How to Train Your Rescue Dog to Walk On a Leash

Medium
2-4 Weeks
General

Introduction

Rescue dogs are special pets. They come with a history that may affect their behavior and even their personality. But this is a history you may know nothing about. You may get some hints about your dog's past based on his behavior. Rescue dogs are special in your lives because you're choosing to give them a chance for a good home and a good life. Some rescues have been abused. Some have been neglected. Some have just been left behind without an understanding of why. Any or all of these things could cause your rescue dog to behave in ways you may not understand. Your rescue dog may have been abused with a leash. This might make walking on a leash extremely scary for your dog. Or your rescue may have never been on a leash before. He may be a bit apprehensive about trying something new. 

Defining Tasks

Loving your rescue dog and giving him a chance to be an amazing pet and to learn and grow with boundaries and love are the best things you can offer your pup. Training your dog after rescue to walk on a leash will not only take some patience, love, and understanding, but it may also take some guesses as to why he behaves the way he does. If he's fearful of the leash, it may be because he was abused at one time. Take this training slow, let him lead the way and show you the pace he needs to go in order for him to be comfortable and willing to try something new with you, his new owner who loves him dearly. Introducing the leash and how to use it and what your expectations are with a rescue dog needs to happen in small phases. Have lots of patience and remember your dog’s stomach is a great path to his heart and building trust.

Getting Started

Because a rescue dog requires special kind of attention and training, be sure you are very patient and calm during your training sessions. You don't want to trigger any anxiety or trauma from your dog's past while training. Be sure you have a leash that is appropriate for your dog’s size and weight. If your dog is highly anxious or fearful, you may want to consider putting him in a harness instead of just a collar. This will help you have better control over him while on the leash. High-value treats are great for any pup, but for training rescue dogs you may need to consider using treats that are extremely tasty and offer more than you might a dog who doesn't have a past you're not aware of.

The Loose Leash Method

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Step
1
Introduce leash
Your rescue dog might be apprehensive about everything and you might not know his triggers, so go slow with introducing new activities for you to do together. Make a big deal out of his leash. Let him sniff it and talk it up with a calm voice. Be sure to pair food with this introduction.
Step
2
Clip on
Once your dog has earned a treat or two sniffing and getting to know his leash, clip it onto his harness or collar. Consider a harness if he is fearful or anxious about a leash. A harness will give you more control over your pup while giving him the independence of a loose leash.
Step
3
Treat
Start with a high value treat just for putting the leash on. Then take a few steps and encourage your rescue dog to follow you. If he needs coaxing, take a step or two away from him and encourage him to come to you for the treat.
Step
4
Repeat
Continue to take a few steps, offering your pup a treat for every few steps he takes with you.
Step
5
Short walk
If your rescue dog is eager to please and happy to be on a leash, take a short walk, encouraging him with treats. If he is bored or anxious, keep your first few times on the leash short and sweet with lots of treats. Be sure to practice again for several days until he’s eager or even excited to take a walk with you.
Step
6
Pulling
If your dog pulls you or even if you find yourself pulling your dog along, take a step back and stop walking. If your dog is pulling you. When you stop, he will stop as well. If you are dragging him along, he will be happy you stopped.
Step
7
Entice
If you need to regroup with your pup because he’s pulling, stop walking and wait for him to stop. One he stops, give him a treat. Hold another treat over his nose while you take the next few steps. If you are pulling your dog on your walk together, you want to entice him to move with you using a treat on front of his nose.
Step
8
Continue
Keep practicing with your rescue dog until he is eager to head out on a walk with you. Continue to use treats to entice and reward him as necessary.
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The Around the House Method

