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How to Train Your Older Dog to Walk Calmly on a Leash

How to Train Your Older Dog to Walk Calmly on a Leash
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon1-8 Weeks
Behavior training category iconBehavior

Introduction

You’re out on a pleasant walk through the countryside, the sun is out and life is good, but every 5 seconds you’re pulled in every which direction by your old, but surprisingly strong dog. The problem is even worse if he sees a dog on the horizon, or a stranger approaching. Are you finally ready to concede it’s time to get a handle on his pulling? After all, it’s better late than never!

Walking with a dog who can’t control themselves on a leash is simply exhausting. You simply can’t relax on a walk when it’s really him walking you. Plus, you may have aged along with him, and your shoulder sockets and arms simply aren’t as resilient as they once were. You don’t want to be pulled to the ground just because a dog crossed the road 100 meters away. Solving this issue will give you the calm and relaxing walks you deserve!

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Defining Tasks

"Heel" is one word that could save you considerable aggravation and make the relaxing dog walking fantasy you once had many years ago a reality. Unfortunately, teaching your dog to walk calmly on a leash is never straightforward. His senses are sent into overdrive when he leaves the house and comes across so many varied and often unpleasant smells. 

The problem is worsened if he is old. Puppies respond to training quickly, but older dogs' bad habits have often cemented over the years, so you have an uphill battle ahead. Having said that, with patience and consistency, you could have a calm and well-behaved dog trotting alongside you in just a few weeks, if you follow the methods below. It’s important to finally get a handle on his behavior on a leash, not only for your sanity, but also to prevent a serious accident ever taking place, such as him leaping across a busy road.

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Getting Started

Before you get going with training, you need to ensure you’re fully stocked on doggie treats. You can use pre-made treats, or you can simply break his favorite food into small bits. You will also need some quiet space, free from distractions. 

A secure training leash and possibly a harness will also be essential. Aside from that, bring all the patience you can find and an optimistic attitude. With all that, you're ready to get to work.

Now you’re fully stocked on essentials, it’s time to put him on a leash and address that mischievous behavior. 

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The Training Leash Method

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6 Votes

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6 Votes

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1

Training leash

Swap your normal leash for a training leash. These short leashes allow you to correct behavior quickly and effectively. So secure him to his new leash.

2

Keep him calm

He may be uncontrollable on a leash because he associates the leash with walking. So use the training leash on him at home for 10-15 minutes each day. This will dissociate the leash with the excitement of a walk.

3

Pulling

Tackle pulling before you even leave the house. Take him out the door as if going for a walk and if he goes crazy with excitement, turn around and re-enter the house. Repeat this until he is well and truly bored and can leave the door in a calm manner. Repeat this process every time you start a walk.

4

Come to a standstill

Stop suddenly as soon as he pulls. Stop in your tracks and don’t budge until he calms down. I hope you’re feeling patient because it may take quite a while to get anywhere, but consistency is key, so persevere!

5

Reward

Reward him when he does walk calmly. As he slowly realizes from all of the above steps he needs to remain calm to get anywhere, he will stop acting up. To speed up the process, reward him with treats whenever he does travel any distance calmly by your side.

The 180 Method

Effective

4 Votes

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Effective

4 Votes

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1

Setting up

Secure him with a training leash, or his normal leash. Then open the door and take him outside to start the walk.

2

Wait

Hold the leash firmly and wait for him to pull. You are waiting for him to pull so you can straight away correct the behavior.

3

React

When he does pull, turn around and walk in the opposite direction. This quick jolt will tell him if he does pull, he won’t get to travel in the direction it wants to.

4

Repeat

Repeat this process. Even if it means you are constantly walking back and forward, only taking 5 steps at a time, this corrective action will eventually show him that you are in total control of the walk.

5

Patience

Be patient, and reward positive behavior. Slowly he will catch on that walking calmly is the only way he is going to get a walk. When he does cotton on and walk calmly, be sure to give him a treat and praise him. Positive reinforcement is always effective in dogs.

The ‘Heel’ Method

Least Recommended

4 Votes

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Least Recommended

4 Votes

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1

Getting ready

Put a leash on him and head for the door. If your dog is big as well as old, then it could be worth putting a body harness on. This will put less pressure on his neck when you pull on the leash.

2

Set off

Start walking as you normally would. Hold the leash firmly and wait for him to use up the loose leash.

3

'Heel'

Say "heel" in a loud and firm voice. The second he pulls, give the command and give the leash a gentle but noticeable jerk and then stand firmly still. He will eventually walk back to your side.

4

Reward

Reward him with a treat and praise. By doing this when he returns to your side, you are incentivizing him to always return to you. Plus the ‘heel’ cue will signal to him he has gone to far and needs to turn back.

5

Practice

Practice makes perfect. All you need to do now is keep up with the training and be patient. It may take many weeks and hours of slow and disjointed walks, but your old dog will eventually break his old habit. As he gets much better at walking calmly by your side, slowly cut down on the number of treats you give him.

By James Barra

Published: 11/03/2017, edited: 01/10/2023

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Cooper

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Irish Setter

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Seven Years

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Question

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He is a constant puller. We tried putting him in a harness and this worked initially but he’s just gone back to pulling again.

Dec. 23, 2022

Cooper's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Check out the resources I have linked below. Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Also, make sure you are not using a regular back clip harness, because they will actually encourage more pulling, unlike a front clip harness or something like a gentle leader. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Dec. 27, 2022

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Westley

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Labradoodle

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2 Years

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Question

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He is an extremely loveable and excitable dog, but he's about 65 lbs and strong. We have a lot of trouble with him on the leash. He pulls constantly (especially when walking back to the car) and he will bolt after animals frequently (like squirrels or deer, he's mostly friendly and curious with other dogs). My mom is getting older and she really struggles walking him because he pulls so constantly and so intensely. I'd love some tips on how to work on his walking behavior and also his responsiveness towards other animals.

June 2, 2022

Westley's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Elisabeth, There are two different ways this could be addressed. You can either teach a more structured heel, work on attention around distractions, and use a no-pull device that would be more effective against a strong dog. For the small animal chasing, I would then also work on teaching pup to look at your grandmother every time they see an animal, expecting to receive a treat from her and follow instructions through operant conditioning. Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo The second option would be to go ahead and teach pup an off-leash level of heel and focus using treats, a long training leash, and a stimulated based remote training collar. Pup would still walk on a leash with her but with an off leash level of obedience the leash is really just there for added security but not to actually hold pup in place, so pup won't be pulling and risking injuring her. For this route, I would find a trainer who has experience with off-leash training using working level remote collar training also combined with positive reinforcement for heeling. https://www.youtube.com/c/JamiePenrithDogTraining/search?query=heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

June 2, 2022


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