How to Train Your Older Dog to Walk Calmly on Leash

Medium
1-8 Weeks
Behavior

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!

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.

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. 

The Training Leash Method

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
6 Votes
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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!
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

The 180 Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
4 Votes
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

The ‘Heel’ Method

ribbon-method-3
Least Recommended
4 Votes
Step
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.
Step
2
Set off
Start walking as you normally would. Hold the leash firmly and wait for him to use up the loose leash.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?
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Written by James Barra

Published: 11/03/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Layla
German Shepherd
2 Years
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Question
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Layla
German Shepherd
2 Years

I have multiple challenges with Layla. Most of the problem is with listening and the fact that she's so young and playful.

She's terrible on walks, pulling very roughly and not caring who is behind her. She also rarely listens when called to in the yard, especially if chasing after something.

She barks constantly and at everything, even if you tell her no barks. To be fair we haven't had much time to train her but a lot of the problem is because of the past owners not training her whatsoever. She is used to being able to do whatever she wants and though we love her its getting irritating.

She understands "sit" and "lay down" and things like that, although she'll immediately roll onto her back for a belly rub instead of sitting sometimes, which is a cute but annoying habit we're trying to break.

General listening problems are the biggest issue. If we could get her to listen to and understand more complicated commands, and also fix her walking, she'd be a perfect dog. She's very silly and playful, and I love her to bits, but she's a real handful and I can't break the old habits alone.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1099 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ari, Check out this article on listening: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Check out this trainer on youtube and his obedience training, starting from basic obedience/puppies onward. https://www.youtube.com/c/JamiePenrithDogTraining Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Reactive dog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY8s_MlqDNE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfiDe0GNnLQ&t=259s Barking: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAA4pob0Wl0W2agO7frSjia1hG85IyA6a In addition to desensitizing and teaching Quiet like the videos and articles I linked above go over, sometimes you also need an interrupter, like an unscented pet convincer (avoid citronella and avoid spraying in the face), a stimulation bark collar, or vibration collar. The interruption needs to be combined with practicing Quiet with rewards, and rewarding pup for calm responses around whatever they normally bark at (make a list even if it's long of things pup tends to bark at, then reward whenever pup is around those things and stays quiet and calm instead). Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Oreo
Labrador Retriever
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Oreo
Labrador Retriever
3 Years

Oreo is a rescue and gets very distracted. He eats a treat from you and will then walk/pull away. Each time he comes back, we treat him and he runs away again. We think he is associating pulling with coming back for treats.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1099 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brogan, Check out the Turns method from the article I have below, to help pup learn to stay with you instead of just yoyoing back and forth. This will need to be practiced in a more open area first, like your yard, cul-de-sac that's empty of cars, or grassy area/field. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Chase
Vizsla
3 Years
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Question
0 found helpful
Chase
Vizsla
3 Years

Chase is a beautiful and loving dog. He is a rescue dog and we have had him for two years tomorrow. He is my husband’s dog. Chase LOVES the outdoors but he is a “puller”! As he has grown, his pulling is worse but now he is stronger. My husband insists on pulling him hard and I feel he will injure his neck with so much pulling. I do not agree with him “yanking” on his leash at all! We have hard arguments between us because my husband will spank Chase with the end of his leash. I have insisted to him that Chase CAN be trained to walk without pulling but I tried to show him and Chase knocked me down several times already. I am not allowed to “walk” him for that same reason but I do not like to see Chase wind up with a neck or throat injury because of all the pulling. Please help me help Chase.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1099 Dog owners recommended

Hello Rita, First, check out the Turns method from the article linked below. Pay special attention to the steps on turning directly in front of pup as soon as their nose starts to move past your leg - don't wait until her head is all the way past your leg to turn in front of her or this will be hard to do. It should look like pup sitting beside you, slightly behind you so that head is behind your leg, step forward and as soon as she starts to move ahead of you, quickly turn directly in front of her. You will probably have to be fast at first and may bump into her until she starts to learn this. Practice in an open area, like your own yard, so that you can make lots of turns easily. You want pup to learn that she should stay slightly behind and pay attention to where you are going and where you may turn, instead of assuming she knows the way and can forge ahead. The turns keep her guessing and more focused. Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Since pup is such a strong pulling, in addition to the turns method I would also recommend a tool that helps prevent pup from being able to pull so hard they could pull you over. I am guessing your husband is currently using a choke chain, which I am not a fan of because it can damage the trachea; although it may look worse, a prong collar if fitted and used correctly (you should be able to correct with two fingers when used right for most dogs - not a big yank) is actually safer most of the time and tends to get a dog's attention better. Any training tool or punishment won't work by itself unless you also show pup what to do instead, like through the Turns method, and reward the good manners you want to see more of. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23zEy-e6Khg Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Milo
Golden Retriever
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Milo
Golden Retriever
2 Years

