Training your dog to walk on a leash can be a difficult and challenging task. Your pup wants to run, explore, and then, squirrel!
Whether you have a puppy or an older dog, walking on a leash is not a natural behavior for them. This is a skill that must be learned. Dogs tend to get very excited being outside, and this can lead to some potentially dangerous behavior for both them and their walker. And walking should be fun for both of you!
Here are tips to help train your dog to not pull on their leash and become a little more pleasant to walk with.
Before you start training your dog to walk on a leash
You want to make sure you and your dog have all the supplies you need to set yourself up for success. Here are a few basic recommended items:
You want to make sure you have plenty of treats to walk your dog with. As you read the article, you will notice that rewarding your dog with treats will be a very consistent training method. I use treats like these Crazy Train-Me! Training Dog Reward Treats. These are a good example because they are low calories/low fat and made for repetitive training. They have healthy ingredients, are tasty, and won’t fill up your dog’s tummy since they are small. This will help your dog stay focused.
Note, treats are for training your dog while walking – not for the dog park! The last thing you want to do is train your dog in a dog park because it can be dangerous to bring treats in and have your dog on a leash. Check out our post on dog park etiquette here if you want to learn more. It’s most convenient to have a container that attaches to you, so it’s easy to immediately be able to reward your dog, and you won’t be worried about juggling an extra item while trying to focus on multiple training skills. I love this Paw Lifestyle Dog Training Pouch from Amazon. This drawstring securely holds dog treats and has a bright green lining, so you can quickly identify where the treats are located and have them ready. It also has a built-in waste bag holder and 2 d-rings, so you can easily attach your dog’s clicker if you use one and your personal items (such as keys.) There is also room for your phone and other items you may want to carry on your training. It also has multiple ways to wear this, so it’s comfortable for you. You want to be able to really concentrate on holding the leash and the dog training, so try to mitigate extra distractions or holding other things while focusing on this.
You will read about selecting a ‘cue’ for your dog, and one of these suggestions includes using a clicker. If you want to move forward with a clicker, here is a great clicker I like. These are provided in packs of two, and also contains a whistle that can be used as another ‘cue’ in future trainings with your dog. They come in a pack of two with elastic wristbands attached, in case it’s easier to keep the clicker strapped around your wrist. They also have a strong and distinct clicking sound that your dog will easily be able to head and distinguish.
Leash and harness that are suitable and secure for training
You do not want to make this training more difficult than it has to be! A big part of this is ensuring your dog is wearing the proper equipment. You want to make sure your choices are not intensifying the problem, making it more difficult to train, or creating miscommunication with your dog.
There are many types of leashes out there. However, there are two that are best to select for training your dog.
Adjustable leashes – These can be a great option because you can adjust the length without your dog creating constant pulling. This gives you firmer control and allows you to extend the leash at your training discretion. Typical adjustment leashes are available between 3-6 feet. There are loops or clips that allow you to adjust the length securely and easily. In the beginning, you will want to use the shorter leash training, but also have the ability to provide more freedom as they’re becoming adjusted to their training. I enjoy this Kurgo 6 in 1 Quantum Leash. This reflective leash converts into 6 styles just by adjusting the Carabiner. This can be worn around the waist, over the shoulder courier style, double dog leash, tether to help hitch your pup, and then the 6 ft. leash and 3 foot training leash. It also has a padded handle, so it helps mitigate stress on your hands and further helps control your dog. So the numerous options really help you figure out what works best for you and your pup.
Standard dog leashes – Another leash that would work is a standard dog leash. I like leashes such as the FunTag Reflective Nylon Leash With Soft Padded Handle For Training. This leash has easy to grip padded handles, which is helpful for pulling dogs to prevent rope burn from your hands. They offer multiple sizes and colors, so you can select the leash that is best for your training situation. And a little hack – if you get a leash that is too long, or you want it to be shorter for certain training days, you can knot it to easily shorten to your desire length.
So there are three main types of harnesses available. In training purposes, I only recommend two of them. Here are the options, what works best with leash training, and why.
Back attachment harness – These are not recommended for leash training as it’s the least effective harness to use if your dog pulls. The placement of the back harness can actually encourage them to pull more because it feels good to the dog. Think about sled dogs for a second. They have their ropes attached in a similar position, so they can pull sleds. So I would not recommend this harness for training your dog to walk. These can be great to use once your dog has become more advanced in their training, but not now!
