Ahimsa Dog Training, Seattle

Silky Leash Video – How to Train Leash Walking

How do you teach a dog not to pull on leash, either ahead or behind? There are lots of ways to teach your dog or puppy loose leash walking, but I really like Silky Leash.  This method teaches dogs that a very light pressure on the leash is a “cue” that means to go in the direction of that light pull. The best part of Silky Leash training is that it doesn’t train dogs with pain or pressure, but with positive reinforcement.

I named this leash walking technique Silky Leash, because the idea is to use very light, silky pressure on the dog’s collar, with a fluid leash.  This dog training technique originated from Shirley Chong’s great posts on a clicker training list. A good technique deserves a good name, so “Silky Leash” was born!

Here’s a summary of Silky Leash up in just a few words: Pretend your leash is a silk thread. Put light pressure on the collar. Reward When the Leash Loosens.

Students at Ahimsa Dog Training get a full written description of Silky Leash in the Training Manual, but hopefully, the video is enough to get you started on teaching your dog to stop pulling on leash!

The videos below are summaries of a 10-session practice with Silky Leash. Sessions were 30 minutes each. If you can make a commitment to train your dog every day, this method will work! The first video is a 5 minute video of Emma and the 2nd video is a 10 minute video with Winston and a little bit of Emma.

Emma – 5 minute leash walking video


Winston – 10 minute leash walking video

Please leave comments on the Silky Leash videos below!

Written by Grisha Stewart, Ahimsa Dog Training, Seattle [Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon] Tweet This Post!
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26 Responses to “Silky Leash Video – How to Train Leash Walking”

  1. Jan Says:

    Wow! I can’t believe how well this works. I’m a dog trainer. I’ve been training for years and years and have tried all kinds of leash walking methods. There are some punishment methods that work, but I’d rather not go down that road, because of the fall-out with aggression or fear. Thanks!!!!!

  2. Emma's mom Says:

    This is so fun to see! Thanks for putting it together and for your time with Emma.

    She’s doing well on leash walking – still pulls like crazy on a hiking trail or on the way to the dog park, so I use a harness there. But when the distractions aren’t extreme she does well.

  3. Sara Says:

    Silky Leash training has gone really well – spent an afternoon with her progressing from the bathroom to kitchen to alley to around the block. She’s pretty easy. Now the challenge is to not pull on the way to the park – she is pretty goood there, too!

  4. Tracy Says:

    I like this idea of teaching the dog to move into the slight pressure of the leash. I think Brenda Aloff uses a similar idea in her Get Connected book called Follow the Feel. I like your Silky Leash term as the name so aptly gives a feel for how little pressure I assume you are looking for. Very cool videos! Thanks for sharing them!

  5. Grisha Says:

    Hi Tracy,

    I do remember Brenda Aloff doing something like Silky Leash. I went to a workshop of hers a long time ago and doing it after that. But I think she wasn’t as concerned that the leash pressure be light and also wasn’t as systematic as when Shirley Chong talks about it. No surprise there!

    So when I saw Shirley’s description, I tried it out and fell in love. I’ve started giving just about all of the classes a free front-attachment harness, to make it easier to stick with the plan of not walking the dog on the collar until they’ve gotten the concept of not pulling on it.

  6. DogRealist Says:

    “She’s doing well on leash walking – still pulls like crazy on a hiking trail or on the way to the dog park, so I use a harness there. But when the distractions aren’t extreme she does well.”

    Interesting technique, for sure. But seeing as *most* leash walking concerns distractions, how long will it take for the dog to get to the point of walking well *with* distractions?

  7. Linda Says:

    I’m disappointed to hear Emma still pulls when there are distractions. That is the test of whether or not a technique works.

  8. Grisha Says:

    Yes, Linda, the proof is in the pudding, but she’s just not done yet. It’s like saying, after a few weeks of lifting, “I don’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger yet! This weightlifting thing isn’t improving my health.”

