Leash Training 101: How to Train Your Dog to Walk on a Leash
Leash training can be a very important part of keeping your dog safe and healthy. Perhaps you just got a new puppy or an adult rescue dog and you’re looking to train them to go on walks or runs with you. Or maybe your dog has been able to roam freely in the past, but you’ve moved to an urban area where they need to go on leashed walks. Whatever the reason for leash training your pet, it’s an important process that needs to be approached with intention. It also takes time, so prepare to be patient with your pooch!
January is right around the corner, and it is also National Train Your Dog Month. In addition to teaching your puppy a few basic commands, you’ll want to establish good leash walking habits. If you’re wondering how to train your puppy or dog to walk on a leash, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s look at why this type of dog training is important, how to do it, and how to fix the most common leash training trouble behaviors.
Why Leash Training Is Important
There are many reasons why it might be important for your dog to know how to walk on a leash. This training can be helpful for:
- Your dog’s physical health
- Your dog’s safety
- General obedience and good behavior
- Bonding with your pet
Leash Walks Can Keep Your Dog Fit and Active
If you live in an urban area, such as an apartment in the city where your dog doesn’t have access to a yard or large space for active play, then leash walks might be your dog’s only opportunity for outdoor exercise. Dogs need daily physical stimulation to keep their bodies healthy. Leash walks can help your dog maintain a normal weight and stay limber and mobile. Physical movement is crucial to your dog’s health and wellness, so leash walks will be especially important if they can’t go run and play on their own.
Knowing How to Walk on a Leash Keeps Your Dog Safe
Even if you live on a farm or large property where your dog can roam freely, leash walking is an important skill for your pooch because it can keep them safe. You never know when your living circumstances might change – perhaps you get a new job in the city or your family downsizes to an apartment and suddenly, leash walks are your only option. It’s also possible your dog might go on vacation with you somewhere that requires them to take leash walks.
If your dog is already prepared with this skill and practices it at least occasionally, they won’t struggle to do it when it’s important. Having basic leash walking skills can also help your pooch in an emergency where you need them to stay close to you and using a leash is the best option.
Leash Training Promotes Good Behavior and Obedience
Like any form of dog training, leash training is a way of teaching your dog to trust you and encouraging them to listen and behave well. An obedient dog will be safer and happier. The more skills you can teach to your pet, the more relaxed your life together will be. Leash training can be a positive experience for your both that not only provides your dog with a new skill, but also makes them generally more agreeable and ready to listen.
Like All Training, Leash Training Promotes a Bond
Leash training requires one-on-one time between you and your dog, which strengthens your bond. Like all types of training, this undivided attention is extremely positive for your pet’s mental health and their comfort with you. Leash training creates an intentional space for you and your pet to work on a goal together, which is the foundation of a healthy relationship with your dog.
How to Train Your Puppy or Dog to Walk on a Leash
With a few simple steps and a lot of patience, you can have your dog walking on a leash at a very young age. Puppies can start leash training as early as 4 to 6 weeks old! Regardless of your dog’s breed, size, or age, here are instructions for how to leash train a dog:
- Introduce the tools
- Get your dog to follow you around the house
- Choose a side and stick to it
- Take short outdoor walks at first
Introduce the Leash, Collar, and/or Harness
Introducing the tools of the trade will be an important first step to leash training your puppy or dog. If your dog has never seen a leash, you won’t want to attach the leash to their collar and go straight outside. Let them sniff the leash, and then attach it to their collar or harness and let them walk around the house with it. This gets them familiar with the weight and feel of the leash so it’s not intimidating. If it seems to bother them, remove it, take a break, and try again later. Your dog should not be afraid or even especially curious about the leash. Once they’ve started to accept it, you can move on to the next step.
Get Your Dog to Follow You Around the House
Using treats is a good idea to get your dog to start walking and follow you around the house while wearing the leash. Give them a tasty treat, then take a few steps in one direction. When they follow you, reward them – following you will be an essential part of leash walking! Change directions and walk a few more steps. Reward them again when they follow. If your dog gets distracted, use their name or another command like “Come” to regain their attention.
