How to Train Your Stubborn Dog to Walk on Leash

Hard
1-4 Weeks
General

Introduction

On a dog walk, have you ever changed your route to avoid walking past a certain house?

The reason being that your dog pulls so hard on the leash that you don't want to be shown up in front of the friend that lives in that house. 

Not walking well on a leash is more than just an embarrassment, it can have real and serious consequences.  For example, there's the family dog that pulls a child into the road or the large dog that pulls you over on an icy sidewalk. 

The other side of the argument for teaching a dog to walk on leash is that it makes for pleasant walks. Strolling along, dog by your side, without constantly having your shoulder wrenched from the socket is a far more pleasant experience. 

Defining Tasks

Not walking nicely on the leash is a common problem. Next time you go out, keep an eye on how many dogs you see pulling on the leash; you'll quickly realize you aren't alone. However, this is no reason to accept such behavior in your own dog. 

Teaching a dog to walk on a leash means having slack in the lead at all times, with the dog walking close to your heel. Simple really... now all you have to do is explain what's required to the dog.

Getting Started

Getting a stubborn dog to walk on a leash can be frustrating for a number of reasons. Sadly, there's no 'quick fix' and retraining requires patience and an expectation of going nowhere for a few walks until the dog realizes what's required of him. 

In addition, you need basic equipment such as: 

  • Pea-sized training treats
  • A pouch or bag to keep the treats convenient while walking
  • A comfortable collar, halti, or front-attachment harness
  • A leash
  • Patience, plenty of it. 

The From the Beginning Method

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Effective
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Step
1
Understand the idea
Whether it's a puppy or a dog who isn't used to the leash, you need to teach the dog what's expected when he's on the leash. Remember, the dog doesn't know that a leash attached to his collar means he's meant to walk by your side and not fool around. With gentle instruction and rewarding the dog when he does the correct thing, you can teach him what's expected.
Step
2
Get used to the leash
Some dogs behave badly when the leash is put on their collar, because they just don't understand what's going on. From his perspective, a long snake-like thing is attached to his neck and so he needs to outrun it. This leads to mad chasing around and a generally inappropriate reaction. Take things slowly by attaching the lead during an indoor play session. Distract the dog with toys and praise him when he engages in the game rather than bothering about the leash.
Step
3
Reward the dog as he approaches
Working indoors, so there are fewer distractions, now teach the dog he's supposed to pay attention to you while on the leash. During this training session, you have the dog on a collar and lead in the house. Make a noise to attract the dog's attention. Keep the lead slack and if he starts to come towards you, say "Yes" in an excited voice, give him lots of praise and a small pea-sized treat. Your aim is to have him realize that sticking close to you when on the lead is a good idea.
Step
4
Add a cue word
Now add in walking slowly away from the dog. Make a noise to attract his attention and as he comes toward you, say a cue word such as "Heel". As he trots to you say "Yes!" and give him a reward.
Step
5
Take training outdoors
Once the dog is accepting the lead without fooling around and is coming to heel indoors, you can start to practice outside where there are more distractions.
Recommend training method?

The Correcting Problems Method

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Effective
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Step
1
Understand the idea
Many dogs walk badly on the leash, either by surging ahead and pulling or by lagging behind. This can become a deeply ingrained behavior and take a lot of work to resolve. Part of the problem is that pulling is self-rewarding, in that when the dog pulls on a walk, the action is rewarded by a trip to the park. In his mind, pulling got him to the park so it becomes his normal way of walking. Your task is to re-educate the dog so that he realizes there's little to be gained by pulling.
Step
2
Stop in your tracks
When the dog pulls, stop in your tracks. Keep very still. The dog will continue to pull, but after a while (it may be several minutes) the dog will pause to look and see what the problem is. Take advantage of this pause to lure the dog to you with a treat. When he arrives at heel, give the reward and start walking forward again. Keep stopping each time the dog surges forward, and repeat the same protocol.
Step
3
Be prepared to go nowhere
Obviously, this could mean you don't get anywhere. This is a necessary consequence of retraining, and an essential part of the dog realizing that pulling gets him nowhere.(Literally!) With this in mind, choose a time when you aren't under pressure to undertake this training.
Step
4
Change direction
An alternative to stopping in your tracks is to change direction. This simply means when the dog pulls, you stop going forward and retrace your steps. This can lead to the dog zig-zagging to-and-fro, but eventually, he will realize that when he pulls, he loses ground. Then when he starts to walk by your side, give him lots of praise.
Step
5
"When I stop, you get a treat"
This involves teaching the dog that when you stop walking, and he sits down, he will get a treat. Start indoors. Show the dog you have a small treat in your hand. Holding his attention, walk for a few steps. The dog should follow. Then stop. Don't give the dog any instructions, and wait for him to sit. he may well dance around wondering what he has to do to get that treat. Eventually, he will sit, while he thinks things through. Immediately when he sits, say "Yes" and give him the treat. Practice walking, stopping, and rewarding him for sitting.
Step
6
Put this into practice
Once the dog has learned that when you stop he sits, practice this on the leash. As soon as the dog starts to take up the slack on the leash, as if to pull, stop in your tracks. The dog will sit for a reward, hence no longer pulling. Start off again and repeat as necessary. Most dogs will then keep pace, watching you carefully to see when you might stop so he can get a reward.
Recommend training method?