    Keep in mind that just walking out the door was a huge distraction for Emma before and that now walks in the neighborhood are pleasant. Her comments are about the Grad School of distractions – dog parks and hikes. For those situations, she’s got the harness, for now, but is headed toward being able to walk on a collar there, too. As time goes on, she’ll be using the harness less and relying on the training more. For example, using it on the first part of a hike and switching to the collar for the second part. Then 1/3 of the way in….etc.

    Could we train this faster with more force? Probably. Would some dogs learn to become leash aggressive or fearful because of that, though? Probably.

    If you have another technique that’s dog-friendly and fast, I’d love to hear about it. For some of the other techniques we use, see our Leash Walking article in the blog.

  9. Grisha Says:

    DogRealist, the amount of time depends on how distractable the dog is in the first place, how long they’ve been pulling, and how much you practice. Notice that she said, “When distractions are extreme” not “When there are any distractions at all.”

    I’ve had puppy class people do this and it takes a week and they’re basically done forever. I did it with my own dog, not practicing every day and skipping some steps (because I’m not a good rule follower or homework-doer, ask my physical therapist!) and it took him probably 2 months – the first week or two was already a great improvement, but we had to fine-tune it for all of life’s distractions. We walk to and through the park, past dogs and cats on a loose leash with his flat collar.

    Emma is a very active, distractable teenage dog with a busy family, and she’s making progress. I think Winston is about where they want him, for the most part.

  10. Linda Says:

    I was very interested in the videos, so Emma’s Mom’s post was disappointing, but I didn’t realize it was only a few weeks after the original entry. How long was it after it after the video was shot? I would be very interested in seeing a video of Emma and distractions a year from now (with her owners, not the trainer).

    I start with methods like ‘be a tree’, about turns, walking backwards, rewarding for paying attention and being at my side. I use a clicker. Once I’m sure they understand what’s expected, I add corrections in addition to the positive reinforcement. I’ve never seen a dog become fearful or leash aggressive in response to appropriate corrections when they understand wha they are being corrected for and know how to avoid them (and get rewards too!). By appropriate, I mean suited to the individual dog. Silky leash looks like an excellent way to teach them what is expected, but I would probably start adding corrections at some point. I also like your idea of speeding up as a reward.

    In my experience, most people and dogs do OK when in training mode, but eventually they start just wanting to walk and a lot of dogs gradually start pulling again. It depends a lot on how interested the dog is in the environment. I dislike headcollars becuse most dogs seem depressed by them, even after they become used to them, though I will occasionally recommend them. Harnesses are better, though I dislike the way they become lifelong management tools for so many people.

  11. Grisha Says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thanks for looking at it again! It took me about two weeks to put the video together, I think, so the comment about Emma’s progress was probably a month after our last session. I don’t have details about how often she practiced, though I’m sure it was probably less than when I came by.

    I, too, would be interested in seeing Emma next year. I’ll keep you posted. :)

    Thanks for the info about your techniques. It sounds like we do pretty much the same thing, except for the leash corrections. One good thing about Silky Leash is that the leash pressure has meaning, not just “stop pulling or I will pull harder” – so it’s not necessary to correct with much pressure, when the leash pressure itself is a cue.

    How much pressure? Think of a bungee (stretchy) leash. There’s an amount of tension you can put on it just before it starts stretching. That’s the amount I try to use as my cue (or less).

    If I’ve trained Silky Leash only up to a point but there’s a distraction that’s bigger than we’ve trained with that dog (like a squirrel in a tree), I either go off at a 90 degree angle, then click/treat the loose leash. (the “treat” might be permission to go chase the squirrel). If forward is the only choice I’ll use penalty yards instead of leash pops. For distraction-proofing I also like doing penalty yard set-ups, which I tend to do in a harness.

    I agree that dogs can be untrained quickly, so I think it helps to give people the paradigm of “harness when you don’t care, collar when you do.” I *love* the fact that Emma’s mom is using the harness in places where Emma still needs it. That means she’s not untraining in her regular walks, if she’s paying attention to when there’s pulling and when there isn’t.

