The Forgotten Dog Training Tool

We’ve all seen him. The man walking down the street, relaxed, enjoying his walk with his dog as his dog ambles along at his side. The lead swings gently from his hand, unclipped and redundant, if he has a lead with him at all.

We sigh. We envy.

We all want that picture.

Surely that must be the ideal walk for a dog. No restraint. No lead to curtail their sniffing activities. No pulling. No dragging. Simply dog and owner walking together.

No lead is always best, right?


Yes, it might be nice if all walks looked like this. But sometimes the dog just isn’t right for it. Sometimes the breed just isn’t great for it. Sometimes the dog or owner’s physical or health circumstances aren’t right for it. Sometimes the physical environment isn’t right for it. There are so many reasons why off lead might not be best.

The forgotten dog training tool......

The lead is one of the most underrated dog training tools there is. This simple form of attachment can tell you so much about where your dog’s head is at, can communicate your feelings to your dog, can reassure and support your dog, can manage your dog, and can help keep your dog safe.

And yet we are all so keen to take it off!

Management Tool

At its most basic, the lead is an excellent management tool. Having your dog on lead takes away the fear that your dog is going to run off. Our dogs are so precious to us. The fear that they are going to leave our side and get into all sorts of bother is very real. The slight note of panic that creeps into your voice when they go a bit too far away, the stiffness that enters your body language when they go to check out something with which you aren’t comfortable, the relief that washes over you when they return and you can finally clip that lead back on again: your dog picks up on all of these things. Having your dog on lead takes away that fear, lessens your anxiety and makes for a far more relaxed experience.

But doesn’t on lead mean that your dog doesn’t have any fun?

Absolutely not!

The vast majority of the absoluteDogs games can be played on or off lead. Adapt them to suit. Play off lead at home or in a secure place. Play on lead while you walk to add extra fun into your daily walk. If you break out a game or two randomly during your evening lead walk, your dog is going to think that you are a hero, the most fun person ever! That’s going to pay massively into your relationship bank account and make you someone your dog wants to be around.

Safety Tool

For some dogs an off lead life is just not possible, either at all or at their particular stage in life, or in their particular circumstances. For young puppies who don’t yet have value in proximity to their owner, a lead is a must to avoid the dog making bad choices that can compromise not just the type of learning experiences they encounter, but their safety.

For Naughty But Nice dogs, a lead may be necessary to ensure the safety of your dog and of those around. There is no shame to having your dog on a lead. It shows you are a responsible owner who is mindful of their dog’s needs, respectful of those around, and careful in your dog ownership. That is something to be very proud of! And a life filled with fun games based training is still very possible on lead for our NBN dogs.

Dogs with issues of sight or hearing loss also benefit from the extra support and guidance that being on lead can provide.

Communication Tool

The lead is the primary tool in one of the most powerful games we have in our absoluteDogs games toolbox: A to B. A to B is our go-to game to get us out of a sticky situation, whether that is your NBN dog sees another dog in the distance and is on the verge of kicking off, or there is a family enjoying a picnic ahead and you know your dog is going to want to join them to partake of a sandwich or two, or there is a huge puddle covering the path and your dog hates getting their feet wet, the list if endless. A to B is there ready to get you and your dog out of any situation you want to avoid.

So how do you A to B?  Have your dog on lead and have plenty of tasty treats in your pocket. Walk your dog forward a few steps, run one hand down the lead towards the dog’s collar as you do an about turn 180 degrees back the way you came. Reward your dog with a tasty treat when you are facing the other way. Continue to walk normally.

Some may wish to place this on cue, using something like, “let’s go”. If you wish to have a word or phrase to cue the behaviour then that is ok, but be mindful that the tone of our voice can sometimes carry an emotional clue that we would prefer that our dog did not pick up on. As you will be using A to B to get you out of a tight spot, for example, getting your dog moving the other way before he sees a dog in the distance that he will react to, you don’t want to give the game away with an inflection in your voice so it might be best to avoid using a cue word at all. The physical cue of running your hand down the lead is enough.

If you do want to pop it on cue, keep it upbeat and jolly. A to B is a cause for celebration: you turn around and your dog gets a tasty treat - keep it fun and keep it lighthearted. Your dog doesn’t need to know that it is your number one tool for avoiding a sticky situation!

Measurement Tool

The lead is also a top measurement tool - it gives you instant feedback on your progress. Is your dog straining at the end of the lead, dragging you down the road? Then you know that you have some work to do. While many dog owners shy from this situation and see it as a cause for embarrassment, Gamechangers just take it for what it is: valuable feedback. And then they break out those games and get to work to change it.

Is your dog playing with you but there is still some tightness in the lead? Chances are that if the lead was off so would your dog be. Keep playing those games to ramp up your proximity value and build your relationship to a place where your dog doesn’t want to leave your side because you are where the fun is at!

Is your dog is walking calmly next to you on a nice loose lead, checking in with you, waiting for you to break out another fun game? Then you know you’ve nailed it. Real life results right there. Congratulations, Gamechanger.

If you are looking to move towards working off lead with your dog, or even if off lead is never going to be a thing for your dog, check out our free DVD, Leash Off Game On, for ten fun games you can play with your dog to increase your proximity value and build your dog’s focus on you. Leash off or on, it doesn’t matter, playing these games will pay massive dividends for your bond with your dog.

Love that Lead

It used to be that dogs who were unable to get off lead were seen as dogs to be pitied, living a half life existence where fun and games were shut off to them by the implement attaching them to their owners. But that is no longer the case. Games based training and a fun, enrichment rich life are very, very possible, whether your dog requires to remain on lead or not. Gamechangers see leads as the tools they are, to assist as and when required, not chains of deprivation.

Don’t be too quick to discard your lead. It really is a very helpful tool and can get you out of some really tight spots. So let’s hear it for leads: the forgotten - and much underestimated - tool of dog training. 


  • thank you so much for this! I have a herding breed that (from the breeder) takes a long time to ‘graduate’ to off lead in certain circumstances — herding instinct is strong and can end up chasing cars. She is 15 months now and I never have her off lead in areas that are not fully fenced in — often get pitying comments from other dog owners — but I won’t worry about that now… thank you for this! Also starting the proximity games — makes so much sense!

  • Loving your training methods

    Denise Wright
  • My dog has lovely smoothing sniffing walks on the lead. When off lead, after playing loads of games and magic hands he was heeling all the time. Would not even go for a ball or play funder! This was a reminder that at heart he is a timid dog so we have worked on him leaving me to find a ball or wait and recall. Today’s walk….delightful.

    Susan Porter
  • Don’t forget that in many public places having a dog off lead is against the law!

  • While I can be in some places with my dog off lead, I rarely hold the lead when I do need it. Instead, I clip it to a caribineer on the belt of my treat bag to keep both hands free. After all, there are tons of opportunities to play games on walks. Lately, we’ve been rockin’ the wrap games around fire hydrants, both on lead and off!


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