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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Most Recommended
1 Vote
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.
Recommend training method?

The Encouraging Forward Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
1 Vote
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.
Recommend training method?

The Correct Pulling Method

ribbon-method-2
Least Recommended
3 Votes
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?
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Written by Laurie Haggart

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

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Sophie
Cocker Spaniel
4 Years
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Question
0 found helpful
Sophie
Cocker Spaniel
4 Years

Two weeks ago I adopted a puppy mill mama rescue. Sophie was rescued from the puppy mill four months ago. She is the sweetest little dog however knows nothing about being a dog. As you see I have pads on the floor for potty training. I have been taking Sophie outside every two hours and she doesn’t go no matter how long we are outside. She sits down when we are outside. When we come back in, within 10-15 minutes she goes on the potty pad. I am afraid she is learning that the trip outside is just a trip and that it means come back in and use the potty pad. I always have treats on hand to celebrate if she goes outside (which she hasn’t yet) however I do not scold her when she uses the potty pad. I know she is a very special little dog and I want to do right by her! I am open to any suggestions! Also, I have to carry her in and out of my apartment because she knows nothing about walking with me, leashes, no commands, etc.

Thank you for listening and I hope to hear from you.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1010 Dog owners recommended

Hello Marilyn, Check out this article on helping her get used to the leash. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash Since she likely learned due to her past to go potty in a small cage, I would go a unique route with potty training. Check out the Tethering method from the article linked below. Whenever you are home use the Tethering method. Also, set up an exercise pen in a room that you can close off access to later on (pup will learn it's okay to potty in this room so choose accordingly). A guest bathroom, laundry room, or enclosed balcony - once weather is a safe temperature are a few options. Don't set the exercise pen up in a main area of the house like the den or kitchen. Tethering method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside Use the Exercise Pen method from the article linked below, and instead of a litter box like the article mentions, use a real grass pad to stay consistent with teaching pup to potty on grass outside and get rid of the pee pads - the grass should be less confusing than pee pads in the long run. Since your goal is pottying outside only use the Exercise Pen at night and when you are not home. When pup will hold her bladder while in the rest of the house consistently after practicing the tethering method and can hold it for as long as you are gone for during the day and overnight, then remove the exercise pen and grass pad completely, close off access to the room that the pen was in so she won't go into there looking to pee, and take her potty outside only. Since she may still chew longer even after potty training, when you leave her alone, be sure to leave her in a safe area that's been puppy proofed, like a cordoned off area of the kitchen with chew toys - until you are confident she isn't destructive when left alone and has learned house manners. Exercise Pen method: https://wagwalking.com/training/litter-box-train-a-chihuahua-puppy Real grass pad brands - Also found on Amazon www.freshpatch.com www.doggielawn.com You can also make your own out of a piece of grass sod cut up and a large, shallow plastic storage container. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rosie
Pit bull
7 Years
-1 found helpful
Question
-1 found helpful
Rosie
Pit bull
7 Years

Rosie is a 7 Yr old rescue from MS we got in Dec 2020:

At our house Rosie does not like other dogs coming over and has growled and attempted to fight others. She also does this to new men that come to the house. We have tried introducing her to our friends dog by going down the block and walking across the street, etc. but once we got back to the house she changed. It seems she tries to resource guard me and /or the house

Away from the house (and me) she’s a lot better. Sometimes on the leash walking she might bark at another dog. But at doggie boarding she is in large play groups and fine. They say she doesn’t play a whole lot, but she can be around other dogs and isn’t being aggressive. How do I fix it at home? I’d like my friends to bring their dogs over without having to worry about her

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1010 Dog owners recommended

Hello Margie, It does sound like pup is probably possessive of you and your home. Addressing possessiveness often involves both building trust and respect for you, and counter conditioning pup around other dogs being near their "possessions" so that pup associates other dogs coming near with good things. Sometimes before you can reward good responses you also have to interrupt pup's unwanted behavior too. This process needs to be done really carefully. You will also need access to a lot of other well mannered dogs, to practice the counter conditioning process with, one at a time, to help pup generalize the training to all dogs who come to your home and not just some dogs. Because of the difficulty level, resources needed (other dogs), and safety concerns involved, I do recommend working in person with a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression, comes well recommended by their previous clients for behavior issues like aggression, and has access to multiple other dogs, like a training group with several trainers who utilize the trainers' dogs for training sessions. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Emmalina
Pomeranian
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Emmalina
Pomeranian
5 Years

She was brought up with many other dogs, no human contact apart from one owner,had never been walked on a lead. I have got her to wear a harness now and she is ok with it in the car but refuses to walk with a lead attached, she just lies down

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
253 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Teaching a dog to walk on a leash is often a multi-step process. The leash can be very challenging to some dogs. So I have included a link to a very thorough article that goes over everything you need to teach this behavior. https://dogcoachingacademy.com/leash-training-an-older-dog/

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Question
Coco
Cocker Spaniel
7 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Coco
Cocker Spaniel
7 Years

We have had Coco with us for 7 years. He is a very sweet dog but has always pulled on his leash to the point where we avoid having to use one. We leave in the countryside and close to a beach. When we first got him, I went to a few training classes but that was not successful as the strategies were based on treats and Coco is not interested in treats when out of the house. He just wants to smell around. Off the leash, he responds well to my instructions, stays near us when we say 'stay' and comes back as soon as we clap our hands. I would very much appreciate advice on how to support Coco with walking sensibly and safely on a leash. Thank you. (Patricia)

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1010 Dog owners recommended

Hello Patricia, I recommend the Turns method from the article I have linked below, and the type of structured training from the video I have linked. With the Turns method you can use treats but you can also substitute the treats for just calm praise. It's your body language that's communicating with pup to follow and pay attention, the treats are just additional with this method instead of the primary way of teaching. Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Jeff
Mut
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Jeff
Mut
1 Year

This 2 adolescent dogs are strays. The grey female I think was abused. Anyway they are both fixed , feed one is use to a collar the female not. I need to start training them any suggestions? Thanks Kim

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1010 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kim, I would start with teaching both to be comfortable with a collar and leash, and leash pressure in general. Check out methods from the article I have linked below. This article mentions puppies but since this is new to your dogs to, I would start off like you would with a puppy when its completely new to them. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash Once they are completely comfortable with a leash and collar and have learned that leash pressure means come toward you and isn't scary, then check out the article I have linked below on teaching Heel to address them pulling or lagging behind. I generally recommend the Turns method most, but the Treat Lure method could also be a good option in your case most likely. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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