allowed to look around, and so must be looking up at their person the entire time. This is what you see in competition obedience, and it’s rarely needed in real life. It’s very challenging for dogs to do and take a ton of training to accomplish. It can be a fun challenge to work on if you like training, but no dog is doing this for an entire walk. Some people may call it heeling any time a dog is walking at a person’s side, but there is a difference in the amount of focus and precision needed between the two!

So if you haven’t already, take a moment to think about what you want loose leash walking to mean for you and your dog! If you need some help working on your pups leash walking skills, you can always reach out to us! And check out our free downloadable handout Tips for Loose Leash Walking.

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