5 easy steps to train your dog to walk on a loose leash

Walking a dog on a leash is a regular part of your pup’s routine. Dogs love to go for walks and they need to be restrained in public areas. Therefore, leashes are one of the most essential dog products. Yet, dogs aren’t born knowing how to walk on a leash though. That’s why it’s important for you to learn how to leash train a dog as soon as you bring your furry friend home. 

Tips on How to Leash Train a Dog

Similarly to all types of training, leash training should begin with the basics, especially if you’re training a puppy. If you just expect your dog to walk well on their first day home, then you’ll likely be disappointed. 

What Do You Need to Start Leash Training? 

Of course, the most important supply you should have is a leash. This leash shouldn’t be too long because you don’t want to give your dog too much freedom. Usually, between 4 and 6 feet is ideal for a training leash. If possible, you should never use a retractable leash to walk your dog. It doesn’t provide enough control over your pup and it poses lots of health risks for both dogs and humans. For example, retractable leashes could leave nasty burns on humans, they could snap easily, or they could even strangle dogs. 

Next, you should have a collar or harness on your dog. If possible, try to use a harness rather than a collar. Collars attached to leashes can easily choke your dog, especially if your dog loves to pull. Plus, harnesses provide more support for your pup. Therefore, harnesses are safer for dogs of all ages, sizes, and breeds. If you have to use a collar though, a martingale collar is usually the safest type. 

Finally, you should have some training treats ready. These treats should be tasty, but still low in calories. That way, you can reward your dog for good behaviors without them gaining too much weight.

Steps for Leash Training

When you learn how to leash train a dog, you should take it step-by-step. Here are a few simple steps that you should start off with to help your dog get used to leash walking. 

Step 1: Introduce Your Dog to Their Harness and Leash

Before you start walking your dog on a leash, make sure they get used to the leash first. Have your dog wear their harness and leash in the house while you play with them and interact with them. Then, reward them during this time. This can help your dog associate the harness and leash with positive things.

Step 2: Teach Your Dog a Cue

If you haven’t already, teach your dog a cue that gets their attention and lets them know they’re doing something right. Some dog parents use a clicker, some say a word like “yes”, and others even make a clicking sound with their mouth. As long as the command is consistent, then that’s all that matters. Start by practice this cue in a quiet environment. Make the sound, and when your dog reacts to it, reward them with a treat. This lets them know that this cue means something good.

dog listening to cue

Step 3: Get Your Dog to Come to You

Next, you’ll need to teach your dog to come to you while wearing their harness and leash. Start by letting your dog come to you on their own, and then reward them with the cue when they reach you. Then, repeat this action until your dog starts coming to you whenever they hear the cue. However, make sure you always keep training sessions short because dogs, and especially young puppies, can have short attention spans.

Step 4: Practice Walking Inside

Once your dog understands how to come to you while wearing the leash, then it’s time to practice walking. Start by walking them a little bit inside your home, in an area that’s free of distractions. This can help your dog get used to walking around with a harness and leash. 

If your dog starts to wander away from you, use the cue to get them to come back. If they come on cue, then make sure you reward them. 

Step 5: Practice Walking Outside

After plenty of indoor practice, it’s time to finally walk your dog outside. Walking outside can be tricky at first because there are a lot of new sounds and smells for your dog to take in. Therefore, it’s likely that they won’t walk well at first. So, be patient with them as you get started. Only taking shorter walks at first can be a great way to start.

When walking your dog, you should keep your eyes on them at all times. If you notice them starting to wander away from you, use your cue to get them to come back to your side. If they listen, then you should praise them as usual. This can help your dog learn to walk nicely outside without getting distracted by their surroundings.

How Long Does it Take to Leash Train a Dog?

All training methods are different for every dog. Some dogs could learn to walk on a leash in only a few days while others could take weeks or even months to catch on. Most dogs seem to take between 1 and 8 weeks to fully understand the concept. Like humans, all dogs learn at different paces, so don’t rush your dog. Instead, keep practicing the same methods over and over again. 

Be consistent with cues and expectations. Some dogs will definitely be frustrating if they don’t listen, but training your dog is such an important part of their care. If you give up on leash training, then your dog might think they can get away with other things too.

How Do I Get My Dog to Stop Pulling on the Leash?

It can be annoying when dogs pull on their leash. Some dogs might pull forward to chase something while others might pull backwards to go home. It might seem like a good idea to pull your dog back to you, but in many cases, this could actually make things worse. Some dogs think pulling on the leash is a game, so if you pull back, they might only pull more.

