Teaching your golden retriever to walk on a leash without pulling is actually a lot harder than it looks.
If you’ve never had a puppy before, you might’ve seen dogs going for a walk in your neighborhood and just assumed they naturally knew how to walk on a leash (this is what I thought!).
However, this is not the case at all.
Dogs (especially golden retrievers) need to be taught how to walk on a leash without pulling.
And in this post, you’re going to learn how to teach your golden to walk on a loose leash.
Let’s dive in!
Teaching Your Dog To Walk On A Loose Leash
Most of the tips in this article are based on the YouTube video from Kris Crestejo, a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (a fancy certification that means she’s a really good dog trainer), as well as my experiences with my golden retriever, Oliver, who was a particularly bad puller.
The video is embedded at the bottom of this post and will give you some good visual aids for the steps outlined in this article.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Pull On The Leash?
Before you think about teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash, it’s important to know why they pull on the leash in the first place.
The biggest reason is that they have not been taught not to!
They’ve lived their whole lives without a leash, going wherever they please, as fast as they want.
So when you put a leash on them, they’re not used to it and still try to move how they’ve always moved, which results in them pulling.
In addition to the first reason, here’s the second: golden retrievers love everything and everyone.
They love life and are very curious, so when they see a new sight, or smell a new smell, they get excited and want to go explore it.
Trying to restrict their exploring with them on a leash is actually quite difficult (as you’ve probably already noticed).
And the third reason is this: they’ve learned that pulling gets them what they want.
For instance, let’s say you’re outside with your puppy on the leash for the very first time ever.
She sees a leaf blow by and wants to go check it out so she pulls towards it.
If you let her get to the leaf, she learns that pulling gets her what she wants, so technically, you’re rewarding her for pulling.
And this is how puppies learn to pull on a leash.
Tools You’ll Need To Teach Your Dog To Walk On A Leash
- 4-6 ft leash (we use this leash from Amazon)
- Collar (Oliver likes this one)
- Harness (preferably one that has a back clip and a front clip, like this one)
- Treats (we use these Zuke’s training treats, as well as boiled chicken)
- Clicker (I use the word “yes” to mark an action, but you can also use a clicker if you want)
A quick note on the treats: the treats need to be something your dog loves, something that is quick to deliver, and something that won’t take your dog forever to chew and swallow.
For young puppies, often their kibble is enough, but for dogs that are having a tough time with walking on a leash or ignoring distractions, you’ll need something of higher value, like chicken.
How To Introduce Your Puppy To The Leash And Harness
When introducing your puppy to new things, it’s best to take it slow and have a good experience with them.
For instance, you don’t want to just throw a harness and leash on your puppy and then take them out for a walk.
Here’s how you can break down getting your puppy used to a harness into baby steps:
- Let your puppy sniff the harness
- Slip it over their head and take it right off
- Put it on without buckling it, then take it off
- Buckle it on and then play together with the harness on
With each step, give them treats so they have a positive association with it, and don’t rush right into the next step.
If they’re not all that excited about a step, wait a few hours or until the next day to try it again.
Once you’re able to put the harness on, then you can attach the leash but hold it so that it’s not putting any pressure on them.
Set Your Golden Up For Success With Loose Leash Walking
Alright now that your dog is comfortable with wearing a harness with a leash attached, the next step is to start teaching loose leash walking!
But before you start it, you need to set them up for success.
First, make sure they’ve had enough exercise before you put the leash on.
Putting a leash on a golden retriever full of pent-up energy is like trying to lasso a raging bull—it’s just not a going to work.
Playing tug or fetch before you train will help take the edge off and make walking on a leash without pulling a lot easier.
Another tip for setting them up for success is to work on loose leash walking in an area with minimal distractions.
Start in the house, and then when they can pay attention to you and not pull in the house, go outside in the back yard or right in front of the house.
Slowly work towards more and more distracting environments, until they can pay attention to you and not pull on the leash anywhere.
2 Ways To Teach Your Golden Retriever To Walk On A Leash
When teaching your golden retriever to walk on a loose leash there are two strategies to use: the proactive strategy and the reactive strategy.
These aren’t mutually exclusive strategies—you’ll be doing them both often, and they’ll both help teach your dog that when they’re on the leash they’re supposed to stay near you and not pull off in their own direction.
The proactive strategy is when you mark and reward your dog proactively for doing what they’re supposed to be doing: looking forward and walking on a loose leash without pulling.
So if the two of you are walking and your pup is calmly walking next to you, mark that good behavior with a verbal marker (like “yes”) or with the clicker, and then give them a treat.
This works for three reasons:
- It rewards them for good behavior before they can start pulling
- It brings and keeps them close to you as they come to get the treat
- It encourages them to continue this good behavior
If you have a young puppy who rarely walks well on a leash, proactively mark and reward them often for walking well.
