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10 Simple Fixes to Make Leash Walking Easier for You and Your Pet

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Laura holding Korra the Therapy Dog's leash next to the words "10 Simple Fixes to Make Leash Walking Easier for You and Your Pet",  Leash Walking, Adventure Dog, Adventure Cat, Therapy Dog, Therapy Cat

Whether you're taking your pet on a hiking adventure or training them for their therapy animal certification, they need to have solid leash manners, but here's the thing:

Teaching your pet to walk nicely on a leash is HARD.

You have to learn a whole new way to communicate -- essentially a new language -- and then you have to teach it to your pet too! No matter what techniques you use, leash walking takes time, effort, and lots of practice, but these 10 simple tips for making leash walking easier for you and your pet should help to reduce that time, effort, and practice that you and your pet need to conquer loose leash walking!

10 Simple Fixes to Make Leash Walking Easier for You and Your Pet

White bully mix dog sleeping above the words "Calm pets are better at leash walking." Leash Walking, Adventure Dog, Adventure Cat, Therapy Dog, Therapy Cat

Teach your pet to be calm on their own.

Great leash walking starts long before you and your pet take off on a walk around the block. In fact, it should start before you even begin to move with your pet on the leash! Before we worry about improving your pet's leash walking skills, you'll need to teach them to be able to calm down around distractions on their own. It's time for you and your pet to work on relaxation drills! The two best relaxation drills to help your pet remain calm on leash are Sitting on the Leash and the Calm Down. These drills focus on teaching your pet to relax on the leash no matter what is going on around you. If your pet is not able to choose to disengage from the distractions around them leash walking is going to be super duper difficult, because you're basically always surrounded by distractions on a walk. Make sure that you are working on relaxation drills with your pet around different levels of distractions to set them up for success on all of your walks. Calm pets are better at leash walking.

Grab your copy of The Ultimate Guide to Actually Enjoying Your Next Adventure with Your Pet to get free tutorials on 3 different relaxation drills, including Sitting on the Leash and the Calm Down >>

Hold the leash in a safe and functional way.

Now that we've gotten your pet to start relaxing on their own around different distractions, it's time to take a look at how you are holding the leash. There are two things you should keep in mind when you are holding the leash: safety and functionality. Let's talk about safety first! Holding the leash the wrong way can be dangerous for both you and your pet. If the leash is wrapped around your fingers and your pet bolts off, you may wind up with some leash burn or even a broken a finger or two! And if your pet is burning or breaking your hand with the leash, do you think you'll be keeping a firm grip on it? Probably not! So now we're not only hurting you, but we're also endangering your pet as they take off across the street with their leash dragging behind them. Yikes! To keep you and your pet safe, especially when you're actively working on leash training, I recommend utilizing a thumb-lock to keep a firm and safe grip on the leash. Simply stick your hand (use the hand on the opposite side of your body from your pet for this part) through the loop at the end of your leash and then create a second loop in the leash, stick your thumb through that second loop, and wrap your fist around that part of the leash. Bam! You've created a thumb-lock. Go ahead! Tug as hard as possible on the end of the leash! Not painful at all, huh? Now that you've got a firm grip to anchor your leash, it's time to look at what your other hand is doing!

Make sure your hand closest to your pet is free to slide up and down the leash so you can choke up on the leash or give more slack as needed. You'll hold the leash with loose fist, with your palm angled towards the ground. This means that your pinky should be toward your pet! Now you're free to safely communicate with your pet via the leash!

Check out this video on holding the leash properly >>

Practice indoors first.

This is something that cat owners often get right more than dog owners, simply because of society's expectations for dogs and cats. We generally expect someone with a dog to potty them outside, walk them regularly, etc. Cat owners are not even expected to train their pets, so when we do it usually has to start at the very beginning... right where we should start with dogs too!

While our end goal is certainly to have our dogs and cats walk nicely on leash outside, we can set out pets up for success by introducing leash walking indoors in a low level of distraction, just like we do with every other command and behavior. Taking your pet on a walk around your living room or even around the whole house gives you a chance to practice your leash grip and to demonstrate your expectations for your pet without running into unexpected distractions like off leash dogs, squirrels, and loud vehicle noises.

Learn more about how to build up leash walking skills indoors. >>

Mark and reward good behavior.

When we're struggling with leash walking our pets, it can be really really easy to focus on the bad behaviors, on everything your pet is doing wrong... but that's not going to help strengthen your relationship with your pet and clarify what you do want them to do! Make sure to mark and reward for good behaviors. In fact, you should aim to mark and reward twice for every one time you have to tell your pet no... and considering every time the leash is tight it is telling your pet no, you're probably going to need to do a lot of rewarding to balance it out!

Look for the moments when the leash is loose, when your pet engages with you, when they ignore a distraction that they previously struggled to not react around, when they auto-sit as you come to a stop...when they do anything good!