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.
Recommend training method?

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.
Recommend training method?

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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
sugar
Springer spaniel
2 Years
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Question
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sugar
Springer spaniel
2 Years

Thanks for any help you can give us. Adoption date Jan.4th,2018 Shelter did not have any history. She'll not walk or potty if we are present. She loves to eat:) she is really sweet but very frightened. She'll walk after we bring her in from her outside pen(definitely inside dog with us) we believe she was always outside in the past. She only walks to her bed inside sometimes to her water and food in kitchen. I worry she is not getting enough exercise. We would love to walk her but will not move on leash or harness.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kimberly, It sounds like Sugar might be timid either because she was treated harshly, or because she was neglected and has a naturally submissive and hesitant personality. If she was neglected it's possible she was never around people or only had interactions with people that involved confrontation and punishment. If she always got in trouble for eliminating in the house and was punished in a harsh way that could cause her to be fearful of eliminating around people. Expect this year to be spent building her trust. Since she loves food you can use that to build her trust. Her love of food is a huge asset. If she will take it, begin to hand feed her her meals. At first just toss her pieces of food from a distance and praise her when she eats them. Try not to sound sorry for her when you speak to her but instead act proud of her, happy, and confident. Overtime, decrease the distance between you and her while you toss the food, until you have worked up to her eating the food out of your hand. When she will eat the food out of your hand, then encourage her to walk with you on the leash by creating a line of treats several feet long and letting her choose to follow the line while you keep the leash slack. Overtime increase the length of that line and when she will walks that line well, then work on having her walk a bit past that line by dropping treats to her every couple of feet. After she will do that, then increase the distance that she has to walk before you drop another treat. The whole idea in doing this is to take away her fear of walking by making the experience fun while also motivating her to continue forward. When you take her to the bathroom outside try using a twenty or even fifty foot leash. That way she can eliminate without you having to be right next to her. When she finishes, praise her and toss a treat over to her. Make this treat large enough for her to find after you throw it. When she begins to improve, then you can gradually decrease the length of the leash, until eventually you are next to her when she goes to the bathroom and giving her a treat out of your hand for it. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ash
Shih Tzu
2 Years
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Question
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Ash
Shih Tzu
2 Years

It’s still early days but we’ve just rescued an ex breeding bitch. She’s beautiful to us and we wanted her from the time we saw her on the rescues website. We have 3 dogs already so she is our 4th.

My question is what’s the best way to tackle walking her? She’s got a harness & lead but as soon as the lead is attached to the harness she refuses to move. She won’t even be tempted with food. She loves food and we tried this but she’s not interested.

She’s got so much potential but she’s still so scared. We don’t want to do anything to scare her anymore than she is. Thanks

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tracy, I would suggest taking her places on a long leash, such as an eight to twenty foot leash and simply spending time in new locations with her first. Do not use a retractable leash for this. Use a real one because the pressure on her neck from a retractable one will likely create more fear. While you are in the new location, drop pieces of food on the ground for her once she relaxes a little bit and is more interested. Roll a ball back and forth between yourself and another person. Generally do fun activities and try to be up beat and relaxed yourself. Keep her on the long leash so that she can join in if she wishes or go explore a bit. If she spent most of her life in a breeding kennel, then she lacks socialization and she needs to be socialized before she will walk places with you on her own. Spend time simply making new locations fun for her. Reward her for exploring anything new and keep the activities very fun but low pressure. When she is more comfortable in new locations, then you can work on getting her to walk. The walking issue might even resolve itself when she relaxes more. When she relaxes more, then make a game out of walking. Put her on a long leash and run a few feet ahead, past her, to encourage her to chase you. You can also try leaving a trail of treats for her, or putting a bit of peanut butter on the end of a long, smooth stick, and holding the stick in front of her to entice her to walk while she licks it. Make small walking goals at first. When she reaches that goal, then turn around and walk back home. As she improves, gradually increase the distance that you expect her to walk before you turn around. Do not turn around until she has walked at least one step on her own though. You do not want to reward her by going back as soon as she puts on the breaks or she will learn that that is an effective way to get you to turn around. Start by simply taking her to new places and spending an hour sitting in the new location, simply hanging out and having fun to let her get familiar with new environments before you do any walking training though. You can practice her following you around the house on a leash for now. She will be less afraid there and that should be good practice for teaching her to follow you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Pepe
street dog
5 Years
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Question
1 found helpful
Pepe
street dog
5 Years

Pepe has had a hard life in the streets. We took him from the street two weeks ago, he already went on a car ride to the vet for consultation and castration.

