How to Train Your Dog to Use a Leash

How to Train Your Dog to Use a Leash
Easy difficulty iconEasy
Time icon1-4 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

Introduction

Your puppy is still a cute little ball of fur, but now he needs to learn to brave the outdoors and walk with you while on a leash. Except when you try to put on the leash, he goes berserk. He doesn’t know what this peculiar long bit of string is, and when you do get it on him he either refuses to walk at all or pulls you in every direction. Not getting the point of the leash might have been cute to start with, but you’re quickly getting fed up so he needs to learn fast.

Most people don’t realize that dogs often need training to use a leash to start with, but it’s a lesson we all learn swiftly. If you can train him to use a leash properly then your walks will be stress-free and relaxing.

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Defining Tasks

"Walkies."

It’s one word that turns many dogs into crazed and over-excitable creatures. Training your dog to use his leash calmly isn’t always as easy as one might hope. You need to motivate him to stay calm and incentivize him to behave when he’s on his leash. If he’s a puppy and the concept of the leash is new to him, then he may need a week or two to adjust. If he’s had years of messing around and refusing to use his leash properly, then you may need up to a month before you break the bad habit.

Get this training right though, and you’ll be forever thankful you stuck with it. The leash is an essential part of leaving the house and coming into contact with other people and dogs, so it’s worthy of your time. He won’t pull, he’ll quietly and patiently wait for you to secure him to his leash and the word ‘leash’ won’t ever conjure up headaches.

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Getting Started

Before your work can begin you’ll need a few bits. As you can imagine, a leash will be the first requirement. You may also want to invest in a body harness to reduce the strain on his neck. Treats or his favorite food will also play an essential role during training.

Make sure you have a few minutes each day to commit to training, plus ensure you have a quiet outside space you can practice in. A quiet field or a yard should suffice.

Once you’ve checked that all off the list, you just need to be patient and come with an optimistic attitude and then you can get going!

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The Constant Approval Method

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1

Put him on the leash and then take it off

To start with you need to ensure he will wait calmly while you secure him to his leash. Hold a treat out in front of him to keep his attention on you. Then when the leash is secured, let him have the treat. Wait a few seconds and then take it off. Once the leash is off, give him a treat again. Practice this a few times for the first couple of days.

2

Time to walk

He now knows whats expected of him when you put him on the leash, so he should behave for at least the beginning. Once he’s on the leash, head out the door. As you walk, give him verbal praise and hold a treat by your side at his head height. The idea is to reward him for as long as he behaves and walks calmly next to you.

3

React swiftly

Keep using the treat and praise to keep him on side, but as soon as he starts to pull or misbehave, react promptly. Turn around and give him a quick pull so you set off walking in the opposite direction. This jerk will signal to him that if he misbehaves he gets yanked away from where he wanted to go.

4

Be consistent

It’s vital you are persistent during the first couple of weeks. If you have days where he misbehaves and you don’t correct the behavior, you’ll delay the end result. Also, if you don’t use treats and praise to reward him the whole time he is behaving, he may stop bothering.

5

Slowly lose the rewards

Wait a number of weeks, until he is calm the whole time he’s on the leash, from the moment you go to secure him to it until the walk is finished. At this point, he knows how to behave and you can slowly cut out the treats and rewards until they’re no longer needed.

The Gradual Introduction Method

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Leave it in his bed

This may sound bizarre, but before he starts using the leash he needs to be comfortable around it. Leaving it in his vicinity for a couple of days will make it smell like him and put him at ease.

2

Secure him to his leash

Calmly and quietly have him sit in front of you and then secure him to his new leash. Once the leash is on, give him a treat and verbal praise. It’s important you keep things as calm as possible, the more excited he gets, the harder he will be to control.

3

Walk around the house

For the first couple of days, you need to practice simply walking around your home with him on the leash. Here you will be able to control his environment and there’ll be less distractions. Hold him on a short leash so he has to stay right by your side.

4

Head out the door

After a couple of days, follow the steps above but this time go out for a walk. Again, keep him next to you on a short leash. If he starts to pull, stop walking and wait for him to get back in line. You can verbally praise him as you walk to keep him on track and to reinforce the right behavior.

5

Consistency

The key is to keep him on a short leash and then gradually extending it when he behaves. When you can leave the leash lax and he walks calmly next to you, your work is done.

The Behavior Method

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Secure him to his new leash regularly

Leashes can often send dogs into overdrive, so you need to get him comfortable and calm with it. That means securing him to his leash when you’re in the house and letting him carry it with him everywhere he goes. It soon won’t be exciting, it will just be there.