Instead, you should freeze if your dog starts to pull. Just stand completely still and don’t pull back. Then, wait until your dog stops pulling before walking again. Keeping your dog’s leash shorter is also a great way to teach them that you’re in charge. When walking on a short leash, you can make sudden stops and movements to make sure your dog is following you and not doing their own thing.

If your dog pulls forward or backwards, there are a few methods that you should avoid. Instead of pulling back on the leash, some people coax their dogs back to them with treats. However, this is just as bad as pulling. If you lure them with food, then you’re rewarding them for stopping.

Instead, if you want to get your dog’s attention when they pull, try making an interesting sound instead, such as a whistle. You can also touch them softly in an unusual spot like their tail or back, but without petting them. These things can help get your dog’s attention and redirect them from the reason they were pulling.

How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash?

Following the above steps is only the beginning of walking a dog on a leash. When learning how to leash train a dog, you’ll also have to focus on the problems that might occur. As mentioned before, you should keep your dog’s leash short to ensure that you have full control over them. If the leash is too loose or if you’re using a retractable leash, then it’s more likely that your dog will do whatever they want.

Some dogs might have a bad habit of crossing in front of you and walking all over the place. This is when the command ‘heel’ comes in handy. If there’s a distraction up ahead, like another dog or a small critter, you can tell your dog to heel so they’ll stay right at your side for short periods of time. 

You should start by training your dog to heel in your home. Walk them inside with their leash and harness. Then, place a treat in your fist and allow your dog to sniff it. Walk with the treat still in your fist and allow your dog to walk beside you, following the smell. If your dog closely follows beside you, make sure you reward them.

Repeat this multiple times. Eventually, you’ll be able to remove the treat and teach your dog to follow your empty fist. This can help your dog learn that a closed fist means heel. Many dog parents also say the word ‘heel’ while doing this to help reinforce this behavior. This can help your dog behave better while walking on a leash. If you want to know more about harness, read our articles on tactical dog harnesses, front clip dog harnesses, service dog harnesses and leather dog harnesses.

How Do You Train and Older Dog to Walk on a Leash?

Training an older dog to walk on a leash is the same as teaching a young dog to walk on a leash. After all, you can teach old dogs new tricks! However, with older dogs, it’s important to never yank on the leash, especially if the leash is hooked to a collar. Older dogs can get hurt easier than younger dogs, so yanking your dog’s leash could damage their neck or chest. So, if you were on the fence about using a harness, you should always use a harness for an older dog.

old dog on a red leash

With older dogs, you might also need to be more patient. They might have lived their whole lives pulling on leashes, so it can be a difficult habit to break. So, make sure you give your senior dog plenty of treats and praise when they behave correctly and never punish them. It could take older dogs a few months to relearn old behaviors, but with consistency and patience, they can learn the same way as any other dog.

However, senior dogs are often prone to joint problems, so make sure their walks are shorter. If possible, you should avoid letting them do any extreme activities and only take them for short walks instead. This can be easier for training and easier on your older dog’s body. Also, choosing a more supportive harness can also be better for their health too.

How to Leash Train a Dog That’s Scared of Leashes

Sadly, some dogs are afraid of leashes. This could be for a number of reasons. Some dogs have just never used a leash or harness before, so it seems scary to them. Other dogs were rescued from abusive situations, so they don’t have happy memories of leashes. In some cases, dogs could just associate their leashes with a bad memory of when they were on a leash, such as when they tripped or got a bath.

If your dog doesn’t want anything to do with the leash, then you’ll need to spend extra time on the early leash training steps. Let them wear the harness and leash inside the house. Give them plenty of them to walk around with the leash dragging behind them. That way, they can get used to it before you even pick the leash up.

Over time, you can slowly pick up the leash now and then to see how your dog will react. If your dog lets you pick up the handle, make sure you reward them. Then, gradually start holding the leash more until eventually, you can walk your dog outside in the yard without them getting scared. 

Treats are essential for fearful dogs. Rewards and praise can help your dog associate something that was once scary with something that’s more positive. Training a nervous dog can be more difficult than training other dogs, but the extra time and patience is worth it because it will help both of you feel more comfortable going for walks.

Summary on dog and Puppy leash training

The following video has a great overview on how to train your dog or puppy leash training.

Training a dog for any task requires patience, consistency, and dedication. So, learning how to leash train a dog is no different. Make sure you follow the steps and stay consistent with your expectations at all times. This can help teach your dog to be more well-behaved every time they walk outside on a leash, regardless of their age, size, and history. 

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Peter Schoeman