This step gets your dog used to the act of staying with you and walking around by your side. In theory, your dog will associate this behavior with the leash being attached to their collar or harness – which will make the leash training easier.
Choose a Side and Reward Your Dog for Sticking to It
Most dog trainers will recommend that you choose a side for your dog to walk on and be consistent about that. It’s traditional for a dog to walk on the handler’s left side, but you can choose whatever works best for you. Sticking to a single side keeps your dog from running behind you and changing sides during your walk, which can be frustrating and might even cause you to trip.
While you’re doing indoor leash training, teach your pooch to come to one side of you when you walk away. Reward them emphatically with treats and praise when they do so.
Take It Outside for Your First Leash Walks
After your dog is comfortable with the leash and following you around the house, it’s time to give it a try outdoors. This will be a shift because there are obviously more distractions outside than inside. Your pooch is likely to be enticed by smells, sights, and sounds all around them, which will make it hard to focus on their newly learned leash-walking skills.
Keep your first outdoor walks very short and bring the treats along to keep rewarding your pooch when they stay by your side. On that first walk, and on later, longer walks, you might face some behavioral challenges like pulling, barking, lunging, and jumping. Use the advice below to handle those issues.
Common Leash Training Problems and Solutions
Even the most obedient, well-behaved pooch will probably have a few common responses to their first leash training experience. Especially when it comes to leash training a puppy, here are some issues you might face and how to address them:
How to Stop a Dog from Pulling on a Leash
Pulling is one of the most common problems faced by dog owners who are trying to leash train a puppy or dog. Your dog is going to be overwhelmed by all the stimulation outdoors, at least the first few times you take them on a leash walk. Their instinct will be to pull and try to overcome the leash to reach the things that interest them, whether it’s another dog, a new smell, or a person. This is normal behavior, but it can make leash walking very unpleasant and potentially dangerous for you and your pooch, so it's important to address. The sooner you deal with leash pulling, the easier it will be to eliminate this bad habit and maybe even begin loose leash walking.
When you notice your dog pulling on the leash, immediately stop walking. This is the key solution: don't reward your dog for pulling by letting them access what they are after. Instead, plant your feet on the ground and hold the leash tightly. Call your dog back to you and don't move or react until they return. When they come, give them praise and treats. Continue your walk, and if they pull again, repeat the process.
This will obviously make for some stuttering, inconvenient walks with lots of pauses at the beginning of training. Be patient and remember that the time you invest now will pay off later when your dog is fully leash trained. If your dog is a really persistent puller, you might consider trading out their collar for a harness and leash. These tend to be more effective at discouraging pulling.
How to Manage Barking During Leash Walks
The act of barking, whining, or otherwise vocalizing at moving objects in the vicinity during a walk is not uncommon. Especially if you are leash training an adult dog you have rescued, you might find that they bark at bikers, other walkers, other dogs, or even cars. They might be trying to alert you to a potential threat or simply say hello. It's obvious how this is inconvenient for both you and your dog and can put you both at risk. You don't want them to feel stressed out while walking on a leash, so it's important to deal with these vocalizations early on in the training process.
Leash aggression may result, at least in part, from your dog not getting enough physical exercise. Your dog’s hyperactivity and over-excitedness while on the leash might indicate that they need more in their physical day-to-day, whether that means giving them two walks instead of one or participating in additional physical play while at home. Owners sometimes find that dogs bark less on a leash walk when they’re getting additional exercise.
If additional exercise doesn’t help, you’ll need to identify your dog’s barking trigger and pre-empt its arrival. If you notice that other dogs are what trigger your pet to vocalize, be on the lookout for other dogs while you’re walking. If you see one, stop the walk and use a treat to distract your pet from the other animal. Distraction is the main tactic for reducing barking during walks. If you do this for long enough, your dog should eventually ignore the trigger without needing a treat or much attention.