2

Play with him half an hour before a walk

Before you head out, get some of that energy out by playing tug of war. If he’s not quite so energetic when it comes to the walk, controlling him will be far easier.

3

Be firm

When you do secure him to his leash and head out for a walk, pull him firmly to your side. Don’t give him any slack to start with. You need to lay out the rules from the start.

4

Keep him focused

All walks should be thought of as training sessions until he can walk properly on the leash. That means keep his eyes on you with quiet praise and using the odd treat.

5

Positive reinforcement

The entire time he behaves on the leash, give him verbal praise and tasty treats. He will soon associate calm behavior with handsome rewards. When he does misbehave on the leash, stand still until he gives you the behavior you’re looking for. Keep up these steps consistently and he’ll soon know nothing else but obedience. When he gets the hang of it, gradually cut out the treats.

By James Barra

Published: 11/02/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Louis

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Papillon

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3 Months

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Question

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afraid of other dogs and people always hides behind me when he sees other dogs bites other people won't make in one spot

Aug. 21, 2021

Louis's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Meira, Recruit friends and family pup doesn't know to walk past them while on leash. Watch pup's body language and have the person stay far enough away that pup stays relaxed. As the person passes pup and pup is reacting well (don't reward while aggressive or acting fearful), then have the person toss several treats gently toward pup's paws and continue walking. Have lots of different people do this in lots of different place - without approaching pup after. You want pup to begin to associate the people with something fun happening and take the pressure of petting away at first before pup is ready for that part. As pup improves, have the people gradually decrease the distance between them and pup. Once pup can handle people walking right by and dropping treats, practice the protocol from the video linked below, keeping pup's leash short enough that if pup were to lunge while practicing this, they won't be able to get to someone to bite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIJoEJfTS-E Finally, during all of this, practice desensitizing pup to handling and touch using their food. As often as you can, feed pup their meals one piece at a time. Gently touch pup in an area while feeding a piece of food. Touch their should - feed a piece. Touch their back - feed a piece. Touch an ear - feed a piece. Touch their collar - feed a piece. Touch their paw - feed a piece. Touch their belly - feed a piece. ect... Do it gently and start with areas pup is most comfortable and work up to the other areas as pup improves. When pup enjoys your touches, add in other people pup knows touching, like family members. When pup can handle that add in gentle strangers once pup has completed the other training and is more comfortable with strangers. Don't rush these things but do practice very often and with lots of different people. Watch pup's reaction and go at a pace where pup can stay relaxed - the goal isn't just for pup to act good but actually feel better about people - so pup staying relaxed and happy around people is what you want to reward, which will mean going at the pace or distance pup an handle. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Aug. 23, 2021

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Max

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Yorkshire Terrier

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4 Years

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Question

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Hi my dog has never liked the leash he refuses to even walk with it.

April 5, 2021

Max's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Pay attention to pup's body language and the environment. Some pups don't want to walk because they are afraid of a neighborhood dog in a fence barking, construction workers, funny objects (like Christmas decorations), and things we would never think twice about. If pup isn't familiar with something (no matter how normal it may seem to us) it can feel scary to pup and be a reason why they don't want to leave the safety of the yard. If pup seems nervous or something might be bothering them in the environment, work on helping pup overcome that fear first by using play and treats to distract pup and then reward pup for any confidence, calmness, or tolerance they shows around the fearful thing. Spend time getting pup used to leash pressure in general if pup's not familiar with coming forward toward you when there is a leash tug. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash Next, if pup still won't walk, take some small treats or pup's dog food pieces in a small ziplock bag in your pocket or a favorite toy. Every time pup takes a couple of steps, give a treat or toss the toy a step forward or let pup give the toy a tug. Keep your energy excited and confident. When pup stops, tell pup "Let's Go" in a calm and business-like tone of voice (it's not a question, it's a confident, calm command), then tug and release the leash several times in a row until pup takes a couple more steps - at which point give another treat or play. The leash tugs should stop as soon as pup starts moving. Keep your walking goals short at first. If pup won't leave your yard - your first goal is just to leave the yard. When pup reaches that goal - go home as an additional reward for pup following you - even if a lot of leash tugs were involved. When pup will go to the end of the yard easily then walk to the next house. Gradually increase your walk distance overtime. If you make your goal something huge like the whole neighborhood at first you are less likely to succeed - work up to distance overtime. Also, do not continuously pull pup on the leash. Doing so can harm pup's neck, but also dog's have a natural tendency to pull away from something - so if you pull pup in one direction, he will just pull back in the other direction, budging even less. This is why you do the quick tug and releases so that not following is uncomfortable with the tugs but not a continuous pull. You want pup to choose to walk to get away from the annoying tugs and to receive treats. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

April 6, 2021


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