Loose-lead walking can be taught from an early age and is about establishing a set of rules that makes it pleasant for both you and your dog to enjoy a walk. 


Start at Home

Training should start in your backyard, with your dog off-lead and plenty of high-value treats on hand. Try chopped up BBQ chicken, small cubes of cheese or leftover sausages. But nothing too salty and definitely nothing with onion, garlic or chocolate!

Stand still, and say and do nothing. Eventually your dog will look at you. When they do, immediately mark and reward the eye contact. Repeat this process for 1-2 minutes then do something else, like play a game.

Build up to longer periods of your dog giving you attention before rewarding them. Then start wandering around the yard (it’s fine if your dog looks away briefly, providing they’re still reasonably close to you). You are not actively encouraging your dog to look at you. They learn through their own actions.

The next step is to put your dog on a lead, wait until they look at you, then move one step away. Reward when they follow you. Repeat this a few times before finishing the session. Continue this exercise for a few days.

Then, to make the exercise more challenging, have a friend create slight distractions – like throwing a ball or opening a door.

Gradually, you can introduce more steps forward. Reward your dog as you move, so they realise that walking is what’s getting them the reward.

Keep the games short, 1-2 minutes and animated.

TIP: If your pet is not staying with you, ask yourself, ‘am I acting like this is a game, or a chore?’. If your dog isn’t having fun, you’re not doing it right!


Take it on the Road

Now you’re ready to take it on the road (make sure you’ve got the best treats in town on hand!).

Start walking with your pooch and, if the lead goes tight, stop and stand still. If your dog comes back to you, reward them. If they just turn their head and look at you, step sideways (so you’re not moving forward) and encourage them back to you. Then reward them and continue walking. If your dog ignores you completely (doesn’t look back), step to the side and ask for their attention. Then, walk in the opposite direction with them for a few paces before turning back and continuing in the original direction.

While you're walking, let your dog stop and sniff out hidden scents along the way. Sniffing is an important activity for dogs, as their sense of smell is better than their sight, so let them do this.

Gradually you can build up walking time and distance. Keep rewarding your dog for checking in with you.

Build up the distance between rewards while walking, but never stop treating completely, because behaviour that is never rewarded will extinguish over time.

If your dog is continuously pulling, go back to the previous training exercise.


The Equipment

A front-attaching harness is a good tool to give you more control and help teach your dog to walk nicely.

We recommend that you use a double-ended lead with a front-attaching harness. This can be made by threading the handles of two normal leads together, or you can purchase one.

One end of the lead is clipped to the front of the harness and the other to the back of the harness or normal neck collar. The dog is led from the back attachment and the front one is used for turning if they start to pull.

It’s essential that front-attaching harnesses are fitted correctly. The RSPCA WA retail shop in Malaga stocks Perfect Fit harnesses, and our friendly staff will happily help you get the right size and fit for your dog.


Training Your Dog Shouldn't Hurt

Extendable or bungee leads are not recommended for walking as they give you less control and, if your dog takes off and reaches the end of the lead, they can receive a jerk which could damage their neck. They also encourage pulling.

Check chains (choker chains or slip collars) or pronged/pinch collars must not be used as they cause pain and distress to animals.

RSPCA does not condone the use of electronic shock collars or citronella collars to modify your dog’s behaviour. They cause pain, fear and distress, and research has shown that, over time, these kinds of negative reinforcement training methods are not as effective as positive reinforcement training. You can find out more here.

Need support?

RSPCA WA Dog Training offers a range of classes and programs to help your dog become a well-behaved, sociable member of the family.

Using positive, reward-based training methods, expert Dog Trainers offer classes from Puppy Kindy (for pups 8-13 weeks old), Level 1 and Level 2 courses, to train dogs to walk on a loose lead, recall and more complex commands and techniques. You and your dog will benefit from small class sizes at various locations around Perth and the wider metropolitan area.