Leash training is one of the most important things you can teach your dog. A dog that walks well on a leash is a pleasure to take on walks and much easier to manage. Dogs that haven't been taught to walk properly on a leash tend to pull, leading to an unpleasant experience for both dog and owner. Leash training takes time and patience, but the effort pays off.
When to Start Leash Training
Leash training should begin as soon as you bring your puppy home. Puppies are still rapidly developing, and leash training started young will pay dividends in the long run. That said, it's never too late to teach an older dog to walk nicely on a leash. Adult and senior dogs can learn this skill just as puppies can. The key is being consistent and making training a positive experience full of praise and rewards.
Gather the Right Training Supplies
Having the proper supplies will make leash training more effective and enjoyable. These essential items include:
A proper fitting collar or harness. Ensure it doesn't constrict the dog's movement or breathing but also won't slip off.
A lightweight leash, ideally 4-6 feet in length. Retractable leashes should be avoided for training.
Training treats your dog loves. Tiny soft treats work best.
A clicker or verbal marker like "yes!" to mark desired behaviors.
A training pouch to hold treats and other supplies.
Proper identification like ID tags, microchip, and license.
Master the Starting Steps
Begin leash training inside your home or yard. First, simply let your pup get used to wearing the collar and leash calmly next to you. Reward with treats and praise for calm behavior.
Next, hold the leash in your hand and walk around normally, allowing your pup to follow along beside you. Reward good leash manners. If your pup begins to pull, stop and wait for slack in the leash before continuing.
Gradually increase the amount of time you practice this, until your pup understands to walk close to your side without pulling on the leash inside. Now you're ready to start training outdoors.
Train Loose Leash Walking Outside
Start by practicing on quiet streets with minimal distractions. Keep training sessions short at first – just 5-10 minutes. Give your pup ample rewards any time the leash remains loose while walking.
If your pup begins to pull, immediately stop and wait until the leash relaxes again. Then continue the walk. This teaches your pup that pulling makes forward progress stop. Be patient, as your pup may stop frequently at first. Stay calm and consistent, and your pup will catch on.
Gradually build up the length and complexity of your training walks. Practice making frequent turns and walking in different directions. Start introducing distractions like other people at a distance. Reward good leash manners throughout.
If your pup begins to pull towards a stimulus, turn and walk the other way to reestablish loose leash walking. Use high-value treats when passing distractions to keep focus on you. Remain patient, this step can take time.
Correct Pulling and Lunging
If your dog consistently pulls or lunges towards distractions, take a few steps back in training. Work on attention skills like eye contact. If needed, cross the street or create more distance from triggers. Always set your dog up for success.
For dogs that pull excessively, consider using training tools like head collars. These allow you to gently redirect your dog’s head towards you without straining their neck. Consult a trainer to ensure proper fit and use.
Never punish or jerk your dog for pulling, as this can frighten them and make problems worse. Corrections should be gentle and minimize force. Stay positive throughout the process.
Practice Loose Leash Walking Anywhere
Once your dog reliably walks without pulling on quiet streets, it’s time to practice in more stimulating environments. Go to parks, pet stores, or outdoor markets where you'll encounter more sights, sounds and smells.
At first, walk in those areas during off-peak times when fewer distractions are present. Reward your dog frequently for focusing on you. Gradual exposure to distracting areas will build confidence.
If your dog becomes overly aroused and begins pulling, leave the area promptly and go somewhere quieter to refocus. End each session on a positive note with relaxed leash walking. Keep training sessions shorter when practicing in stimulating environments.
With consistency over time, your dog will learn to walk calmly on a loose leash even in busy public settings. Be proud of their progress!
Troubleshoot Common Leash Training Problems
Despite your best efforts, some common issues may pop up during leash training:
Pulling towards other dogs: Get your dog’s attention and move away to a calm distance. Reward for refocusing on you instead of the trigger.
Refusing to walk: Make walking more enticing. Bring extra tasty treats, add in jogging or change direction frequently to be more interesting.
Leash biting: Stop walking and remain still until the biting stops. Reward calm behavior. Consider a chew toy to carry on walks to redirect biting.
Reactivity: Create more distance from triggers and work on focus. Countercondition the dog to associate triggers with rewards. Hire a trainer/behaviorist for additional support if needed.
Frustration/over-arousal: Take a break and let your dog relax before trying again. Make training sessions shorter and end before frustration starts.
Don’t get discouraged! With time, consistency and positive methods, you can overcome issues.
Use Proper Equipment for Safety
For daily walks, use well-fitted flat collars, front-clip harnesses or head collars designed for training. Proper ID is essential. Avoid retractable leashes and choke chains.
For dogs that pull excessively or react towards triggers, consult trainers on special equipment like:
Front-clip harnesses – turns dog towards you if they pull forward.
Head collars – enable control of the head/muzzle with gentle pressure.
Muzzle – helps control biting risks, allows continued training.
Introduce any special equipment gradually. Ensure proper fit and use treats to build a positive association. Don’t just slap equipment on and expect it to fix problems. Proper training must continue.
Keep Practicing Loose Leash Skills
Leash training is an ongoing process. Keep working on skills like:
Eye contact while walking
Changes in speed/direction
Sitting and staying periodically
Focus with distractions present
Not bolting through doorways or gates
Reinforce these skills constantly. Carry treats on walks for surprise rewards when your dog focuses on you. Keep them engaged.
Make sure all family members practice leash walking to ensure consistency. Your hard work should pay off with a dog who’s a dream to walk even in challenging environments.
Loose Leash Walking Creates Opportunities
A dog with polished leash walking skills can enjoy much more freedom and adventures. You’ll be able to:
Take your dog more places without stress or embarrassment
Let your dog safely meet other calm dogs on walks
Spend time together exploring new parks, trails and public spaces
Focus on exercise and enjoying the outdoors versus struggling with an unruly dog
Avoid dangerous situations with cars, other animals, etc.
Set your dog up for success if competing in dog sports/shows that require leash skills
All of this enriches your bond and quality time together. Leash training truly opens doors for dogs and their owners!
Make Walks Fun and Rewarding
While you should maintain structure during walks, also make sure you’re having fun! Training is tiring for dogs, so mix in play, exploration and bonding:
Chat to your dog cheerfully and use their name often
Bring toys to play short fetch sessions or engage their nose with a sniffing game
Explore new walking routes to keep their mind active
Stop for water breaks andoffer praise/pets
End each walk on a positive note
Keep things interesting while supporting your training goals. This creates a dog that can’t wait to walk with you!
Celebrate Your Dog's Progress
Leash training takes consistency and patience. But your efforts will be rewarded by a companion who's a joy to walk with in any situation.
Celebrate little successes along the way. Capture moments on video or photo to look back on. Record how long your dog can calmly focus on you. Set fun goals to work towards together.
Most importantly, verbalize how proud you are of your dog frequently. Shower them with praise and continue the lifelong process of reinforcing good leash manners. Those moments together lead to memories you’ll both cherish.