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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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Encouraging Forward Method
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Correct Pulling Method
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.
When the dog has relaxed and is not pulling, start walking forward.
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.
Continue when relaxed
When the dog is relaxed, start moving forward again.
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.
Written by Laurie Haggart
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 11/05/2017, edited: 01/08/2021