The Helpful Hints Method

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Effective
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Step
1
Avoid frustrating the dog
Dogs naturally walk faster than people. When an owner lags behind, the dog can get frustrated and pull in an attempt to speed the owner up. Try to reduce the dog's frustration by walking at a good pace in the first instance.
Step
2
Keep the dog's attention
When you make yourself interesting to be around, the dog is more likely to stick with you. Make yourself irresistible by chatting to the dog in an excited manner, and praising him wildly when he walks nicely. Reward him from time to time when he's kept to heel for a distance. All these things help keep the dog focused on you.
Step
3
Consider special equipment
If your dog wears a regular harness, then this spreads the force of their pulling over the whole chest area, and makes it easier for him to tug. Consider switching to a front-attachment harness or a halti-type headcollar. Both of these work by pulling the dog around to face you, when he pulls. This effectively uses the dog's own strength against him to halt the forward motion when he pulls. The dog soon learns that walking on a slack leash is the best way to get where he wants to go.
Step
4
Never use prong or shock collars
Inflicting pain on the dog as a deterrent to pulling is immoral and unacceptable. That aside, shock collars can also make the dog nervous and frightened at the unpredictable nature of the shock, which can lead to even more undesirable behavior such as aggression.
Step
5
Consult an expert
Teaching a dog to walk on a leash can be frustrating, especially if the dog has a deeply established bad habit. Be aware that a qualified dog trainer is well placed to give you a little extra help and guidance to get that pulling problem taped.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Pippa Elliott

Published: 12/11/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Nina
Akita Inu
9 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Nina
Akita Inu
9 Weeks

Hi!
My dog walks nicely next to my heel, she understood the concept very well, but when we start our walk, in the first 5-10 minutes she just stoppes, and doesn’t want to walk. When she does that, i always stand, and tense the leash a bit (not pulling hard), and wait. After 10-20 seconds she comes to me, we walk a few steps, I reward her with treats, than she stoppes again. We “play this game” for 5-10 minutes, and everything is perfect after that. Sometimes she tries it while we’re walking, but only for a short period of time, as I sad, we’re walking nicely. I know that she’s young, basicly she’s with us for 6 days, but the problem is that i don’t experience any progress, it’s not better today, that yesterday.
Sorry for my english, it’s not my main lenguage.
Thank’s for your help!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, you English is actually very good. Pay attention to pup's body language and the environment. Some pups don't want to walk because they are afraid of a neighborhood dog in a fence barking, construction workers, funny objects (like yard decorations), and things we would never think twice about. If pup isn't familiar with something (no matter how normal it may seem to us) it can feel scary to pup and be a reason why they don't want to leave the safety of the yard. If pup seems nervous or something might be bothering them in the environment, work on helping pup overcome that fear first by using play and treats to distract pup and then reward pup for any confidence, calmness, or tolerance they shows around the fearful thing. Practice this further away from the scary thing first and very gradually work up to pup being able to pass that thing as her confidence grows with your help. Simply spending time sitting outside with pup daily in the environment pup is uncertain of - without expecting walking yet - can help the area become less scary or distracting. Next, spend time getting pup used to leash pressure in general if pup's not familiar with coming forward toward you when there is a leash tug. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash Next, if pup still won't walk, take some small treats or pup's dog food pieces in a small ziplock bag in your pocket or a favorite toy. Every time pup takes a couple of steps, give a treat or toss the toy a step forward or let pup give the toy a tug. Keep your energy excited and confident. When pup stops, tell pup "Let's Go" in a calm and business-like tone of voice (it's not a question, it's a confident, calm command), then tug and release the leash several times in a row until pup takes a couple more steps - at which point give another treat or play. The leash tugs should stop as soon as pup starts moving. Keep your walking goals short at first. If pup won't leave your yard - your first goal is just to leave the yard. When pup reaches that goal - go home as an additional reward for pup following you - even if a lot of leash tugs were involved. When pup will go to the end of the yard easily then walk to the next house. Gradually increase your walk distance overtime. If you make your goal something huge like the whole neighborhood at first you are less likely to succeed - work up to distance overtime. Also, do not continuously pull pup on the leash. Doing so can harm pup's neck, but also dog's have a natural tendency to pull away from something - so if you pull pup in one direction, she will just pull back in the other direction, budging even less. This is why you do the quick tug and releases so that not following is uncomfortable with the tugs but not a continuous pull. You want pup to choose to walk to get away from the annoying tugs and to receive treats. I suspect pup is nervous or distracted about the environment or not sure how to respond to leash pressure - so don't skip over desensitizing pup to the environment and leash if pup seems at all nervous about those things - freezing and looking like a deer in headlights is one sign of nervousness. Finally, make sure pup isn't in pain or sick, causing her not to want to exercise in any form due to feeling bad. If you have reason to suspect pup is ill or injured, definitely see your vet. (I am not a vet) Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Luna
Lab mix
10 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Luna
Lab mix
10 Weeks

