Dogs aren’t natural leash walkers. And, it takes patience to train a dog to walk on a leash… so don’t feel discouraged if your dog isn’t quite comfortable yet. It can be frustrating to feel a constant tug at the leash… but remember if they’ve never walked on a leash before- it’s a completely new experience.
Before you begin, make sure you have the right equipment to walk your dog. Yes, the right collar/harness and leash make a huge difference. Don’t choose a leash that’s too long, or too short. Harnesses* are generally recommended for beginners, too. A harness is less likely to harm your dog when they tug than a collar (especially for small dogs- if you tug on a small dog or puppy’s collar, you put the dog at risk for a collapsed trachea).
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Dogs are also generally more at ease with a harness* than with a collar- which helps during training.
Training Steps for Leash Walking
Step 1: Help Your Dog Acclimate
Your dog should be given some time to get used to the collar or harness before you strap a leash to her. Try putting the collar or harness on, then give praise in the form of a low-calorie, healthy treat or a “Great job!” Give your dog a few days to get used to having the collar or harness on his or her body.
After a few days pass, you can clip the leash on your dog. Try just walking inside the house at first- where he or she feels comfortable. There are fewer distractions inside- and if your dog slips off the collar/harness or you lose the leash- you’ll be certain she’s safe.
You can even let him drag the leash around the house- giving him plenty of praise along the way. So, he associates the leash with happiness and rewards.
Step 2: Teach Off-Leash Commands
Ensuring your dog has the basic obedience skills mastered will help you with leash training. Your dog should understand, “sit” and “come,” at minimum so you can make sure she’s safe outside. Teacher her these commands also strengthens the bond you share with your dog- which results in more trust.
When a dog trusts you, you are more likely to have success on the leash. She will understand you aren’t doing anything to put her in harm’s way.
Step 3: Give Her Commands While on the Leash
Now that your dog is comfortable wearing the collar/harness, and you have mastered some basic obedience commands, you can start working on her general obedience while on the leash (again, indoors).
Step 4: Walking Outside
When you first walk outside, remember- to a dog- there are so many things to see, smell, hear. You might notice your puppy or dog is easily distracted. That’s okay. Try to keep the walks short. And, keep a handful of low-calorie snacks in your pocket to re-direct her attention if she gets distracted.
Step 5: Prevent Pulling
You’re ready to go outside, and she’s no longer afraid of the leash, but she’s still tugging on the leash… now what? When she begins to tug, turn the opposite direction of the way you’re walking. For example, if you’re walking west through your yard, immediately turn east (being careful not to tug). You might see her look at you like “what are you doing?” But soon, she will understand you are the leader.
I Need More Help!
If you need more help regarding leash walking, feel free to join the Dog Behavior Group on Facebook where readers of the Dog Behavior Blog share ideas and ask questions.