As they get better at walking, you’ll slowly mark and reward less and less.
Now a key detail to note here is to mark and reward them when they’re looking forward.
If they’re distracted by a squirrel, person, or another dog, you don’t want to reward them for that.
But once they look away from the distraction, reward and praise them heavily for that.
The reactive strategy is how to handle your dog when they start to pull.
You’re reacting to this unwanted behavior.
When your dog is doing something you don’t want them to do (like pulling) you never want to reward them for it.
In this case, what they want is to move forward, and if you go forward while they’re pulling, that’s just rewarding them and reinforcing this bad behavior.
Instead, if they start pulling you want to use the stop and go strategy.
When they start pulling you stop moving.
Once they loosen up on the leash, you can move forward again.
This teaches them that they don’t move forward unless the leash is loose, and if they pull, they don’t get what they want.
It’s simple enough but requires a lot of patience.
In addition to just stopping and going, you can also turn around each time your dog tries to pull in one direction.
I was watching a video recently where a trainer tried 32 times to walk outside the door with a dog that loved to pull.
Each time he stopped and went back inside until the 33rd time where the dog finally didn’t pull.
I don’t remember exactly how many times it took us to walk out of the door with our puppy, Oliver, not pulling us down the road, but it was definitely a lot.
It may take you 20 minutes to walk one block (or just to even get out of the door), but it will be worth it once your dog learns to walk on a loose leash.
Teaching Intense Pullers To Walk On A Leash
Do you remember when you learned to ride a bike?
You probably had training wheels to get you started, but eventually, you graduated and learned to ride a bike without training wheels.
The training wheels were a tool to help you learn to ride a bike and there are also tools to help your pup learn to walk on a leash.
If they’re an intense puller, you can start with a body harness clipped in the front.
When they pull with the leash clipped in front of the harness, they’re pulled sideways and have no power.
This is better than them pulling with the harness clipped in the back (where they can really get some power in pulling on the leash) or with a flat buckle collar (where they can damage their neck or throat).
However, just like you wouldn’t want to be riding a bike with training wheels as an adult, you don’t want to rely on these tools forever for your dog to walk properly on a leash.
When they stop pulling on the leash with clipped in front, you can start testing out and seeing how they do with a flat buckle collar or with the leash clipped on the back of the body harness.
You may need to go back to the basics, like practicing the proactive strategy, or even go into an environment with fewer distractions (like inside of your home), but your dog will likely be able to make progress quickly.
Sniffing And Walking
Dogs have really powerful noses and they love to sniff, so they should be allowed to sniff on a walk.
However, you don’t want to let them start sniffing and then try to pull on the leash so they can continue to follow whatever smelly trail they’ve picked up.
If they try to pull, stand still, and then when they loosen up on the leash come back to you, you can either continue on with the walk or let them continue to sniff.
How Long Does It Take To Teach Your Golden To Walk On A Leash?
Teaching your golden retriever to walk on a loose leash can take several months to a year (or even longer).
All dogs are different and it also depends on these two things:
- How often you work on loose leash walking
- How consistent you and your family are.
For instance, if you never let your pup pull and move forward, but your kid or spouse lets them get away with pulling when they walk them, it will take a lot longer.
It requires a lot of patience but it will be worth it once you can go on a relaxing, enjoyable walk with your dog.
Leash Walking Mistakes
When teaching your pup to walk loosely on a leash, here’s what not to do:
- Don’t practice long term heeling. The walk needs to be enjoyable for both you and your dog, so they should be allowed to relax and sniff as you two are walking, not strictly stick by your side and suppress their natural desire to sniff and explore.
- Don’t use choke chains, prong collars, or other aversive tools.
- Don’t reward them for pulling. Use the stop and go method.
- Don’t let them greet every person or dog you see on the street. They may get used to saying hi to everyone and try to pull every time they see someone.
- Don’t let them hurt themselves with a collar around their neck. Continued intense pulling could hurt their neck or throat, so consider using a body harness.
How To Teach Your Dog To Walk On A Leash [VIDEO]
It’s tough to imagine a dog like the one at the beginning of the video walking nicely on a leash (and maybe that’s your dog now) but she was able to master loose leash walking, and you can too!
Teaching your golden retriever to walk nicely on a leash may take several months and lots of patience, but you can do it and it will be worth it.
Remember to proactively reward them for walking on a loose leash and practice the stop and go method if they’re pulling.
A body harness with a front clip is like training wheels for dogs learning to walk on a leash and it’s also safer than a dog trying with all their might to pull while wearing a collar around their neck.
Have any questions about teaching your golden retriever to walk on a leash?
Let me know in the comments below!
And if you know someone who’s struggling to teach their golden to walk on a leash, please share this with them.
P.S. If you liked this article, you’ll love this article about how to crate train your golden retriever puppy.