Leash Training: A Guide to Training Your Dog to Walk on a Leash

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Taking your dog for a walk can be an incredibly relaxing experience, and a great way to unwind after a stressful day at work or a long day running errands. However, a dog walk can also be stressful—a nightmare—when your dog doesn’t know how to walk properly. Being pulled from side to side as you hold on to the leash for dear life isn’t what most people would consider fun, and it could even be dangerous for both you and your dog. 

If this scenario sounds familiar or if it’s something you want to avoid as your puppy gets older, it is time to start leash training your dog and work towards a positive walking experience. How? Let’s find out.

What is Leash Training?

Before we dive deeper into the subject, we want to start by clarifying what the concept of leash training entails. What does it mean to leash train a dog? In short, a leash-trained dog is a dog that has been taught to walk with a loose leash by your side, and one that doesn’t pull, cross in front of you or bark uncontrollably at the sight of other dogs, cats, humans, or other distractions.

These are basic leash skills your dog should know, but dogs aren’t born with this knowledge. Instead, it is something you, as their owner and closest friend, will need to teach them. Inadequate loose leash walking behavior is usually not a sign of your furry friend being naughty or intentionally disobedient, but an indicator of a lack of training or a leash training process that didn’t work for your dog. 

Your pooch isn’t purposely defying you or misbehaving out of spite—he just hasn’t figured out what you expect from him yet. 

Physical Exercise Nurtures the Dog/Owner Bond

Physical exercise is essential for dogs and humans alike, and daily walks provide corporal movement along with mental stimulation and an opportunity for the two of you to bond. Yes, walking your dog has many benefits, but proactive leash training is a must for your dream of relaxing dog walks to become a reality.

Leash Training to Foster the Formation of Proper Walking Skills

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult to embark on the leash training journey, and it won’t necessarily require you to hire an experienced dog trainer. What it does require is lots of patience on your part, to help construct positive experiences as you start taking your fur friend for walks around the neighborhood.

The following guide contains practical loose leash walking tips for dog owners who wish to prevent the formation of bad habits, as these can be difficult to break further down the line.

Why Leash Training Your Dog Matters

If you are new to dog ownership or if you live somewhere remote with little to no need to keep your dog on a leash, then perhaps you are wondering why you should bother leash training your dog? Well, the reasons are many, and regardless of whether your dog will be frequently kept on a leash, good loose leash walking habits are undeniably essential for every dog. 

Here are three key points in favor of leash training:

Safety

Leash training is the foundation of secure dog walks. A dog that doesn’t walk properly while leashed could suddenly pull straight into traffic and get hit by a car—while you are holding on to the other end of the leash! There is also a significant risk of you dropping the leash if your dog was to suddenly lunge at something unexpected, resulting in a lost dog or worse.

No, it is not enough to simply leash your dog and call it a day. Your dog needs to learn how to walk on a leash, and it is your job to teach proper leash walking skills while still maintaining a positive attitude, patience and keeping it fun and engaging for your dog. A leash on its own does not keep your pooch safe, and it all comes down to how the tool is used.

Comfort

Pulling can have negative consequences in more ways than one, and not only is it uncomfortable for a dog to have to put so much unrewarded effort into a walk by constantly straining on the leash, but it could also be harmful. 

Dogs walking with collars could sustain severe injuries to the neck area, and it is not unheard of for dogs (especially small breeds such as Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers) to suffer a collapsed trachea as a result of an unfortunate leash yank. 

Sled dogs and dogs participating in sports like competitive canine weight pull use proper equipment to prevent injuries, including (but not limited to) special harnesses, and the equipment for leash training and standard walking isn’t always ideal for pulling. 

As a result, prolonged pulling puts unnecessary strain on bones and joints, which could cause, worsen or speed up the development of hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and other joint disorders in dogs. Teaching your dog basic leash skills is key to keeping your fur friend safe and comfortable, while also lowering the risk of pulling-related injuries.

Convenience

Our circumstances in life can change unexpectedly and without warning, and even if you don’t see a future need to keep your dog on a leash based on your current situation, there are no guarantees for what is to come. What happens if you fall ill and someone else needs to care for your dog? What if you lose your job and find yourself having to move somewhere with strict leash laws in place?

No one wants to think about these types of worst-case scenarios, but responsible dog ownership is all about setting your dog up for success regardless of the situation. If you have access to dog parks or the option to rent private land where dogs can roam free—great, but your dog still needs leash walking skills.

You might also need to leash your dog for vet visits or similar, and you will be doing everyone (including your dog) a favor by teaching basic dog cues and loose leash walking ahead of time.

Best Age to Start Leash Training a Puppy

Puppies are adorable, but it is not uncommon for new dog owners to become overwhelmed with puppy stress due to the newfound responsibility of caring for something so small, fragile, and innocent. As a result, training could end up becoming postponed or overlooked, and we are here to explain why this is problematic. 

A puppy is constantly learning, and it’s crucial to take advantage of this window of opportunity by initiating training as early as possible. 

The first 3-4 months are critical, according to the American Kennel Club.

Can You Leash Train an Adult Dog?