What to Do If Your Dog Lunges During Leash Walks
Another common bad habit among dogs when they are learning to walk on leash is lunging. It might accompany barking and snapping, but it can also be a less aggressive behavior. Similar to pulling, your dog might lunge at something they're curious about or another animal they want to say hello to. Lunging is usually more common in dogs that are bred to herd other animals, as it’s a necessary technique for those dogs to use in their work. Regardless of why your dog lunges, it's unsafe because it can throw you off balance and you might even lose control of the leash.
The solution for this behavior is similar to barking – be proactive and try to anticipate the lunge. Create plenty of space between your dog and the object he wants to lunge at and distract him with praise and treats. Immediately revoke any positive reinforcement if he lunges. This might be challenging and requires you to stay alert and focused, but it’s possible to reduce or eliminate the lunging behavior with consistent redirection.
Tips for Dealing With a Jumping Dog During Training
Jumping is another common behavior when it comes to leash training. Many dogs communicate their excitement with jumping, and dogs are often excited when it’s time for a walk. Eventually, your dog will associate the leash with a walk, and this might trigger a jumping behavior that could last well into the walk and complicate your experience significantly. This habit can be hard to break because dogs are often getting at least a little positive reinforcement from their owner when they jump – it’s a very cute behavior and we often are happy to see them excited.
The first step is eliminating this positive reinforcement. Do not coo or praise your dog when they begin to jump from excitement for their walk. Instead, return the leash to storage and wait several minutes before coming back to get it out again. If they jump, repeat the process. When you manage to retrieve the harness and leash without your pet jumping, give them a treat and quiet, calm praise.
If your dog jumps while you’re on a walk, stop and turn your back to them. Fold your arms and do not make eye contact. Jumping is often an attention-seeking behavior, so refusing that attention can encourage your dog to stop. Once your dog has calmed down and stopped jumping, resume the walk without any fanfare.
Other Tips for Leash Training a Puppy or Dog
Now you have the steps and troubleshooting guide for leash training a dog. Here are some additional dog leash training tips to make sure you and your pet have great success:
- Be sure the collar or harness fits properly
- Choose the right leash
- Practice in different environments
Ensure a Good Fit on the Collar and/or Harness
Deciding between a collar and a harness is an important choice. Many dog trainers recommend starting with a collar for puppies in leash training. A harness can be a better choice for larger dogs, or dogs who have a problem with behaviors like pulling.
Whichever tool you choose, it’s important that the item fits correctly so that leash training can be successful. If a collar or harness is too loose, the animal can just slip out of it, which can be dangerous. If the item is too tight, it can be painful and/or harm your pet. The fitting rule for collars is that you can fit at least one finger between the animal’s skin and the collar or harness for smaller dogs, and you should be able to fit two fingers under the strap for larger pets.
How to Choose the Right Type of Leash
When choosing a leash, you’ll need to focus mainly on the purpose of the leash and the length. There are other factors, like the material and the fastener used to attach the leash, but these are less significant and mostly up to personal preference.
You’ll likely need one kind of leash for training and another for everyday walking. A standard nylon leash (not retractable) of about 8 to 10 feet long is the best for early training, especially with puppies. When your dog is smaller, you’ll want something thinner and more lightweight. You’ll likely have to upgrade to something more thick and substantial as they get older, and you’ll also want to upgrade to a longer lead if you want to train your dog on different, long-distance commands.
It’s not recommended to train your dog with a retractable leash because it allows too much freedom. Retractable leashes can be a useful tool for easy daily walks later, once your dog has developed good leash habits.
Practice in Different Environments
Once your dog has solid, basic leash habits, it’s time to introduce them to new environments. It’s best not to go on the same walk every day, because you want your dog to be obedient and well-behaved regardless of the setting. Walking in different settings gives your dog the opportunity to deal with new stimuli and practice their good behavior. It’s also better for their brain and mental health because it keeps things interesting.
Have Realistic Expectations and Be Patient While Leash Training
Leash training your puppy or dog will take time and effort. If you or your dog start to get frustrated, change activities. Training is meant to be a positive experience for both of you, and leash training – or any other type of training – is ineffective if you’re both stressed out. Keep the experience positive, and be consistent and patient. Your dog will be a master leash walker in no time!