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Step
1
Leash
Introduce a leash to your dog slowly. Leave it near his bed or in his crate or even near you so he can explore it without you at the other end. Leave this leash around in various places for a few days, letting your dog sniff it so he is used to seeing it around the house. If you are using a leash that came with your dog, get a new one. That old leash may harbor bad memories for your new pup.
Step
2
Put leash on
Attach the leash to your dog’s collar and let him roam around the house without you holding the other end of the leash. This will give him time to get used to the leash while wearing it.
Step
3
Walk outside
With the leash on, walk your dog outside. If you have a fenced in yard, you can try to walk him in the fenced in yard with the leash on but without holding the leash. If you do not have the ability to have the dog wear the leash without you holding it, walk him on the leash but only a bit. You can walk him up and down your driveway and then take him back inside.
Step
4
Repeat
Practice this several times a day for a week before extending the length of the walk. Once he’s ready to go further without anxiety about the leash, take your rescue pup for a longer walk.
Step
5
Treat
Offer the dog treats along the way to reward him for a job well done. Be sure to offer him lots of verbal praise as well to reward him.
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The Gentle Love Method

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Step
1
Treat
Spend some quality time with your dog, offering love and affection. Offer him lots of treats as you two bond.
Step
2
Play
Take your pup outside in a safe, quiet area and play with him. Your playtime can include toys like a rope for tug of war or you can sit on the ground and bond with him.
Step
3
Leash
During a play session, put a leash on your dog and keep playing together. Ignore the leash while the dog gets used to the weight of it and watching it drag behind him.
Step
4
Walk
With treats, get your dog to come over to you dragging the leash behind him. While he’s near you getting his well-deserved treat, grab ahold of his leash and take a step forward with it in your hand.
Step
5
Sniff and explore
Hold the leash and let your rescue pup explore the leash. He will want to sniff it and look how it is connected to your hand.
Step
6
Walk more
Try to keep the leash loose and walk your pup while holding the leash.
Step
7
Practice
Keep practicing these steps to get your dog used to the leash. Take him for short walks as long as he’s comfortable. If your rescue dog is skittish at all, try to keep the walks short and with few distractions or noises.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Britty
Bolognese
3 Years
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Question
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Britty
Bolognese
3 Years

I am adopting a 3 year old dog who has never been outside or on a leash. Can I train her to adjust to new surroundings, no sleeping in my bed, introduce grass, leash and dog walking and housebreaking?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Patricia, Most of those things can be introduced without issue - it will just take time and work on training, with lots of patience. The hardest thing will likely be socializing pup if they are fearful or suspicious of new things. You cannot always completely overcome all timidity associated with that as well as you could with a young puppy, but if you are very committed or pup's personality is not overly shy or aggressive, you very likely can get to the point where pup functions well around most things in public with you - expect progress to be over the course of the next year or two, rather than instant results, and it will take you being proactive to take pup places and reward good responses. The household rules, leash introduction, housebreaking, and similar things are less age dependent...They will take patience and work, but I suspect pup can adjust well with really consistent training. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Martini
Chihuahua miniature pinscher
1 Year
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Question
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Martini
Chihuahua miniature pinscher
1 Year

Hello!
I adopted my rescue dog a few weeks ago and she’s a very shy, skiddish little girl. She’s warming up to me and now sleeps with me in bed. She lets me hold her and pet her and she’s been friendly with people she’s met. She will not walk on her leash though. She is more used to the harness now because I’ll keep it on her when we’re at home, but as soon as I latch the leash on she freezes. I’ve gotten her to walk a little bit by dragging her but she isn’t responsive to treats. Help me out please! I want her to be able to walk on her own because I know she has energy she needs to get out.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Olivia, When you have at least two days where you will be home in a row, I recommend following the drag method from the article I have linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash Once pup is okay with the drag method, then use the wait method to transition to you holding the end of the leash. Once pup can handle you holding the end of the leash with that method, use the Pressure method to teach pup to come toward you when they feel the leash get tight. If you are taking pup outside to go potty, if pup does okay being carried I would carry them outside (while still leashed for safety), and use a long lightweight leash while out there while you are getting them used to the normal leash, so that they don't feel it as much and there isn't much tension on it - just until you get to the point where pup has completed all the methods in the order I said, then you can transition to pup walking outside and a normal length leash. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Frankie
Poodle
2 Years
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Question
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Frankie
Poodle
2 Years

