How to Train Your Older Dog to Walk on a Leash

Medium
2-4 Weeks
General

Introduction

You just adopted a wonderful dog from your local shelter. He looked so sad sitting there in the cage, and was so excited friendly and affectionate when you opened the cage door. You bring him home in a carrier and all seems well, until you put a leash on your dog to take him outside for a walk. All of a sudden, your outgoing, friendly do, turns into a cowering, shaking, balking ball of nerves. He has obviously never been walked on a leash before, he is scared, confused and stressed. You want to be able to take your new friend on walks for exercise and bonding--what are you going to do? Fortunately, even an old dog can learn new tricks, or more specifically to walk on a leash. You will just need to spend some time training your new dog to accept and use a leash.

Defining Tasks

Most dogs learn to walk on a leash when they are young, it is a basic skill your dog requires so that you can keep him safe and contained when outdoors. A dog that pulls or resists the leash is not only awkward and unpleasant to walk for their owner, but can injure themselves if too much strain is placed on the neck and windpipe, or if they get loose and run into traffic or other hazards.  A dog that pulls on a leash can also injure their owner if they pull them over or drag them into hazards. This risk becomes more pronounced with an adult dog that has more strength than a puppy and may outmuscle the owner.  

Some dogs may not learn this basic skill when young because they are raised in a rural environment, where they are not introduced to the leash, or because a stray or rescue dog may not have been provided the attention and training required to master the art of walking on a leash with their previous owner. A dog that has achieved the skill of walking on a leash will not be afraid of or avoid a collar and leash, they will walk at their owner's side without pulling the leash taut or resisting their owner. An older dog may be afraid or anxious when put on a leash, depending on their prior experiences, and if this is the case, getting the older dog to feel comfortable with the leash and not resist or pull away in fright may be required before leash training can commence.

Getting Started

When training your older dog, or any dog, to walk on a leash, it is important to have the correct equipment. You should use a collar that fits your dog properly, it should not be too tight or loose. An alternative to a collar, that is often preferable when training a dog to walk on a leash, is a body harness or a head harness. A dog is apt to put more pressure on their neck and throat while working thru the learning curve of being on a leash, and may be subject to neck and windpipe injuries, so be aware and adjust equipment as needed. You should also teach your dog on a shorter leash, to allow the dog to walk at your side, and not become entangled or put too much distance between you and him, which may encourage him to pull. Also, the leash should be the appropriate weight for the dog. For example, a large or giant breed dog will need a thicker leash than a toy or miniature breed. Retractable leashes are not recommended for training. Bring along treats to reward your dog for responding to your cues and walking well on the leash.  The following methods can be useful in teaching an older dog to walk on a leash.

The Acclimatize Method

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Step
1
Introduce leash at meal time
While your dog is eating, place the collar on him and let the leash hang while he is eating so that he associates the collar and leash with a positive experience. Repeat several times.
Step
2
Drag leash in the house
After your dog finishes eating, follow him with the leash around the house. Gradually increase the length of time you follow your dog around with the leash so he gets used to walking beside you.
Step
3
Drag leash in the yard
Next let your dog go outside with the leash and drag it behind him around an enclosed area, occasionally pick up the leash and follow your dog.
Step
4
Hold leash
Offer your dog a treat with one hand while holding the leash in the other hand. Coax your dog forward with the treat and leash.
Step
5
Pressure from the side
If the dog pulls or avoids moving forward, turn so that the leash pulls him to the side and the dog has to follow or lose his balance, praise him for following the leash and offer a treat. Repeat this until the dog begins following light pressure on the leash. Never punish your dog for not following the leash, as this will create a negative association.
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The Encouraging Forward Method