  12. Linda Says:

    Thanks for the additional information. I look forward to giving Silky Leash a try and adding it to my repertoire. I subscribed to your blog and I expect to find more useful techniques here.

  13. Debbie Says:

    I saw Shirley Chong’s method on another list months ago and thought it was interesting so I bookmarked it for future use. A month or so ago I printed it out so I could try it, and then I saw your video, which was very helpful. It’s always good to see a method actually demonstrated rather than just described in words.

    I tried it last night with Keefer, my 3 year old German shepherd. One problem I had was that he’s got such a strong default behavior of sitting and watching me, and even more so laying down and watching me (HEAVILY rewarded by clicker training when he was a very young puppy) that I couldn’t figure out how to start at the first step. If I sat down, he’d either sit or lay down and stare at me within a few seconds. I could have sat there forever with pressure on the leash and he wouldn’t have budged.

    I’ve also done some down stay work outdoors using oppositional reflex by putting pressure on the leash, so he’s accustomed to staying put even with pressure on the leash if he’s sitting or laying down. I tried standing up and walking around in a fairly small area (none of the rooms in my house are very big), and that worked well. Should I just go from there rather than trying to start at step 1, or do you have any ideas to get him to not just plant himself and stare at me?

    Not complaining – I love his solid default behaviors!

  14. Grisha Says:

    Hi Debbie,

    I do like those solid default behaviors. The down-stay work using oppositional reflex may get you into a little trouble with this, but it can be overcome.

    You can just skip over step 1 if that’s not working well and step 2 is. With Winston, we skipped over the “practice in the yard” step because he was just way too distracted in his own yard. So flexibility is good.

    Another thing to try is to click for even turning his head in the direction of the pull and then tossing the treat in the direction you were pulling.

    You may also try even lighter pressure. Too much pressure causes more opposition, so try a feather-light pressure.

    Keep me posted!

  15. Debbie Says:

    Thanks for your response! I get what you’re saying about loose pressure, but it was hard for me to feel when the pressure was released if it was too light, so that might have been part of the problem – too much pressure on the leash. I’ll work on that. And I like the idea of tossing the treat, I’ll see if I can get him to look towards a pull to the side rather than boring a hole through my forehead with his eyes, LOL! If not, I’ll just skip to moving around in a small space indoors before progressing to the backyard.

  16. Robin Rubin Says:

    There are so many great methods that promote a working partnership between dog and human EVEN on the way to the park. I would hate for someone to get hurt relying on this method with a dog that did not respond as they would to more efficient and effective training methods.

  17. Grisha Says:

    Hi Robin,

    I’m sorry if it wasn’t clear – Silky Leash isn’t the only method that we use, but it makes such a big difference in how the dog responds to walking on leash that we focused on it for this article. For many dogs, Silky Leash alone is enough. It’s a very dog-friendly, efficient training method. But if we need more ways to convince a dog to stop pulling, our toolbox has lots of other leash walking techniques.

    I don’t think Silky Leash is at all dangerous. For one thing, we recommend that the dogs wear a harness or other gear when they are on walks where they aren’t working on leash walking using Silky Leash or some other method. For another, we use many other different ways of teaching leash walking, as mentioned above. The article is in our blog: Click here to see more leash walking how-tos.

  18. rosanne palumbo Says:

    Great videos. Thank you. One of the methods I began using for training and teaching teaches the dogs to respond to collar pressure for the sit and down. basically using a treat with light pressure, follow the pressure and the pressure stops. after a few sessions, a light touch of a finger in the collar was barely necessary to remind the dog to respond. I wish i had thought to transfer this method to walking years ago.
    thanks again,

  19. Tamara Says:

    I love this method!! I’m wondering how the APO feels about all these training sessions–are they likely to hang in there for the duration?