Our rescue is curious but shy. She hasn’t had much exposure to the world. She loves to go outside but doesn’t want to come back in. How do we get her to come back in on the leash? She is very new to us and so far treats aren’t working.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kristi, Check out the Reel In method from the article linked below. I suggest taking pup potty on a long leash right now and calmly and quietly calling pup back in, then reeling her in when she doesn't come. Experiment with toys and other fun things to see if she is motivated by anything else that can be used as a reward. If not, pup likely needs more time adjusting before she will take food. Most dogs won't take food while stressed, so keep a long leash on her right now and give her some time. Once she is less fearful of you, then use her meal kibble so she is a bit hungry (as long as getting her to eat isn't an issue) or a high value treat like real chicken, and work on practicing the Come training from the article linked below, such as the Reel In method. Reel In method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Once she will take food, also work on teaching following to build more trust. To do this, practice walking around places like your yard or a field with a secure long, non-retractable training leash, and changing directions frequently without saying anything. Whenever she takes notice (at first because the leash finally tugs gently, but later just because you moved), then toss a treat to her for looking your way or coming over to you - without calling her; this encourages her to choose to pay attention to where you are and associate your presence with good things on her own, so she will want to be with you. Right now, she likely needs more time to warm up first though, so this practice will need to wait a little longer, unless you find something else that highly motivates her, like toys - so look for things that do. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Sam
Great Pyrenees
1 Year
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Question
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Sam
Great Pyrenees
1 Year

He was a ranch dog. No experiences outside of being on rannch. Never been o Leash,collar,car or much affection

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello, For introducing a leash, check out the article linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash For obedience, I suggest using lure reward type training in general. To help pup build trust with you, practice tossing treats to pup while sitting or standing and otherwise calm and ignoring pup. Allow pup to explore and come up to you as you do so while staying calm around them. Expect this to take pup time - don't rush them. When pup is comfortable being around you, practice lure reward training, having pup earn their food and treats with gentle training. Once pup is used to a harness/collar and leash and won't bolt, taking pup for heeling walks using lure reward training to teach heel can also help to build pup's trust of you and give a stress outlet for pup. Also, when pup is otherwise completely comfortable with you, if they have shown no signs of aggression (if they have get professional help from a trainer who specializes in behavior issues like fear and aggression), then practice getting pup used to teach by gently touching an area of pup's body while feeding a treat. Have pup eat their entire meals this way - with each piece of food being paired with a gentle touch. Practice with all areas, like shoulder, chest, side, back, ear, paw, ect...Starting with just the areas that pup is most comfortable and progressing to other areas as pup's confidence and calmness with touching increases. Finally, pup likely needs exposure to things outside your home. Start with calm places first. Practice obedience, games, and fun or calming activities in those places. Have strangers simply ignore pup and toss treats at first to get pup used to others. As pup improves, people can give pup a command, then reward with a treat, and finally pair gentle touches with treats - I would practice these things with gentle people you know that pup has been around first, and only do this yourself if pup hasn't shown any signs of aggression. As pup improves, gradually go to busier locations and do the same fun or calming types of activities to help pup adjust there too and associate the new places with good things also. You may find that working with a qualified trainer at least occasionally might be very helpful. Even if you don't use a trainer every week, having someone to touch base with and give you the next steps as pup improves might be worth the investment. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Benji
Mixed
4 Years
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Question
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Benji
Mixed
4 Years

I rescued my dog 3 days ago, he has been in the kennels all of his life. He is making small progress everywhere except he won’t let me walk him. He is terrified of having his harness on. I put his collar on him and he eventually relaxed, I tried letting him sniff his harness and then putting it on him and giving him treats, but he tries to run away and bolts off to hide under the table as soon as he has got his harness on. Once it’s on he won’t move, he will not come for treats, so I generally have to just leave him or carry him outside and try to get him to walk. I try to make his harness a positive experience for him but he doesn’t seem too bothered about walking/going outside and will sleep for majority of the day. Please help

