How to Train Your Older Dog to Walk on a Leash

How to Train Your Older Dog to Walk on a Leash
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon2-4 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Acclimatize Method

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Encouraging Forward Method

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Correct Pulling Method

Least Recommended

3 Votes

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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.

2

Reward relax

When the dog has relaxed and is not pulling, start walking forward.

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.

4

Continue when relaxed

When the dog is relaxed, start moving forward again.

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.

By Laurie Haggart

Published: 11/05/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Rocky

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Pit bull

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Three Years

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How can I train my dogs to walk on a leash when they run and pull u hard and they actually hurt your back in doing this

Oct. 5, 2022

Rocky's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, the dogs will likely feed off of each other's behavior, making it really hard to walk and train them all at the same time, so I would spend time training each individually first, then combine them and work on training some more once they all know the new rules individually, to help them be able to walk nicely around the distraction of one another also. Second, check out the Turns method from the article I have linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-australian-shepherds-to-not-jump Third, since the dogs are strong enough to hurt you pulling, I would use a training tool that prevents you being injured while training, until the dogs can walk nicely without it. For strong pullers a correctly fitted and used gentle leader and prong collar tend to reduce pulling the most. These tools need to be combined with training and fitted properly also though. Some dogs also need them to be reinforced for safety, such as by connecting pup's regular collar and the training tool both to the leash incase the tool were to break during use. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23zEy-e6Khg Different tools are better for different dogs and levels of physical or mental sensitivity. Which tool works best in this case will depend on each dog. Just be sure to learn how to use the tool properly. I don't recommend a choke chain due to the risk of damage to the front of the neck however. A front clip harness can work for some dogs - some may pull through it somewhat still though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Oct. 6, 2022

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Chevy

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Cane Corso

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3 Years

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Very anxious on leash. Use gentle leader (large), but seems too tight at vocal cords. Sense of being trapped with noise, people, cars, etc. Coughs/ honks a lot. When leash free very little honking/coughing. Should we try a harness?

April 28, 2022

Chevy's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sherri, It does sound like his neck might be too muscular for that tool. Some dogs are also very bothered by the gentle leader's way of turning the head if the dog is very visually dependent. I don't recommend a back clip harness because it can encourage pulling and be dangerous with a large dog who isn't off-leash trained, but I would look for a good front clip harness or consider a properly fitted prong collar. I would also avoid a choke chain because of the damage they can do to the trachea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS1z2cPwJMg Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

May 3, 2022


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