One of the most frequent challenges I come across during dog training sessions is that even after some fundamental leadership training, dogs still tend to pull on the leash as soon as they are taken outside for a training walk. Slip leash training is the solution!
Through my experience as an integral dog trainer, I have found that a slip leash is an indispensable tool for establishing leadership and guiding a dog during structured training walks. It allows me to fine-tune the connection between the dog and myself, facilitating effective communication and ultimately leading to a perfect heel walk.
A slip leash, also referred to as a training lead, is a powerful tool that helps to discourage dogs from pulling ahead and teaches them to walk by heel. It is a simple leash made of a single length of rope or nylon that can be conveniently adjusted to fit around your dog’s neck.
It is designed to gently tighten around your dog’s neck when they pull on the leash, signalling to them that they need to slow down or come back to your side. Using a slip leash can help prevent your dog from pulling ahead and encourage them to stay close and walk beside you on a relaxed leash. If a dog pulls ahead and the leash is tight, you have lost control as the dog may believe it is in charge and not you.
When used correctly, a slip leash can be a safe and humane training tool that encourages positive behavior through clear communication and positive, mostly verbal reinforcement. It is crucial to use a slip leash only on dogs that have achieved a certain level of calmness and do not lunge ahead with excessive force or pull too hard.
It is important to never use excessive force or cause discomfort to your dog while using a slip leash. When I take a dog for a first training walk, I prefer to use both the regular leash and the slip leash in tandem to avoid any potential injuries or accidents in the event the dog abruptly pulls or reacts over excitedly to external stimuli.
The leader’s sphere of influence
There are two distinct types of dog parents: those who obsess over achieving a picture-perfect performance from their canine companions, where the dog walks just a few inches beside them, following their pace with military precision; and then there are those, such as myself, who give their furry friends a bit more leeway.
I always visualize a sphere of influence, like a circle right next to me. As long as my dog stays within it, I don’t mind if it takes a small step to the side to absorb a smell more intensely or to sniff around, as long as it doesn’t take action on its own and pulls ahead or strays too far to the side, causing the leash to tighten. Ultimately, it’s a personal preference as to how one wants their dog to heel walk. The most important aspect is that the dog clearly understands and behaves, knowing that I am in charge.
How to use a slip leash correctly
Step 1: Introduce the Slip Leash
After introducing the slip leash to the dog and allowing it to sniff and watch it, I use tasty, delicious chicken snacks which I had baked in my oven to create positive associations with the leash. It might help to rub a bit of chicken onto the leash, as long as Fluffy doesn’t think it’s a snack and tries to eat it.
Once the dog is comfortable with the presence of the slip leash, I gently stroke the dog with it and hold it in front of them while enticing them to put their head through it using a treat. Give it time until your dog is very comfortable with it and even looks forward to wearing the slip leash around its neck.
Next, I let the slip leash remain loosely around the dog’s neck for some time before tightening it, ensuring that there is always a space of at least two fingers’ width. Some slip leashes come equipped with a small mechanism to hold them in place.
Step 2: The right placement of the slip leash
Placing the slip leash high up on the neck is preferable as it is a more fragile and sensitive area than where the regular collar is fixed. This placement makes it significantly easier to guide and control your dog’s movements during walks. This heightened sensitivity improves the dog’s response to commands and encourages the dog to walk by heel, while reducing the likelihood of pulling ahead. While regular collars placed on the widest part of the neck may be more comfortable for the dog, they offer less control than a slip leash placed high up on the neck.
With the correct placement of the slip leash, you have the perfect tool to fine-tune your communication with your dog. I always see the leash as a physical bond between my dog and me, never as a restraint or tool to force a dog to be near me. My Integral Dog Evolution Approach is all about allowing your dog to understand your intentions and accept them happily, knowing it’s the best for them in any situation.
It’s crucial to repeat that slip leashes should only be used after the dog has undergone basic leadership training and is much more calm and reactive to any stimuli. You don’t ever want to hurt your dog using a slip leash. If used correctly, there is no danger and it can benefit you and your dog big time.
Step 3: How to walk your dog
When I begin the structured training walk with a dog, I always remind myself to switch on my “leadership mode” and ensure that my body posture is confident and that I am in a calm assertive state.
As I secure the handle of the leash around one hand, I use my other hand to hold it lightly, allowing me to sense and direct my dog’s movements. It creates an effective means of subtle communication between us. At times, I even tap the leash to alert my dog of upcoming situations, such as the sight of another dog in the distance. This way, my dog understands that as a leader, I am handling the situation and there’s no need for it to react.
I give a clear command like “Let’s go!” and walk very slowly and consciously, placing my feet one after the other, looking straight ahead, not at my dog. This is because I am the leader and not the babysitter of the dog.
If my dog begins to pull or walk ahead of me, I use the hand guiding the leash to give it a quick but gentle tug to signal the dog to slow down and not pull ahead. This creates a low level of discomfort for the dog which should never cause pain. I always compare it to pulling gently the brakes of a vehicle to slow it down.
When my dog reduces its pace and takes its position beside me, I instantly loosen the pull on the leash so that it hangs loosely and stops the discomfort the dog felt when it tightened while it was pulling ahead. Then, I give it enthusiastic verbal praise like “Good boy!“, even visualizing at the same time calm rewarding energy flowing down from me through our connection, the leash to my dog. Correctly using the slip leash, allows my dog to learn to associate that walking beside me is the best ever, that it feels great and free without tightening pressure around its neck, and is exactly what I want from it.
The key to success in using a slip leash to train your dog to walk by your side is releasing the pressure and praising the dog the exact moment it walks beside you. This teaches the dog what you want from it and builds a positive association.
Step 4: Practice slip leash walking!
As with every behavior modification, teaching your dog to walk beside you will take a lot of practice and patience. Until you can be sure that your dog does not react and lunges ahead when seeing a neighbor’s cat crossing the street or making the decision on its own to pull suddenly violent ahead, use a second, regular leash as a safety measure.
You should expose your dog to as many different situations while taking it on the daily structured training walks until it becomes second nature for your dog to walk on a loose leash with a relaxed balanced and calm mindset beside you, knowing that this is its place and it is more than happy to obey its leader. So you both can enjoy your walks together and take one step closer to achieving this unity, a form of magical communication without words, being connected through your energy and tuned in a beautiful way towards each other. It’s an incredibly wonderful experience to feel this always-increasing harmony and unity between you and your dog, resulting in a perfectly balanced state of mind for both of you.
Teaching a dog to walk beside you requires quite some time and effort and will test your patience, but so what? The result is worth it!
Please check out my blog post about the right way to walk your dog as a leader: Walk like a hero