Contrary to popular belief, a dog doesn’t instinctively know how to walk politely on a leash. It’s actually a skill that requires training to master, and you’ll find it to be well worth the effort whenever you decide to take your dog out for a walk.
Just imagine your puppy walking happily by your side, turning when you turn, stopping when you stop, strolling past other people or dogs, and only sniffing or going potty when you allow it – all without pulling on the leash!
Ready to do it? Here’s how to train a dog to walk on a leash in 6 steps!
1. Introduce the Dog to the Leash
First things first, you need to get your dog familiar with their collar or harness and leash. The goal here is to let the dog get used to wearing a collar or harness with a leash, so they won’t feel irritated if you just made them wear the gear suddenly for a long time.
The best way to go about this introduction is by incorporating the items into playtime. Put the collar or harness and leash on your dog while playing with them inside the house and give him treats to establish the act as a positive thing.
This way, your dog will actually like wearing their gear as they associate leash time with fun and food!
2. Teach the Dog a Cue Command
Next, you want to teach your dog a command that means “time for food”. This will come in handy, later on, when you want your puppy to come to you or go a certain direction. This can be a sound, such a cluck of the tongue, or a word command, such as ” yes” or “yum”.
No matter what you decide to use, the process of teaching it to your dog is the same. Go with your dog to a quiet, distraction-free area in the house, have them wear the collar and leash, then start vocalizing the command. The moment your dog turns towards you or looks at you (or both), give them a treat.
Repeat the same action with treat rewards every time your puppy gets it right. After a few rounds, you’ll notice that your dog doesn’t only turn and/or look at you, but they also come over to your spot for a treat.
3. Encourage the Dog to Come to You
Once your dog is effortlessly coming over to where you are, get them to take a couple of extra steps to reach you. You can easily do this while your dog is wearing the leash and coming towards you, by backing up a few steps then rewarding them with a treat when they get to you.
Keep doing the same sequence until your dog comes to you and walks with you a few steps upon hearing the command. For puppies and younger dogs, you want to keep the sessions short since they tend to lose interest quickly.
In general, you should end such sessions while your dog is still eager to please and do more, not when they’re mentally fed up.
4. Practice Indoors
Once you feel that your dog understands how to come to you and take a few steps together, you should move onto more serious indoor practice.
This means walking in a room or yard with limited distractions since they’ll already be dealing with the challenge of moving around while wearing a leash. Continue to reward your dog with treats when they come to you and walk as you do.
5. Try the Outdoors
Now that you’re confident in your dog’s ability to follow the command, come over to you, and walk for a bit with you, it’s time to take the session outdoors. Testing your dog’s newly established skills outside can be tricky at first because they’ll encounter sights, scents, and sounds that are likely to distract them.
This is why patience is key during the initial walks you take with your dog. Keep the walks short and always be aware of what your dog is doing.
While observing the dog, if you notice that they’re about to get distracted or lunge forward, vocalize the established “time for food” command and move away a couple of steps. Your dog should easily follow you, to which you’ll respond with a treat reward.
6. Polish the Skill
Training a dog to walk on a leash doesn’t end when you’re successfully taking walks in the almighty outdoors.
Even though your dog may be doing a good job learning how to do it, you should expect to run into some troubles along the way as a result of visiting new places, experiencing new distractions, or simply getting older.
For these reasons, polishing the skill of politely walking on a leash is a must for every dog owner. This is how you can smooth out the rough edges of your dog’s “on-leash” behavior.
The following are a few tips to help you overcome some common issues when it comes to your dog walking on a leash:
Lunging is a problem that most dog owners have to face when teaching their puppies how to walk on a leash. It’s when your dog tries to chase after something while on a walk with you. It could be a vehicle, an animal, or even a skateboarder depending on what intrigues your dog.
If your dog lunges, you need to take action and capture their attention with a treat (may be accompanied by the cue command) before they get the chance to lunge. At the same time, you should put more distance between the dog and the trigger.
The lunging issue seems to be more evident in dogs from herding breeds, but it’s still quite possible for any dog to be excited by unfamiliar things. In any case, it’s important that you stay alert and prepared to redirect your dog’s attention before getting too close to their target of interest.
Many dog owners also encounter the issue of pulling. If your dog pulls on the leash, don’t respond by yanking or jerking the leash backward, and definitely don’t drag them along with you.
These are common mistakes that may have a negative impact on the relationship between you and your dog or may even implement attitude problems.
Instead, try to behave like a tree! Yes, just stand very still and hold your grounds. Don’t move until your dog makes its way back to you. You can also opt for front-attachment harnesses and head collars if your dog is aggressive or tends to pull a lot.
Finally, some dogs have a tendency to bark at other dogs during walks. What many dog owners don’t realize, is that this behavior often results from poor exercise.
So first, make sure that your dog is getting a suitable amount of physical and mental exercise in line with their age and breed.
If the issue persists, then you can apply the same method we discussed in lunging: increase the distance and offer your dog a treat before they have a chance to bark. This way, your dog will turn their attention to you (for a treat) every time they see another dog walking by.
There you go, how to train a dog to walk on a leash in 6 steps! Remember, good leash-walking behavior doesn’t happen overnight. So you need to be patient with your dog, as well as flexible to deal with expected training issues.
Hi, I’m Walter,
I live in Oklahoma City, USA, and have extensive dog caring and grooming expertise. In addition, I provide dog training tips and tricks through my blogs in Canine Weekly. I have a Dog Behavior and Training diploma and have previously worked as a Dog Trainer at ROC Animal Training and Behavior and Tip Top K9 of OKC Dog Training.
Apart from writing on Canine Weekly, I share my views on Twitter and Linkedin.