We expend all the past year gaining his trust by feeding him in the street, bringing water and snacks. We were also able to have a vet visit him while being in the streets. In those conditions he was treated for distemper (took us a while to have him better) and also he got vaccinations, dewormers and different meds.

Now that he is home, he stays in the back yard and has supervised access to the house. He does well with our other dog, Manuka who was rescued from the street when she was 6 weeks old, she is currently 1 year old. Manuka has being good in general, but she growls and attacks him once in a while when they are inside the house. Mainly when she gets jealous and doesn't want to share our attention.

He is now ok with the collar, not so much with the leash. I had tried the retractile leash, this is not well received. I just tried the regular leash and it was more or less ok. I just left it loose in the floor while making him walk for treats.

He definitely needs to go on walks and get to like the indoor life style.

Do you have any extra advices for us: walking on a leash and sharing space with Manuka inside the house.

Thanks.
Angelica

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Angelica, First of all I would recommend that you work on building Manuka's respect for you. Since she is acting jealous and dominant over Pepe she needs to be reminded to respect you. She needs to learn that you are the one in charge, not her and not Pepe, so that she is less likely to try to dominate him,. If you are the leader and not her, then she also cannot claim you. If a dog is trying to claim you by preventing another person or dog from getting to you or acting jealous in other ways, then that dog typically views itself as dominant over you. To help build her respect for you work on the "Consistency" method and the "Working" method from the article that I have linked below. You can also work on the "Obedience" method with both dogs, but work on it in addition to the other two and not in place of them. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Once you have worked on Manuka's respect for you, then I would recommend getting her used to wearing a soft silicon basket muzzle. The silicone muzzles are more comfortable and the basket shape will allow her to open her mouth and be given treats through the muzzle's holes while she is wearing it. The muzzle with keep Pepe safe while you work on getting the dogs used to each other in a new space. If you feel like Pepe might attack Manuka, then get him used to wearing a soft silicone basket muzzle also. The muzzle will also allow you to correct Manuka for any aggression toward Pepe without risking injury and without letting Manuka get away with controlling Pepe through her aggression, which would teach her that biting is effective and make her problem worse. It will also reduce the chance of Pepe developing fear-based aggression from being attacked by Manuka. To get her used to wearing the muzzle, show her the muzzle and then give her a treat. Touch it to her and then give her a treat. Hold it on her face for a second and then give her a treat. Hold it on her face for longer and give her treats through the muzzle's holes while it is against her face. Finally, put it on her and feed her treats while she is wearing it for a couple of minutes, then take it off of her again. Overtime, gradually increase how long you leave it on her and let more and more time pass between treat rewards until she is simply wearing the muzzle without any concern for a long time. Spend time on each of those steps until she is comfortable with the current level of muzzle touch. Expect this to take a couple of weeks. Work on the respect training while you do this, so that you can start transitioning the dogs together when her respect for you improves and she is used to wearing the muzzle. When Manuka is being tolerant of Pepe, when Pepe enters the room or is receiving affection or rewards from you, give Manuka a treat for being nice toward him. Do this to teach her that his presence is a good thing and rewarding for her. Also, decide what your rules are for both dogs in general and with how they can treat each other and be the one to enforce the rules. Do not let the dogs just work it out for themselves. You need to be the leader so that neither dog will be over the other. If they are not allowed to compete for the top position, then there will be less fights. For now, continue letting Pepe drag his leash around and get used to the feeling of it while you can supervise him to make sure it does not get caught on things. Keep using the normal leash. Do not use the retractable one. Practice leash walking in your back yard. Use treats and follow him around while you hold onto the end of his leash without pulling on it. Every once in a while tug on the leash a little, wait until he calms down, then give him a treat. After he receives the treat, let the leash become slack again. Follow him around and repeat the whole process again. He should start to learn that he will get a treat when you tug on the leash, and should start to learn to come toward you instead of pull against you when you tug on the leash. When he is no longer resisting the leash and has learned to come toward you when he feels it tighten, then you can work on teaching him to heel. Do not be too worried if all this takes place in your backyard for a while. If he is having to focus and think, and is walking around, even in circles in the yard, then he is still being exercised mentally and physically. With work he will get to the point where he can walk down the street. Use a lot of treats and patience to get him used to being in the house. Make sure that you are stimulating him mentally with puzzle toys, food stuffed hollow chew-toys, training, and other things that require his focus. Being mentally stimulated while he is inside should help him enjoy being in there more often and should keep him out of trouble like destructive chewing, a little more. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Benny
Chihuahua and terrier
10 Months
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Question
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Benny
Chihuahua and terrier
10 Months