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Step
1
Acclimatize to leash
If you have an older dog that resists the leash by sitting or lying down or pulling away from you while on the leash, practice letting him get used to the leash by leaving it on him while outside in an enclosed area.
Step
2
Teach off leash command
Teach your dog off leash to respond to a command such as 'come', or a hand signal. When your dog comes, give him a treat.
Step
3
Give command while on lead
With the leash on but not holding it, give the dog the signal for 'come' and provide a treat. Reward for coming forward dragging the leash.
Step
4
Combine command and hold leash
Pick up the end of the leash, give the signal for 'come' and a light tug on the leash. Reward the dog when he comes and give a treat.
Step
5
Continue moving forward
Gradually start encouraging the dog forward while holding the leash with 'come' and provide a treat. A few steps at first, then several steps, then farther and farther until the dog is walking comfortably moving forward on the leash.
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The Correct Pulling Method

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Step
1
Stand still
Stand with your dog in a regular or choke collar, with a leash. Do not move forward. If the dog moves forward, give a sharp quick pull up on the collar with the leash and then release.
Step
2
Reward relax
When the dog has relaxed and is not pulling, start walking forward.
Step
3
Stop when pulling
When the dog tightens up the leash and pulls forward, give the leash a sharp pull upwards, stop moving forward, then release pressure. Do not continuously pull or put excessive pressure on the collar or choke collar.
Step
4
Continue when relaxed
When the dog is relaxed, start moving forward again.
Step
5
Repeat
Repeat as required, stopping and pulling your dog up quickly and then releasing, waiting for the dog to let the leash slack and then proceeding. Eventually, your dog will learn that only when the leash is slack does he get to proceed.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Jimmy
Indian pariah
2 Years
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Question
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Jimmy
Indian pariah
2 Years

Hi. I just reunited with my 2 year old dog, who I had to leave behind with our neighbors when we were moving out last year. Because he didn't come with us, as he's an untrained dog. This year, he surprisingly popped up in front of our house, which is miles away from where we left him! I want to train him into a friendly, social dog so that I can take him with me on walks and such, and take him with me when we move out next year. I had him wear a slim collar last year, he's still wearing that right now. But whenever he sees a leash or rope, he immediately runs and hides underneath bushes, starts crying near the gate and such. Any tips on how I can get a leash attached to his collar and make him a calm dog? He's currently very scared (I'll give him as long as he wants to adjust to his new surroundings, the yard) He's going to be a outdoor pet so I also want him to be friendly with other animals, walk on a leash and be a bit friendly with people. Listen to commands like "sit", "come here" and such. I want to make him a well behaved adult baby so that it'll make his new lifestyle of constant moving and adjusting a less miserable than what he has to face if he's a feral dog. Any leads would be appreciated!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
110 Dog owners recommended

Hello Nikita, First, whenever you feed him, set the leash next to his food. When he gets used to the leash being near him, then when you feed him, feed him one piece of food at a time from your hand while you hold the leash next to him in your other hand. When he can handle that, then reach toward him with the leash, but don't try to clip it on, and feed him a treat each time that you reach toward him. Repeat this until he can relax during that also. When he can handle that, then clip the leash to him, give him a treat, and un-clip it again. Practice this until he will let you clip the leash to him without reacting fearfully. Expect this to take at least a couple of weeks. After Jimmy can handle having the leash clipped to him, then create a short leash out something that is one to two feet long. When you are there to supervise him, clip the short leash to him and let him walk around with it attached to him. Play games with him and give him pieces of his food for following you around and paying attention to you. This will help with some of the other, future training and it will take his mind off of the leash being attached to him. When you are done spending time with him, then take the leash off of him again. You want him to associate the leash with attention from you, fun, and rewards, so that he will look forward to the leash being attached. When he can handle the short leash, then clip his regular six-foot leash to him, and practice the same thing with the longer leash, until he no longer minds that leash also. When he can handle the longer leash, then follow him around in the yard and hold onto the end of his leash. Every once in a while give a gentle tug on the leash and then quickly give him a treat while you praise him. You want to teach him to look at you or come toward you when he feels pressure from the leash. If he expects a reward whenever he feels the tug, he should start looking at you instead of panicking. As he improves, you can gradually wait until he takes a step toward you before you give him the treat. With practice, you can add more and more steps before you give the treat, teaching him to follow you. Go slow and make sure that he is comfortable with the current amount of leash pressure with the treats before you make things more difficult. Once you can take him with you places on the leash, then whenever he sees a person or a dog, before he has a change to react poorly, praise him, do a little fun dance, and give him a treat. This is to get him excited and to make him feel happy about the presence of other people and dogs. You want him to expect the appearance of others to be fun and not scary. To teach basic obedience commands, go to the training section of www.wagwalking.com/training and read the individual articles written for how to teach each of the commands that you want to teach him. Since Jimmy is so fearful, look for methods that involve using treats at first, to help him like the training sessions too. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bella and Bijou
Great Pyrenees
2 Years
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Question
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Bella and Bijou
Great Pyrenees
2 Years