With no dog trainers around and covid lo lockdowns, I couldn't train my dog. Now, walking him is a nightmare. He pulls, is extremely reactive to other dogs and doesn't obey commands. He constantly runs away from home and when we try to call him, he runs farther away.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1099 Dog owners recommended

Hello Moksharthi, I would start by desensitizing pup to wearing a basket muzzle. Many reactive dogs will redirect aggression to whoever is closest when aroused, so for safety I would introduce a basket muzzle with treats just in case. To introduce the muzzle, first place it on the ground and sprinkle his meal kibble around it. Do this until he is comfortable eating around it. Next, when he is comfortable with it being on the floor with food, hold it up and reward him with a piece of kibble every time he touches or sniffs it in your hand. Feed him his whole meal this way. Practice this until he is comfortable touching it. Next, hold a treat inside of it through the muzzle's holes, so that he has to poke his face into it to get the treat. As he gets comfortable doing that, gradually hold the treat further down into the muzzle, so that he has to poke his face all the way into the muzzle to get the treat. Practice until he is comfortable having his face in it. Next, feed several treats in a row through the muzzle's holes while he holds his face in the muzzle for longer. Practice this until he can hold his face in it for at least ten seconds while being fed treats. Next, when he can hold his face in the muzzle for ten seconds while remaining calm, while his face is in the muzzle move the muzzle's buckles together briefly, then feed him a treat through the muzzle. Practice this until he is not bothered by the buckles moving back and forth. Next, while he is wearing the muzzle buckle it and unbuckle it briefly, then feed a treat. As he gets comfortable with this step, gradually keep the muzzle buckled for longer and longer while feeding treats through the muzzle occasionally. Next, gradually increase how long he wears the muzzle for and decrease how often you give him a treat, until he can calmly wear the muzzle for at least an hour without receiving treats more than two treats during that hour. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s For the reactivity, I suggest working on the structure of your walk first. You want pup to be working during the walk - having to stay behind you, focus on you, perform commands periodically, and not have his mind on scanning the area in search of other dogs. The walk should start with him having to exit your home very calmly, performing obedience commands at the door if he isn't calm. He should wait for permission ("Okay" or "Free" or "Let's Go") before going through the door instead of bolting through if that's an issue. When you walk he should be in the heel position - with his head behind your leg. That position decreases his arousal, reduces stress because he isn't the one in charge and the one encountering things first. It prevents him from scanning for other dogs, staring dogs down or being stared down, and ignoring you behind him. It also requires him to be in a more submissive, structured, focused, calmer mindset - which has a direct effect on how aroused, stressed, and aggressive he is - it makes him feel like the responsibility is on your shoulders not his around other dogs. Additionally, when you do pass other dogs, as soon as he starts staring them down, interrupt him. Don't tolerate challenging stares at other dogs. Remind him with a fair correction that you are leading the walk and he is not allowed to break his heel or stare another dog down. It is far easier to deal with reactivity when you interrupt a dog early in the process - before they are highly aroused and full of adrenaline and cortisol, and to keep the dog in a less aroused/calmer state to begin with. This also makes the walk more pleasant for him in the long-run. Leading the walk this way can actually boost a dog's confidence in the long run around other dogs because the dog feels like you will handle the situation so they can relax. Be picky about which dogs he greets. Avoid nose-to-nose greetings dogs who lack manners. A simple "He's in training" tends to work well. Be picky about who and how he meets other dogs. Avoid dogs that don't respect his space, pull their owners over to her, and generally are not listening well - those dogs are often friendly but they are rude and difficult for some to meet on leash. Also, avoid greeting dogs who look very tense around your dog, who stare him down, who give warning signs like a low growl or lip lift, who look very puffed up and proud - that type greeting with a dog is likely to end in a fight since your dog doesn't know how to diffuse that situation. A stiff wag is also a bad sign. A friendly wag looks relaxed and loose with relaxed body language overall. A tense dog with a very stiff wag, especially with a tail held high is a sign of arousal and not always a good thing. Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Reactive dog - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY8s_MlqDNE Aggressive dog - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Outside of the walk you can work on building pup's trust and respect for you in other ways too. The following commands and exercises are also good for that: Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M A long down stay around distractions is a good thing to practice during walks periodically. Check out the Reel In method from the article linked below. Reel In method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall More Come - pay attention to the PreMack Principle and long leash training sections especially once pup has learned what Come initially means. These need to be practiced around all types of distractions like dogs and kids at the park to ensure pup is reliable before attempting true off leash. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-to-come-when-called/ Another activity you can practice is walking around places like your yard or a field with pup on the long training leash and changing directions frequently without saying anything. Whenever he takes notice (at first because the leash finally tugs, but later just because you moved), then toss a treat at him for looking your way or coming over to you - without calling him; this encourages him to choose to pay attention to where you are and associate your presence with good things on his own, so he will want to be with you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Star Beau and sky
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
8 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Star Beau and sky
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
8 Years