If your dog wasn’t leash trained as a puppy, can you still teach your adult pup basic dog manners and leash etiquette? Absolutely. Many rescue dogs are adopted as adults and may never have had the opportunity to go on walks before meeting their forever family, and while it can take longer to succeed with an adult dog, we can almost guarantee that there is a leash training option out there that works. 

With patience and positive reinforcement, anything is possible.

The leash dog training tips you’ll find here can be used both when training puppies and adult dogs, and the only difference is that an adult dog with set habits might take a little longer to train depending on how much training they have had in the past.

What You Need to Get Started

There is a lot to take in and plenty to add to your loose leash walking checklist, and you should preferably start planning ahead already before your training sessions even begin. You need to consider the types of leashes you want to use, stock up on your pup’s favorite treat and a few other things, and the first step of leash training is always preparation.

Stock Up on High-Value Training Treats

You are undeniably going to need lots of treats to reward your pooch for getting it right, and it can’t be just any old and stale chew treats you have lying around—you need extra yummy treats your dog will want to work for.

Keep in mind that using moist treats might not be a great idea if you plan to carry them with you for your walks, as you will end up with sticky pockets or a messy pouch with treats. Instead, opt for a tasty treat alternative with more solid consistency. 

There are countless options on the market today with anything from longer-lasting bacon dog treats to crunchy dog food treats you can break into smaller pieces. Rewarding a dog’s behavior with treats is a great way to maintain motivation and to keep training fun, and you will gradually be able to increase the distance between treats as your leash training progresses.  

Don’t Forget to Moderate Your Dog’s Treat Intake

Dogs should only get a maximum of 10% of their daily food intake from treats, and if you plan to be using more than that for your leash training, consider mixing high-value treats with a portion of your dog’s daily kibble. This is also a good idea if your dog is on a diet or if you are on a budget.

Dog Collar or Harness—What Works Best?

Believe it or not, whether you opt to use leash training collars or a harness isn’t as important as you think. Yes, there are pros and cons that come with both, but when it comes down to it—collars and harnesses are tools, not solutions. Your dog needs to learn to walk on a leash regardless of what the leash is attached to.

When you pick out a collar or harness for dogs in your household, make sure you choose one that is comfortable for your pup and that you feel you can work with. Harnesses tend to provide more handler control, and a properly sized harness is generally harder to escape compared to a collar.

Still, some people prefer collars over a standard harness and that’s okay, as long as you take the increased risk of neck and trachea injuries into consideration, and use the tool responsibly. 

Please note that we do not recommend shock collars, choke chains, or similar gadgets when leash training your dog, as more often and not, these types of tools can cause serious damage to the relationship you have built with your furry friend. 

The tips and suggestions in this article are based on positive reinforcement techniques where you reward good behavior rather than punish the dog for its mistakes.

How About No-Pull Harnesses & Anti-Pull Head Collars?

While we are on the subject, let’s talk about the headcollar or front-attachment harness, which are both tools meant to reduce pulling. Does a front-attachment harness or a head halter really work, and can it substitute leash training? The answer is that yes, they do work to prevent dogs from pulling, but no, they cannot replace teaching dogs to walk on a leash. 

A head halter or a front-clip harness is designed to reduce pulling, where the dog becomes unable to pull forward without being pulled to the side. When used correctly, these can certainly help in situations where the dog is too strong for you or where the pulling is getting out of hand, but they are only designed to control your dog’s behavior on leash and not necessarily alter it permanently. Chances are that once the collar or harness comes off, your dog falls back into old habits. 

Use these if needed, but remember: Loose leash walking training is still a must.

Best Leash for Leash Training

You have so many leash choices nowadays that it is easy to get confused; should you go with an old-fashioned leash or could retractable leashes work? Should it be a 4-foot leash, a 6-foot leash, or something else? There is a whole jungle of leash varieties out there.

When you are initiating your leash training and teaching basic cues, a simple and classic leash is your best bet. Don’t overcomplicate things, and get a sturdy leash that you can comfortably hold on to. A shorter leash provides more control, but it is up to you if you prefer a longer leash you can shorten as you see fit, or a shorter leash to use for training. 

Retractable leashes are, as you might have already figured out, not good for leash training.

Invest in a Dog I.D Tag to Keep Your Fur Friend Safe

Accidents happen, and you should make sure your dog has an I.D tag or a collar or harness with your contact information on it at all times, especially when you are teaching key cues and leash walking. You might think you’ll never drop the leash and that your dog can’t get away from you, but it is always best to prepare for the unexpected.

Teaching Different Types of Leash Training

A common misunderstanding is that there is only one way to leash train a dog when, in reality, different methods might work for different dogs. The smartest thing you can do is to familiarize yourself with your options and make your decisions based on your dog’s individual needs, abilities, and personality. 

Just because something worked for your neighbor or when you leash trained your last dog, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work this time around. It is perfectly okay to adapt your leash training sessions as needed.

There is a difference between teaching what is often referred to as an “off-duty” walk and teaching ‘heel’ and other cues, and both techniques are explained in detail down below. Before you start, make sure you have already introduced your dog to the leash and that you take breaks between sessions to keep it fun for everyone.