Hello! My family recently purchased a farm with 19 goats and two livestock guardian dogs. The two lgd's have never worn a leash, and are downright terrified of it. We really need them to be able to walk on leash to take them too the vet to get shots, medical treatment, etc.
Any tips on how to acclimate these farm dogs to a leash?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
110 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kaitlyn, First, start by putting a regular collar on each dog and let him wear that for a week until he gets used to having something around his neck. Give them treats while you are putting the collars on. You might need real meat treats like chicken meat. When they are comfortable wearing collars, then when you are at home, attach a two to three foot check cord to each dog's collar while they are in a safely enclosed area and cannot run off if they get spooked. A check cord is a type of leash that is designed for hunting dogs to wear during outdoor training. It does not have a handle, is usually rolled instead of flat webbing, and is made out of a material that slides through the grass easily. Look for a brand like Sportdog or Mendota, you can also create your own out of thin climbing accessory rope. Have each dog wear the leash until he learns to ignore it. Expect the dogs to freak out for the first two days that they have the leashes on. Puppies take time to get used to leashes. It will take an adult at least as long as it does a puppy. They need to learn through experience that the leash is not going to hurt them. While Bella and Bijou are wearing the leash check cords and have calmed down enough, do something really fun with them in the enclosed area without grabbing onto the leash. That could be training exercises with treats, a game like fetch, or giving them each a fun toy. Anything that they love, that they can do while in that enclosed area while wearing the check cords. The purpose of the fun thing is to distract them from the leashes and to make the experience more pleasant so that they will calm down faster. Also only keep the leashes on them while you are around to supervise for safety reasons. Clear your schedule and spend the day with them reading and hanging out where you can see them. When they are used to the leashes dragging behind them, then pick up the handles of the leashes and follow each dog around wherever he wants to go. Have one person work with each dog or do them one at a time. Don't try to handle both yourself. When they are used to you following them while holding onto their leashes, then follow them like before but occasionally give a quick tug on the leash and then give a wonderful reward right after. Practice this until each dog begins to look at you when you tug in anticipation of a reward. Release the tension on the leash again right after you tug. When they will look at you, then occasionally give a tug, but keep the leash tight until the dog turns his head toward you or takes a step toward you. Practice this until both dogs will step toward you when you make the leash tight. From there you can add more steps, rewarding each dog every time that he walks toward you a bit more, until you have dogs who will follow you on a leash while you give him treats. When they can follow you on leash, then you can gradually give them less treats overtime, until you no longer need the treats. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Sophie
Labrador Retriever
8 Years
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Question
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Sophie
Labrador Retriever
8 Years

I haven’t really lease trained her. I am ready to start traveling and want to take her with me.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
110 Dog owners recommended

Hello Elaine, It is never too late to leash train Sophie. I recommend that you simply get her used to the leash first by following the "Acclimatize" method in this article bellow: https://wagwalking.com/training/walk-on-a-leash Once Sophie is used to the leash, then you can teach her to walk nicely on the leash by using one of the methods found in this article bellow: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-large-dog-to-not-pull Best of luck training and enjoy your travels with her, Caitlin Crittenden

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