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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Written by Stephanie Plummer

Published: 12/07/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Luna
Collie
16 Months
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Question
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Luna
Collie
16 Months

We have a collie crops pup that was in a hoarding house (30+ other dogs) She has had to fight for her food and has scars on her. We have two other dogs and she does not feel threatened anymore about food. We have managed to get a collar on her (we also have a harness) but once the leash comes out she falls down and cowers.
She is a very gentle soul and happy to run in the yard. We have tried slowly to add a leash and very patient. We will do this slowly and try with our other 4 leggeds. I hope we can help her. We have all the patience in the world.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Shelly, Your patience will go a long way. I would start by laying the leash on the floor and sprinkling kibble or small treats around the leash. Let pup eat the treats at their own pace (maybe keep your other dogs out so they don't eat all of them every time - it wouldn't hurt to let pup see the other dogs touching the leash a little though). Replace those treats often over a few days, or until pup is happy touching the leash on the ground without looking at all nervous (watch their body language for signs of happy and relaxed); whichever milestone comes first. Once pup is okay with the leash on the ground, hold the leash on your hand without moving it toward pup, and sprinkle the treats in your hand and around the area under your hand and just sit there. If you need to, create a line of treats from pup to your hand. Repeat this often, until pup is happy about eating the treats out of your hand. It's okay if pup doesn't touch your hand at first, and will only eat the treats leading up to your hand and around it. Practice for ten minutes or so a few times a day with at least an hour break between, until pup is happy to eat out of your hand with the leash. Next, move your hand, then sprinkle treats into it for pup to eat, move it, then sprinkle treats. Repeat this until comfortable. Next, move your hand, give treats from your other hand, repeating until pup is comfortable. At this point, once pup is comfortable, you will gradually move the leash toward pup's collar more and more, giving treats right after you move the leash forward then back each time. As pup gets comfortable with that, move the leash toward their collar, touch to it, then keep it there for gradually longer and longer, while you at the same time reward with the other hand. Once pup is okay with the leash there for a 30-60 seconds, then clip to the collar and unclip while giving treats, gradually keeping the leash clipped on before removing for longer and longer. Practice this stage until you can clip, leave clipped for fifteen minutes, and gradually give treats every minute or two, before unclipping. Once pup is really okay with the leash clipped for fifteen minutes, then check out the article I have linked below for where to go from here. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash Once pup is comfortable with the leash and leash pressure, then you can work on teaching Heel to deal with pup lagging behind or pulling ahead. I would use the treat lure method below in your case. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Emma
Siberian Husky
2 Years
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Question
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Emma
Siberian Husky
2 Years

Just adopted dog about a week ago. Dog was abused left alone in a back yard breeder situation. Very anxious with any sudden movements or sounds. Will always run away. Once leashed she is fine walking but getting it in is hard we can’t get close to her she will sniff our hands but will run away when we try to put on the leash. Help. Thanks

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello, If pup will take food from you, work on associating your presence with food - whenever you enter the room, pup comes over, or they stay calm around you, gently toss pup a piece of kibble throughout the day when you are home. Ration pup's kibble into a couple of ziploc bags for each of you and you can feed pup their entire daily food this way. Also give it time. Once pup is completely comfortable with your presence, you can work up to getting pup used to touch using those same bags of pup's kibble - except now, give pup a piece each time you gently touch them somewhere - like a shoulder, ear, collar, ect...Only touch for as long as it takes pup to eat the food, then remove your hand until the next treat is given. When pup can do that, work on introducing a collar and leash gradually. Simply sprinkling treats around both on the ground for a while, then holding them and letting pup eat food out of the hand holding them, then loosening the collar all the way and holding a treat through it - until pup will willingly put their head all the way through, then feeding pup treats while their head is in the loose collar while you tighten and loosen it to get pup used to that feeling. You may need a second person for the last part of the training - you will gradually introduce it over the course of several days - going at a pace pup can handle. Example of how you will do the collar (but more gradually in your case) with harness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title Leash introduction: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash More trust building once pup is okay being closer to you - the section on shy dogs and humans: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ You may also need to work with a trainer who specializes in behavior issues like fear, for specific issues or if you find pup isn't making progress, to tailor a training program to you that's based on how pup is responding in real time. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Calla
Anatolian Shepherd
4 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Calla
Anatolian Shepherd
4 Months