Benny was rescued from a hoard. He was at the shelter for a little over two weeks. I took him home the day after he was neutered. We are on his fifth day. He had never had a collar, leash or harness on. (That was day two). He is reacting well to them. I attached the leash to his harness and he drags it around all day, remove them at night. He bonded quickly with me.
Here are my problems:
He is lunging at our other dogs whenever they enter the house. Especially when he is near me.
He won’t leave our yard on the leash.
He won’t go on walks with me.
He is afraid of car rides.
He follows me around the house and in the backyard but won’t follow me out of the yard.
I can get him to take treats face to face with the big dogs, but when he’s afraid, he has no interest in food. He has come a very long way in such a short time...I just want to make sure I am doing everything correctly and all that is possible to grow his confidence.
I realize that everything is new to him, also that it’s going to take time. I have an appointment with the shelter trainer in a few days to work on these issues, but homework would be greatly appreciated!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lori, It sounds like you have been working hard with Benny and are doing a great job with him. Time with the shelter trainer will help a lot because several of the things, like the lunging at the other dogs, would really benefit from having someone in person showing you what to do in the moment when it happens and being able to discus his body language, the environment, the other dog's reactions, and more, to give you a better answer about what to do there. If the issue is fear, then a very positive reinforcement approach where you pair the appearance of the other dogs from a distance with lots of treats for noticing them and being calm, would be good. You would then work up to the dogs being closer and closer while you reward Benny for his tolerance, then finally practicing having them pass by him while you reward him for ignoring them. That is assuming it is fear based because of a lack of socialization Which may or may not be present with other dogs if he was around a lot of other dogs, despite not being exposed to other environments. If he is being possessive of you and is acting more rude, then you will need to gently work on his respect more by implementing one or more of the methods from the article that I have attached below. The trainer may also discuss with you how you can gently but firmly correct his behavior in the moment if he is being possessive and not simply fearful. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you For now, work on rewarding his tolerance of them and actively practice having the other dogs approach but stay at a distance and reward Benny BEFORE he lunges or tenses up, while he is still being calm so that you are rewarding his calm state of mind and not his tenseness. When he lunges you can correct him by telling him "Ah Ah" and stepping between him and the other dogs and calmly but firmly walking toward him to back him back away from the other dogs until he moves away. Don't move too fast or act real scary, simply be serious, calm, and persistent that he let you handle the situation by him backing away. Work on really rewarding his tolerance though because that will likely help the most if it's a socialization issue. Have your trainer evaluate what is going on if you can though. The trainer may have additional suggestions when he learns more of the details of what's going on. For the leash following and walks, purchase a thirty foot leash, clip it to him and make sure that he cannot slip out of whatever harness or collar you are using. Leave the yard yourself with a bunch of treats, a couple of toys, and something calm to do like read, yourself. Walk as far away as you can while holding the other end of the leash without tugging on him at all. When the leash is fully extended, then sit down and sprinkle some treats around, toss his toys to yourself, and generally just hang out until he decides to join you. If this takes several days of trying this for thirty minutes or longer each day that's okay. He will set the pace based on his level of fear. When he gets to the point where he will comfortably go out of the yard where you are, then the next time go an additional thirty feet past where he puts on his brakes and practice the same waiting and tempting him with food and toys exercise there. As he gets more exposed to the outdoors and familiar with his neighborhood by taking small trips, thirty feet at a time like this, he should generally begin to get more comfortable with walking and following you around to new places, but expect it to take him at least a couple of months, and likely longer, before he gets that comfortable. For walks, once you get him used to your own section of the street or culdesac, to exercise him, work on teaching him "Heel" and making a lot of turns in your little section of the street while he heels. This will teach him to walk nicely before he is going on long walks, it will challenge him mentally, which will wear him out better too and build his trust for you more, and it will physically exercise him, because even though you are not going very far away you will be putting in a lot of steps. Choose a heel method that is very positive but also incorporates a lot of turns to teach following, attention, and to exercise him better. Spend time simply hanging out near the car with food and toys yourself, like I mentioned above doing for leaving the yard. Scatter treats around the car, but avoid any spilled anti-freeze or gasoline! and when he is comfortable enough to go up to the car, then scatter the treats in the car and let him eat them while the car is off. Spend a few minutes everyday feeding him his treats in the car like this. Once he is a bit more comfortable, then teach him "Down" and practice the down command while in the car that is off. This will also prepare him for safe, calm riding, while making the car a pleasant place. As he gets more comfortable, then very slowly transition him to full car rides. Start by turning the car on and leaving it running but stationary while you give rewards and practice the "Down" command. When he is relaxed in the car in the down position, then for the next time practice moving the car just a few feet, like pulling out of the driveway, then going right back home. Overtime, gradually add longer trips, like neighborhoods, stores, and parks, and recruit someone else to drive so that you can sit next to him in the backseat and work on enforcing his down command and calm behavior while the other person focuses on the road. Finally, purchase a car harness and clip him into the seat with one of the tethering systems you can buy, so that he will be still, safe, and relax while you drive places with him. Not taking treats while afraid is perfectly normal. Most dogs will not eat food if they are stressed out. That simply tells you that he is stressed. When that happens try to take things a bit slower with him, give him time to warm up more, or simply be aware of his surroundings. He does not have to take the food, but make sure that you do praise him in a confident and up beat tone of voice when he is being brave. Try offering the treat after a little bit, when he has adjusted a bit more. Some dogs will also not take food when they are aroused or excited until they calm down. If he has a toy that he finds even more rewarding than the food, then try using toys and other things for rewards too. When he is really nervous, sometimes doing a happy, silly dance yourself, and being goofy can help the dog relax if the dog knows you well enough to be comfortable with you doing this. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ralph
Mixed
18 Months
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Question
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Ralph
Mixed
18 Months