How to Teach Loose Leash Walking to Your Dog

The loose leash style is what most dog owners associate with the term “leash training,” which is where the dog is allowed some room to roam around and sniff, but where they should still refrain from pulling or tugging at the leash.

Step 1

Bring the treat bag out again but keep it in your pocket this time. Start walking and allow your dog to explore. With off-duty dog walking, your furry friend is given a lot more freedom but is not allowed to pull. Use verbal praise here to encourage correct behavior.

Step 2

If your dog pulls, call them back and have them heel by your side. Use your release word to initiate off-duty walking again. Should your dog continue to pull, come to a full stop and remain still until your dog’s leash goes slack. This will eventually teach your pooch that the only way to move forward is to stop pulling.

Step 3

Distractions are common, and if your puppy or adult dog starts lunging at or pulling towards another dog—turn around and walk in the opposite direction. Reward if your dog turns the attention to you instead of the distraction.

Always make sure to reward the behavior you want to reinforce, and to work on each step with patience and a positive attitude. Multiple positive sessions are usually more proactive than hundreds of leash training hours with a negative attitude.

Hiring a Trainer vs. Leash Training on Your Own

The solution to many dog-related issues is to hire a professional trainer, but most pet owners are perfectly capable of leash training their dogs on their own, unless you run into complications or if you are dealing with a dog with pre-enforced bad habits. It comes down to whether you have the patience and persistence required to work with a puppy or adult dog, and whether you are willing to try before resorting to hiring a dog trainer.

If you decide to hire a trainer, make sure you choose someone who uses methods you are comfortable with and who focuses on positive reinforcement in their training.

Understanding Why Dogs Pull on Their Leash

Now, it is important to understand that your dog’s natural walking pace is likely significantly faster than yours, and what you consider pulling might just be a case of your dog walking at a quicker pace. Fast walking is a natural behavior in many dog breeds. 

Understanding why your dog pulls will help you determine the best course of action when initiating loose leash training.

Pulling can also be a result of over-excitement, dog anxiety, fear, aggression, leash reactivity and many other things, and if you are having issues figuring out why your dog pulls, professional trainers can help point you in the right direction.

Socialization is Essential for Successful Leash Training

Behavioral cues aren’t all you should teach your dog in order to successfully get through the often chaotic puppy time, and socialization is essential. The concept of socialization during the puppy phase is often confused with a puppy’s need to meet other dogs, and while dog interaction makes up a part of socialization, it is far from everything.

When we talk about socializing a dog, we are referring to providing the dog with a thorough introduction to the world. Puppies need to familiarize themselves with sounds, smells, sights, and experiences, such as getting used to seeing humans on skateboards, on bikes, wearing headwear, and walking around with umbrellas, as well as seeing different types of animals, vehicles, and more. 

All this will be helpful once it is time to start your dog’s leash walking training. 

Just like when you leash train, socialization requires you to alternate a familiar environment with a challenging environment to prepare your puppy for scenarios they might come across later in life.

Communication is Key when Leash Training a Dog

Positive reinforcement training is all about creating a safe space for you and your dog, where you can work together and mutually enjoy the experience. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about “being the alpha” or making sure your dog “knows who’s the boss,” as modern dog training is all about teamwork and respect. 

Communication isn’t only about getting your dog to listen to you, but also about you learning to listen to your dog and read your dog’s body language. Find ways to communicate your preferences and needs without using force or fear-based methods, and you’ll soon start seeing the formation of a much stronger bond between the two of you. 

The Importance of Patience & Managing Your Own Frustration

It is human nature to want things to go our way, but the truth is that leash training takes time, and it requires patience. You can have the best natural dog treats prepared for your pup, shower your fur friend with praise and think you have everything under control, but the truth is you’ll likely get frustrated at some point

Perhaps your pooch does a great job for a week or two, then suddenly seems to take three steps back and fall into old habits? It’s normal.

Ideally, 2-3 sessions kept short are better than one long session, as this helps keep both your frustration and that of your dog at bay. There are going to be setbacks, but hard work pays off as long as you stay calm and collected. Take a break when needed, do something else, and come back to leash training when you are both ready.

Our Final Say on Leash Training

Take a deep breath, fill your pockets with treats, and gear up to start your loose-leash training! You and your dog likely won’t be leash walking pros right away but with persistency, consistency, and patience—you will get there.

There are leash requirement laws in place all around the world that puts pressure on dog owners to make sure they have dogs that can be walked on a leash, but additionally, it comes down to keeping your fur friend safe. Taking a walk offers an invaluable opportunity to relax and disconnect, and you owe it to yourself and your dog to make the most of every moment you get to spend together.

Are you ready to start leash training your dog?

Trainers that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

These are the trainers that reviewed this article:

Marnie Montgomery
PMCT4, CPDT-KA
Tellington TTouch® Practitioner
Fear-Free Certified Professional
JOYFUL DOG LLC
www.joyfuldogllc.com

Sugako Sugar Sasaki 
佐々木 清己
Owner: Happy Stretch Dog Training LLC
www.happystretchdogtraining.com
Certified Fear Free Trainer 
Certified AKC CGC and Tricks Evaluator 

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