The Box Step – Prelude to Loose Leash Walking

the box stepHave you ever considered how terribly hard it must be for your dog to walk slowly, on leash, in a straight line beside you? We get lots of requests about to get a dog to stop pulling when on leash.  The answer is the box step.

Think about it. When have you EVER seen a dog walk slowly in a straight line?

If your dog is like mine, she’s following her nose to all sorts of glorious smells left by who knows what creature and reveling in the glory of the moment (something we should do more of…the reveling, not the smelling!). And to be in a collar or harness, attached to a person with a leash is, at bests, constraining if not down right frustrating.

How horribly boring it must be to walk in a straight line with a slow two-legged human being!

I have empathy for my when when I think of my elderly mother. I remember as she aged and moved into her early-80’s, her gait became very, very slow. In order to keep pace with her I had to adjust my own fast paced walking gait to her turtle’s pace. Not at all easy to do and sometimes quite frustrating (even though I loved her to the moon and back). It’s like that for our dogs.

Just like anything else we teach our dogs, we have to train loose leash walking (also referred to as polite walking). It’s not a natural behavior for dogs, but a learned behavior. It’s imperative to make time to practice.

In order for the dog to succeeds, we need to break down the behavior of “walking on a loose leash” into small, achievable pieces.

I strive to make polite walking practice fun and interesting for my dog. Practicing in short spurts, varying the location and keeping things upbeat is key.

Tools that are helpful are a front-clip harness (the leash hooks on the front of the harness, not the back), a flat collar and a 4 to 6-foot nylon, leather or cotton leash (no retractable leashes please…they promote pulling and aren’t at all safe), a clicker to mark the moments when the leash is loose, and high value tiny pieces of food to reinforce your dog after you click.

Before you launch into walking any distance with your dog, practice The Box Step.

I like to get the dog accustomed to the “leash clasp hanging down”. This means the leash has to be loose. I click/treat multiple times while the dog is standing still, clasp down/leash loose. The dog has to think, “It can be this easy?” After a few rounds of this, we do what I call “the Box Step.” We have fun with our clients talking about all those dancing lessons they may have had in the past.

The Box Step involves taking a tiny step to the right. The dog may or may not move with me, but as long as the clasp is hanging down and the leash is loose, I click/treat. Then I take a tiny step to the left; click/treat. Then a tiny step back; click/treat. Step forward; click/treat.

Before long, the dog decides that staying very near you with the leash loose is quite fabulous!

Once the dog follows me in small steps right/left/back/forward, I then transition, with the dog at my left, to taking two or three steps forward, clicking as the dog moves with me and delivering the treats at my left knee.

How to set your dog up for success.

Before you practice:

1) Make sure your dog has had some solid off leash exercise before practice. Otherwise the desire for exercise will far outweigh walking slowly on a leash.

2) Have a cue to start the exercise. Mine is “Let’s Walk.”

3) Have a cue to stop the exercise and let the dog go do dog things. Mine is “Go sniff.”

4) Keep practice sessions short (3 to 5 minutes is fine). 

5) Use high value soft foods (hot dogs, cheese, vienna sausage) for reinforcing your dog when practicing out of doors.

6) Make sure you’re successful inside before you ever take it outside. Increase distractions gradually.

If you keep these things in mind and practice regularly (operative word: regularly) in a variety of low distraction areas and gradually moving to higher distraction areas, I have no doubt you’ll be successful.  We’d love to see photos or videos of you and your dog practicing The Box Step, so feel free to share them with us on the Cold Nose College Facebook page.  Contact us for more information!

Happy Training!

Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer), a Pat Miller Certified Trainer Level 2, Faculty for the Victoria Stilwell Academy of Dog Training and Behavior, a dog*tec Certified Professional Dog Walker and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina.  She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities and distance consults for clients, dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. and Europe.


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