Hi- I have a large Romanian recuse dog I adopted in January. I have managed to get him used to having a harness on but as soon as a lead is attached he freezes and will not move and often pushes himself against a wall. He’s very destructive and has a lot of energy and I would love to take him for a walk. I have tried all the usual things but don’t seem to make any progress. It’s very disheartening

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lucy, Start small with Ralph. Purchase a traffic lead, which is a one or two foot leash. Clip that leash to him inside and then leave it on during the day for several days until he can relax. Every time that you clip it on offer him a whole lot of treats, one at a time. You can use all of his meal food for this, fed one piece at a time, if he likes his own dog food. You can also feed additional food during the day while he is wearing it. When he is comfortable with the short leash, then clip on a four foot leash and leave that on during the day for several days until he gets used to the dragging. Give him a lot of treats while introducing that too. He needs to wear it long enough to realize that it's not harmful and not alive. When he can relax with the four foot leash on, then start to add a little pressure. Walk over to him randomly throughout the day, give a slight tug on the leash and immediatelly feed several treats. As he starts to get more comfortable with the tugs, he should eventually begin to anticipate the treats and look toward you or come toward you when he feels the tug. Overtime you can then transition his coming or looking toward you to get him to follow you more and more on the leash by backing up a step whenever you tug, and then feed a treat when he comes over to you. Do this until you can actually walk with him following you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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