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Rebecca, First, what type of harness are you using? I suggest using something like a padded front clip harness (not back clip or that can encourage pulling). An example would be ruffwear front range harness. Some lower quality harnesses will cause pressure and chaffing under pup's armpits, chest or shoulders. Make sure the issue isn't with the type and quality of harness you are using, or with how it's being fitted and tightened. I would break the training down into smaller steps and go slower - especially now that pup is so suspicious of the harness. It sounds like you are trying to go from no harness to harness on and buckled in one session, and just repeating that process each time - which is moving too quickly for pup. Instead of trying to get pup's head in the harness all at once, spend one day simply laying the harness on the ground and sprinkling treats around it several times a day. Do this until pup is comfortable touching it without you holding the harness - go at pup's pace. Watch their body language and stay at this step until pup is relaxed again around the collar. That may take one training session or a week - depending on how suspicious pup is of the harness at this point. Practicing for short periods multiple times a day can help things go more quickly. Once pup is comfortable just touching the harness, hold it in your hand and have pup eat treats out of the hand that is holding the harness. Do this until pup isn't worried about you holding the harness up anymore - don't try to suddenly put it on pup yet or that will set you back. Practice at this step until pup looks happy and confident again with the harness just being held up. End the training session while pup is doing well still. Next, loosen the harness as much as you can so that it makes a large loop, hold the harness up with one hand and hold the treats through the harness's hole with your other hand, so that pup has to move their head toward the collar hole to eat the treats - don't require pup to put their head through the hole yet, just in front of the hole. Do this step until pup is happy and confident about the harness being held up and approaching it - do NOT suddenly try to throw the harness over pup's head or move it toward them - pup is the one moving, you are keeping the harness still at this point. Practice that step until pup is relaxed - even if that takes several sessions. Next, hold the harness the same way, but offer the treats a bit closer to the harness, so that pup has to poke the end of their muzzle through the collar loop to take them. Practice this until pup is comfortable doing that. As pup relaxes, move your treat hand a bit further back so that pup is poking their head through the harness more and more as they improve - again, don't move the harness toward pup at this point. Let pup move their head in and out of the loose harness freely to get treats. Practice until pup has no issues with placing their head through the harness. Go back a step and practice at that step for longer before continuing if pup becomes nervous again. Next, once pup is comfortable poking their entire head through the harness, move the harness very slightly back and forth while holding it up, and holding treats in the harness for pup to move their head through it - you are just getting pup used to the harness, not putting it on yet. The harness should still be a large loop at this point - not fitted. Practice until pup can handle the harness moving. As pup improves, gradually increase how much the harness is moving back and forth while pup reaches their head through it. Next, have pup poke their head through the harness, and reward pup with several treats at a time for keeping their head in the hole for longer. Gradually increase how long pup holds their head in the collar for by spacing out rewards as they keep their head in the hole. Next, when pup can hold their head in the harness longer, have pup poke their head through the harness, sprinkle several treats on something that's at pup's chin height so that your hands are free, and slide the buckle that adjusts the harness size back and forth while pup eats the treats. Start with small movements then stop touching the harness - you are just getting pup used to you messing with the harness a bit. Practice this until you can gradually work up to being able to adjust the size of the harness completely without pup feeling worried, while they eat the treats off the object at chin height. When you catch pup itching at the collar, distract pup with a fun toy. Check out the video linked below for an example of getting pup to poke their head through an opening. The dog in that video wasn't afraid of the harness during training - so the training was done in one sitting for the sake of showing the steps, but expect your pup to need several sessions between each training step - moving too quickly will likely set pup back. Pup needs to get to the point where they are completely relaxed at the current step before you proceed to the next step - how long that takes will simply depend on pup's specific temperament. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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