Luna does not like going for walks on the leash. She wears a harness, but will often stop, sit and whine to go back home. Usually I stop, turn away from her and wait for her to come to me and walk a few paces before I reward her but we've been doing this dance for 2 weeks. She'll eventually walk and then get excited to go home and once inside has lots of puppy energy to play off

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello Rachel, I would start by examining the harness and fit, to make sure it isn't digging into her arm pits, chafing somewhere or squeezing in weird places. I recommend front clip padded harnesses for most dogs who wear harnesses to avoid discomfort. If pup will wear the harness at home happily, the issue may not be harness discomfort, or at least not only that. Pay attention to pup's body language and the environment. Some pups don't want to walk because they are afraid of a neighborhood dog in a fence barking, construction workers, funny objects (like yard decorations), and things we would never think twice about. If pup isn't familiar with something (no matter how normal it may seem to us) it can feel scary to pup and be a reason why they don't want to leave the safety of the yard. If pup seems nervous or something might be bothering them in the environment, work on helping pup overcome that fear first by using play and treats to distract pup and then reward pup for any confidence, calmness, or tolerance they shows around the fearful thing. Practice this further away from the scary thing first and very gradually work up to pup being able to pass that thing as her confidence grows with your help. Simply spending time sitting outside with pup daily in the environment pup is uncertain of - without expecting walking yet - can help the area become less scary or distracting. Next, spend time getting pup used to leash pressure in general if pup's not familiar with coming forward toward you when there is a leash tug. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash Keep doing what you have been doing with treats, taking some small treats or pup's dog food pieces in a small ziplock bag in your pocket or a favorite toy. Every time pup takes a couple of steps, give a treat or toss the toy a step forward or let pup give the toy a tug. Keep your energy excited and confident. When pup stops, tell pup "Let's Go" in a calm and business-like tone of voice (it's not a question, it's a confident, calm command), then tug and release the leash several times in a row until pup takes a couple more steps - at which point give another treat or play. The leash tugs should stop as soon as pup starts moving. Keep your walking goals short at first. If pup won't leave your yard - your first goal is just to leave the yard. When pup reaches that goal - go home as an additional reward for pup following you - even if a lot of leash tugs were involved. When pup will go to the end of the yard easily then walk to the next house. Gradually increase your walk distance overtime. If you make your goal something huge like the whole neighborhood at first you are less likely to succeed - work up to distance overtime, since pup probably doesn't have a lot of endurance without breaks yet. Also, do not continuously pull pup on the leash. Doing so can harm pup's neck, but also dog's have a natural tendency to pull away from something - so if you pull pup in one direction, she will just pull back in the other direction, budging even less. This is why you do the quick tug and releases so that not following is uncomfortable with the tugs but not a continuous pull. You want pup to choose to walk to get away from the annoying tugs and to receive treats. I suspect pup is nervous or distracted about the environment or not sure how to respond to leash pressure or harness - so don't skip over desensitizing pup to the environment and leash if pup seems at all nervous about those things - freezing and looking like a deer in headlights is one sign of nervousness. Finally, make sure pup isn't in pain or sick, causing her not to want to exercise in any form due to feeling bad, even road specific issues like ice or salt or temperatures outside causing discomfort, depending where you live. If you have reason to suspect pup is ill or injured, definitely see your vet. (I am not a vet) Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Dublin
Golden Retriever
8 Weeks
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Question
0 found helpful
Dublin
Golden Retriever
8 Weeks