So we just rescued this dog from an elderly gentlman who had a litter of them. Parents were on premise and have wonderful dispositions. Friendly but aloof. The pups were all in a kennel with a shed attached and are all terrified of people. They have never been in a house, never been in a car or on a leash. She mostly just disassociates and will just turn her head and ignore everything. She completely spazzes on a leash though and is very nervous around the house. Any advice is welcome. Is it best to go really slowly with new experiences or really start taking her out and exposing her to new situations as much as possible?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello, You may need to take it slower with pup initially warming up to you. Once pup trusts you more I would really work on exposing pup to a lot of things, just watch pup's body language and easy into new things gradually, rewarding good responses - take treats with you everywhere, but still continue socializing. Try to make all the new places and things fun by acting fun, bringing treats along to reward curiosity, friendliness, and calmness rather than fear. Check out this video channel to learn more about counter conditioning. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXtcKXk-QWoivpkvXgqhAC44tlofiw-CS If pup will take food from you, work on associating your presence with food - whenever you enter the room, pup comes over, or they stay calm around you, gently toss pup a piece of kibble throughout the day when you are home. Ration pup's kibble into a couple of ziploc bags for each of you and you can feed pup their entire daily food this way. Also give it time. Once pup is completely comfortable with your presence, you can work up to getting pup used to touch using those same bags of pup's kibble - except now, give pup a piece each time you gently touch them somewhere - like a shoulder, ear, collar, ect...Only touch for as long as it takes pup to eat the food, then remove your hand until the next treat is given. When pup can do that, work on introducing a collar and leash gradually. Simply sprinkling treats around both on the ground for a while, then holding them and letting pup eat food out of the hand holding them, then loosening the collar all the way and holding a treat through it - until pup will willingly put their head all the way through, then feeding pup treats while their head is in the loose collar while you tighten and loosen it to get pup used to that feeling. You may need a second person for the last part of the training - you will gradually introduce it over the course of several days - going at a pace pup can handle. Example of how you will do the collar (but more gradually in your case) with harness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title Leash introduction: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash More trust building once pup is okay being closer to you: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ You may also need to work with a trainer who specializes in behavior issues like fear, for specific issues or if you find pup isn't making progress, to tailor a training program to you that's based on how pup is responding in real time. When pup can handle the outside world, relationship with you, and new things, a class might be a good place to speed up the socialization process eventually too. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Suzie
Cross breed
10 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Suzie
Cross breed
10 Months

Shes a rescue do fine in the house garden as a collar on all the time will allow the leash on but will not walk with it she becomes so scared doing sumnersauts going berserk to try and get away from it ive not managed any steps with her .I've give her treats before I take a step .I've only had her a week so I'm unsure if this is far too soon to be trying her ..any help advice I would be so grateful.
Thankyou vicky

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Vicky, This is a common response to leash pressure for dogs who were never introduced as puppies. Check out the article I have linked below for how to get her used to that. Also, expect some bucking. Stand still and calm and wait for it to pass when it happens. Start this somewhere secure like your garden first. It sounds like the Pressure method is the method that would work best. If pup is at all afraid of the leash dragging behind her inside though, you can start with the drag method, then move onto the pressure method when pup is okay with the leash without it being tightened. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash After pup is okay with leash pressure, then you would move onto heel training. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rufus
Mastiff Cross
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Rufus
Mastiff Cross
4 Years

Rufus is a rescue dog and shows no aggression towards our other dog, or neighbours dogs.
If I take him out for a walk on a lead, he is fine unless he sees someone walking their dog on a lead. He gets really anxious and acts as if he is frightened. Not aggressive though.
I’ve been taking him for very short walks when nobody is around.
His problem is not improving much, if at all.
This is his only issue and I don’t know what to do.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Chris, I would work on desensitizing and counter conditioning pup to other dogs. Counter conditioning example video. In this video a dog is being counter conditioned to dogs behind a fence, this same principle can be used with dogs walking past on leash too though. If you can recruit friends with friendly well mannered dogs, whose owners will simply walk them up and down the same side walk over and over again, this can be a good way to practice, where you can control the situation and distance better. Meeting a friend at a field or empty park and doing the passes, rewarding pup for calm responses, can also be a good atmosphere to start on this. Your attitude should be confident and calm, giving pup clear instructions and expecting them to obey, like giving a Heel or Leave It or Watch Me command in a confident tone of voice, then rewarding when pup obeys with a treat and with genuine happy praise. You can also make other dogs a fun association by getting your energy up, acting silly and happy, doing a little dance by pup, so pup's focus is on you, pup feels your happy confident energy, and pup feels a bit happier or more confident too in response to you. Check out the passing approach method from the article I have linked below. Your goal right now isn't to have an up close greeting though, but to use the method as instructions for how to reward pup and ease into interactions by repeatedly passing the same dog over and over again at a distance pup can handle. I would also teach pup a structured Heel, Leave It, and Watch Me command, so you can use those commands to confidently tell pup what you expect of them during the walk, so they feel they have some sense of direction and you are handling the situation for them to rely on them. Heel- Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Watch Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zeZrOPzO-c Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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