Getting your dog to walk with a loose leash is part art, part science. It involves constant communication with your pup. Ideally, you are shooting for a dog that is attentive to you, walks by your side (right or left, but be consistent), and the leash is hanging in the form of the letter J. As an aside, you should have plenty of high value treats with you, your dog should have not eaten in the last 2 hours, and she has eliminated recently. Additionally, you should practice loose leash walking the last 10 minutes of every walk. Also, your pup should know the “look at me” command – practice taking a treat, holding it between your eyes and say “look at me!” and when your dog looks at the treat, say “yes!” and give your dog the treat. Do this for 2 minutes a day for 2 weeks and she will look at you when you say the command.
So, start out on the sidewalk in front of your house. Better yet, if you have an empty parking lot use that. You want to limit the distractions when starting out – smells on the grass are distractions. When you practice, walk over the same 50 yards back and forth so your dog knows the territory and will be less interested in the distractions and more interested in your treats. You should have a standard 6-foot leash (not a retractable), and you should wrap your hand in the leash so that the leash dangles in the form of the letter J. Begin walking and use the command “with me” to tell your dog you want him to stay by your side. He obviously won’t know the command right away, but read on. If your pup walks just 5 steps by your side with a loose leash in the form of the letter J, say “yes! with me!” and reward her. She most likely will not walk 5 steps on a loose leash – rather, she will either drag behind, pull to the side, or walk ahead of you. When this happens, you must quickly say “no! with me!” and tug the leash briskly to get her back to her spot by your side. Continue walking at your normal pace as you do this.
So you’re moving now, down the sidewalk and you’re constantly engaged with your pup. Every time you walk five steps with a loose leash, you are saying “yes! With me!” and treating her. Whenever she is not “with me” it means that the leash has become tight, either because she is dragging behind, pulling to the side or walking in front of you. And we know that when the leash is tight, a “no!” is coming out of your mouth as soon as that leash gets tight – and the words “with me!” follow. So when the leash gets tight, you are saying “no! with me!” and tugging the leash such that your dog comes back in line by your side. You can also ad lib running commentary like “no! with me! and yes! with me! good girl! Good job yes! with me!”. Let your pup know how she is doing all the time.
There’s more. Every time your pup looks up at your say “yes!” and offer her a treat. If she is looking at you for more than a few seconds, give her another “yes! with me!” and so on. You want her to know that you appreciate her focus on the task at hand. One last thing. Your pup may be a “puller” or a “sled dog”, meaning she pulls hard in front of you. When that happens, it’s not “no! with me!” but rather “no! let’s go!” and immediately reverse direction. This tells her that not only are we not going where you want to go, but we are now getting further away.
During this whole process, it’s important not to stop walking at your normal pace. All of the above happens real time, all of the time. Your pup will learn in no time that walking right next to you is the most rewarding place to be and that any other place is not as fun. It should take a few days for her to become excellent at her new walk. After that, start rewarding her every 10 steps, then 20, then 30, then after a week or two, every once in a while. Also, after a few weeks, it should be second nature for her to be “with me” and your walks will become thoroughly enjoyable!