Very stubborn on the leash does not want to walk sits down and will not move sometimes even when offered a treat.

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Dublin is acting like a lot of other puppies do - so don't worry. Be patient and keep training. I can give you a couple of resources to read: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-boxer-puppy-to-walk-on-a-leash. Try the 180 Method. But remember as well that sometimes puppies are afraid of the leash so be sure to buy a lightweight one at first, because a heavy one can discourage a puppy. Let Dublin walk around the house a few times a day dragging the leash behind to get used to the sensation. Make sure his collar is lightweight and fits well, too. Take a look here for helping Dublin accept the leash: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash. Read it through as there are many tips to help you. Good luck!

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Question
Twinkle
Chihuahua
23 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Twinkle
Chihuahua
23 Weeks

How do I get her walk with me on a lease? She pull away when trying to go for a Walk.

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

Hello! A useful solution may be a head halter called a Gentle Leader. It helps with pulling/attention. These can be found at ay pet store and online.

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Question
Teddy
Pit bull
3 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Teddy
Pit bull
3 Months

We rescued Teddy about 3 weeks ago from Georgia. We live in Hoboken and she is very easily distracted, will sit down or lay down on the ground, and pull backwards if we try to get her to keep going. We've tried treats, purposely stopping her when she is walking and telling her "let's go," but she still sits. We're not sure what breed she is but definitely some type of pitbull mix. It seems like she can tell she can get herself out of the harness by pulling backwards and I'm afraid she will get out and run into the street. She does pretty well inside and is only 25 pounds right now, she just doesn't seem to want to walk outside unless we let her stop and sit around to people/dog watch.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jordynn, First, I suggest choosing a harness you feel confident that pup can't get out of. That needs to not have to be a concern. Check out RuffWear's webmaster harness. Notice the third strap that goes around the belly. You can likely find a less expensive brand, but that design is what you are looking for. Some harnesses like this also have a similar design but an additional d-ring that the leash can be clipped to in the front of the harness to discourage pulling later. That third strap is important for preventing escaping though. Second, know that the stopping is likely related to socialization. Pup is probably stopping to observe because they are not used to all the things they are seeing. Spend a lot of time intentionally taking pup places and rewarding and praising pup for exploring new things and reacting bravely or calmly to new things. Take this as a sign pup needs a lot of socialization and is trying to figure out what to think about new things. As they get more exposure and you build up their confidence through rewards, they should be able to ignore things better. With pup in a secure harness, spending extra time taking trips slow to leave time for socialization and encountering new things in a fun way, when pup stops and you need them to continue, give quick tug and releases with the leash over and over - not continuously pulling but making stopping a little uncomfortable with a quick little tug then release, then tug and release, ect...- continuous pulling will cause pup to pull in the opposite direction, and you don't want the tugs to be really harsh, just annoying. Act really excited and goofy when pup stops and you want them to continue, doing a little dance or running a couple feet away, calling pup in a silly, excited voice. Know that when pup is stopping they are probably nervous, so you want to get your energy up and help them refocus on you, making the situation fun while also insisting pup keep walking with you. You should be enthusiastic enough that you feel silly - all good puppy trainers look pretty silly at times because that's what works best. Also, recognize that when pup keeps stopping over and over, it's probably time to head home for now. Pups can get easily over stimulated and tired, and often stopping over and over can mean pup has had enough for now. View outings as training and socialization rather than trying to get somewhere far right now. When it's obvious it's time to head home, get pup to follow you a couple more steps again and you initiate turning the walk toward home, so that pup is rewarded with heading home for following and not stopping. Know that this behavior is normal at this age, especially for pup's with certain personality types. Check out the free PDF e-book AFTER You Get Your Puppy as well. www.lifedogtraining.com/freedownloads Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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