I have 3 Staffie saved 12-10-and 8 years When out walking on the leash they do pull at the start that I can control the problem comes when they see another dog. They seem to get excited but it gets worse and then the two younger ones end up nipping at eachother( sometimes drawing blood) once the distraction has gone they are back to their ‘ normal’ selves untill the next dog appears then it starts again. It’s easy to say stay relaxed but it’s not so easy to do as I worry they will hurt eachother ( the older dog doesn’t get involved) is this a hierarchy issue. It’s getting to the stage where I don’t enjoy the walks

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1099 Dog owners recommended

Hello Karl, I recommend seeing if there is a G.R.O.W.L. class in your area, which is a class for dog reactive and dog aggressive dogs who all wear basket muzzles and are intensively socializes together in a structured environment to help with aggression and fear. I would take each reactive dog to the class, either one at a time or two at a time if a second person can handle the second dog, so you are only managing one dog at a time. For the leash reactivity, I suggest working on the structure of your walk first. You want pups to be working during the walk - having to stay behind you, focus on you, perform commands periodically, and not have her mind on scanning the area in search of other dogs. The walk should start with them having to exit your home very calmly, performing obedience commands at the door if they aren't calm. They should wait for permission ("Okay" or "Free" or "Let's Go") before going through the door instead of bolting through if that's an issue. When you walk they should be in the heel position - with their heads behind your leg. That position decreases arousal, reduces stress because they aren't the ones in charge and the ones encountering things first. It prevents them from scanning for other dogs, staring dogs down or being stared down, and ignoring you behind them. It also requires them to be in a more submissive, structured, focused, calmer mindset - which has a direct effect on how aroused, stressed, and aggressive they are - it makes them feel like the responsibility is on your shoulders not theirs around other dogs. Additionally, when you do pass other dogs, as soon as they starts staring them down, interrupt them. Don't tolerate challenging stares. Remind them with a gentle correction that you are leading the walk and they are not allowed to break heel or stare another dog down. It is far easier to deal with reactivity when you interrupt a dog early in the process - before they are highly aroused and full of adrenaline and cortisol, and to keep the dog in a less aroused/calmer state to begin with. This also makes the walk more pleasant for them in the long-run. Leading the walk this way can actually boost a dog's confidence in the long run around other dogs because the dog feels like you will handle the situation so they can relax. Once they are able to walk more calmly, you can also reward with a treat hidden in your pocket - for calmness, obedience, and ignoring the other dog and focusing on you. Only reward calm body language though - don't reward pup while they are tense or staring the other dog down - even if not lunging. Calmness and focus on you is the goal around other dogs. Start with walking and training the dogs separately. Once they can handle passing other dogs by themselves, walk them together again, going up to two first, then three finally, practicing the training more with them together and expecting things to get a bit worse with both together than both did separately since they will feed off of each other's energy and reactivity. For the two who are attacking each other especially, I would introduce a basket muzzle, desensitizing to the muzzle ahead of time gradually. What you are experiencing with the nipping is called redirection. It happens when a dog is aroused and directs that arousal to whoever is closest when they can't get to what they want to attack. Since pups are doing this with each other, the chances of them directing it toward you instead is also high, making the use of a basket muzzle until things improve even more important here. Muzzle desensitizing example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Reactive dog - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY8s_MlqDNE Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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