  20. Debbie Says:

    I posted about this back in November 2008 with my adult GSD Keefer. I got a new puppy in January of 2009 and started out teaching her to walk on a leash using this technique from the very beginning. I did a lot of walking backwards, pulling gently on the leash, marking when Halo turned and started walking towards me, and rewarding when she came all the way back. At that point I either pivot to the right so that she’s at my left side again, with both of us walkning in the opposite direction, or I walk briskly forward just as she gets to me, bumping her slightly with my knee to pivot her to the left so that she’s back at my side in heel position.

    This is hard to explain, but it’s a very smooth motion, where I just walk into her slightly, causing her to yield space to me and turn to the left so her shoulder moves out and her butt swings in. I’ve also used this for teaching left turns, and ended up teaching her the cue “turn” almost by accident by saying it right before I bumped into her. After a while all I had to do was say the cue and she would turn immediately to the left. She’s walking very nicely on leash now. If she gets a few steps in front I just start walking backwards, and that slight pull on the leash is enough to bring her right back to me.

  21. Shanda obedience and agility classes « Pirate Shanda's Blog Says:

    […] is going to work WONDERFULLY. The method is called the silky leash method and here is the link: Silky leash. The webpage has videos which I found very useful. Many kudos to the inventor of this method […]

  22. Eapen Koothoor Says:

    Watched the video, it is indeed a great way to get rid of leash pulling. I never knew of this technique earlier. Because I have always found that there are a lot of distractions on the side walks if i start training him there initially and he responded very poorly, but starting the training in a bathroom and then gradually increasing the room size and distractions is a great way to get used to the distractions and train him not to pull the leash at the same time step by step. Thanks a lot ! :)

  23. Tina Quinn Says:

    I am a trainer and have tried many different methods. I have 3 dogs and I changed to this silky leash method with them and it has become so easy. I now incorporate the word “back” and then slight pressure on the leash and my dogs take a step back to get into the correct position near my leg. I am now finding that I only have to use the slight pressure occasionally, but find that just saying “back” my dogs reposition themselves correctly. Thank you.

  24. Heather Krawzoff Says:

    We adopted a dog a few weeks ago, and have not been able to
    take her on a walk, She just freezes in the driveway and sometimes
    lays down, I’ve tried waiting her out, but she won’t budge until We
    change direction to go home, then she’s happy… Apperently her
    patience is better than mine… I’ve been walking her in the house
    and its much better, she will occasionally freeze and refuse, but
    not as much. I’m going to start from scratch with the silky leash
    technique, and it looks like I should buy a clicker. Thank you for
    the video!

  25. Liz Says:

    Hello, I’ve just started trying to use Silky leash technique on a 18 week old puppy, since he’s very distracted during walks, pulls and isn’t responding to the general method of clicker-training heel / a loose leash. However when I’ve tried doing the absolute basics: putting him in a non-distracting room, clipping a lead on and applying very gentle pressure in the direction he should step (clicking and treating with cheese), quite frequently he decides to chew/play tug of war with his lead instead of stepping in the direction he’s supposed to. He can go really bananas playing tug-of-war with his lead, at which point I give up training him, wait til he calms down and then take his lead off. I’m not sure if he’s distracted, frustrated or just lacking in concentration. Am I doing something wrong? I’m probably only training Silky leash for a minute or two at a time before he decides to lead-chew.

  26. Grisha Says:

    He may be frustrated, bored, or stressed. To fix this, try to set him up to be more successful by clicking for smaller behavior. It sounds like he’s just confused about the rules and needs to ‘win’ at this game a bit more. If it’s taking more than about 1-5 seconds for him to be clicked, you are expecting too much. Instead of waiting for a step in a direction, click for looking in that direction or any small movement toward doing that. You may also be pulling on him instead of just putting really light pressure on. Getting him a little tired first may also help. If the above don’t work, it may also help to focus him on a treat or toy that he has to (ever so slightly) move away from in order to get the click/treat. Good luck.

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