This exercise trains your dog to look at you rather than focusing on or being distracted by the environment. Rewarding your dog for eye contact increases the chance of the lead staying loose. Your dog learns that paying attention to you when out on a walk makes good things happen. Loose lead walking is a slack lead, not heel position. Dogs can be in any position as long as the lead is loose. 

Benefits

  • Walks are more enjoyable when your dog doesn’t pull
  • Improved focus and relationship 
  • Eye contact is a good foundation for many other training exercises

Who is it good for?

  • Reactive dogs – loose lead walking is one of the most important foundational exercises for dogs with reactive tendencies
  • Distracted dogs – we can move them past a distraction while they’re giving us eye contact 

Before you begin

Decide which side you would like your dog to walk on. Put your treat pouch on his side and hold the lead in the opposite hand at your belly button, e.g.:

  • Dog on right? Treat pouch on right, hold lead with left hand.
  • Dog on left? Treat pouch on left, hold lead with right hand. 

Kit

  • Well-fitting harness
  • Lead at least 6′
  • Treat pouch 

Step 1: The circle of fun

  • With the lead attached and your dog in front of you, drop a piece of food on the floor every two seconds regardless of what your dog is doing – they will think this is the best place ever!
  • Stop feeding. Your dog should look up  at you as if to say “why has the food stopped?” When they do, mark and reward. If they don’t, just go back to step 1 until they give you eye contact that you can mark and reward. 

Step 2: Add steps 

  •  Take a small side step. If your dog has learned how great the circle of fun is, they will want to stay in it. Mark and reward eye contact. Repeat in both directions.
  • Take one pigeon step backwards.  Mark and reward eye contact. 
  •  Walk backwards with normal steps (check the ground for safety first), dog gives eye contact, mark and reward. Repeat. 

Step 3: Add a turn

  •  Walk backwards then turn to face forward, dog gives eye contact, mark and reward. Repeat. Every time we turn the dog has opportunity to check in. 

Step 4: Walking forwards 

  •  Walk forward, dog gives eye contact, mark and reward. 
  •  Walk forward, dog gives eye contact for a longer duration, mark and reward.  

Top tips

  • If your dog is unable to give eye contact, the environment is either too distracting or you may have moved on too quickly. 
  • Allow your dog to explore a new area first. Avoid trying to compete with their need to understand the environment by asking them to do loose lead walking exercises.

A big thank you to Justine Watts, Alfie and Bella for the demo video!