Front attachment harness – These types of harnesses have an attachment for their leash in the front of your pup. These are great to use to help stop your dog from pulling. The leash is attached to the front of your dog in front attachment harnesses. If your dog pulls, the effect is that there is pressure on their chest to the side. If they apply pressure, they get a tug on their chest to the side, and this will make them turn toward you. They won’t be able to move forward when they pull, which defeats their desired purpose when they want to pull. I use and recommend the BARKBAY Harness because it’s extremely heavy duty, has a pocket for your dog’s ID (or I use an Air Tag in this spot to track them), and contains clips on the front and the back. So when I am training them, I use the front attachment. As they are trained and not pulling any longer, I switch to the back attachment clip. I also love the fact that it has ultra reflective strips to keep my pups visible and a top easy lift handle in case I need to control them on the walk this handle secures them.
Head harness – This can be a great training tool for those extra determined puller. It still allows your dog to have full motion to bark and play outside. It loops around your dog’s nose. This is different from the neck and shoulders of other harnesses. Therefore, when your dog pulls, the headcollar gently moves his head toward you, so they have a chance to refocuses. The Gentle Leader Head collar is a leading industry example that is vet recommended. This type of harness can be very beneficial with initial training. As your dog progresses, you can graduate them to other harnesses and have this in your harness tool belt in case you have situations where it may be helpful, like a vet visit. Note that this particular head harness (also referred to as head collar) takes more time for your dog to be comfortable wearing it. It feels and works a little different so getting them acclimated prior to using outside could be a beneficial route to take.
Introduce the leash and harness to your dog inside
Having your dog get acclimated to their walking gear inside the house can be helpful, especially if your dog is afraid of the harness and leash. Let them wear their harness and leash inside the house for short time periods. During this training, give your pup lots of love, treats, and affection. Show them that their harness and leash is something to get excited about. This will help create a positive association with the harness and leash because it represents attention and fun.
Make sure your dog is mentally and physically ready for walks
If you are trying to train your dog how to walk without pulling, you have to do your part to set them up for success. Before training, make sure your dog has had ample exercise or playing sessions. Additionally, make sure they have had opportunities to sniff and explore outside, like in a safely fenced area. Your dog needs to have both physical and mental stimulation before a training session. If not, they may have all of that pent-up energy that they can’t help but try to release with you during the training.
Teach your dog a cue
This is going to be helpful in multiple situations. Select the cue that your dog will learn means ‘treat time!’ Examples of this could include using a clicker, a special word (like “treat” or “look”), or a gesture such as snapping your fingers. Once you have decided what cue you will use, take your dog outside into a distraction free area. Practice your cue and as soon as your dog looks at you, reward them with a treat. After a few repetitions or a couple sessions, you will see your dog looking at you more and understanding the cue means to stop what they are doing to get their treat. This is a great tool to have in your dog walking tool belt because there are tons of situations where you will need to get and keep your dog’s attention.
Train your dog to walk on your preferred side
Pick a side that you want you dog to walk with you on. Left is traditional, because you typically want to walk facing traffic. This would make the left side the side furthest from the street and usually prime real estate for the best sniffing. Reward your dog when he walks on the preferred side and your pup will start to associate that side with rewards.
Reward your dog for walking beside you
While you are training your dog to walk on a leash on their preferred side, when they decide to walk right beside you, reward them! Give them praise and a treat. If he or she continues to walk with you, reward them for every step you take together. You may feel like you are bombarding your dog with treats, but that’s ok! This is just the initial training, as your pup becomes stronger in their new positive walking behaviors, you will not need to reward as often.
Training your dog to walk on a leash
So you have worked with your dog to walk on the preferred side. Ideally, your dog should walk near you, by your side or slightly ahead of you. The leash should remain loose. So how do we get to this point? You need patience and your dog needs training!
The moment your dog starts pulling, stop walking. Yup, just stop. They should not be allowed walking forward in the direction they are pulling. This is basically letting your dog know it’s ok to pull.
When he stops pulling and the leash is loose, give your dog immediate praise and treats.
Begin walking with your dog again.
This is going to be a very repetitive cycle for a while, so patience and repetition is essential. When your pup pulls, you instantly stop again. When they stop pulling, it’s time for more praise and treats.
Repeat these steps until your dog understands that if they pull, they cannot go where they are pulling so hard to go towards. They will eventually understand that pulling means stopping from their intended destination. And not pulling means they get to walk towards the destination they want to reach.
Use the A,B,C method
Using the ‘A-B-C’ method to understand why your dog may be walking the way they are. This can help identify walking behaviors and help with training your dog to walk on a leash. Creating a training plan means you are able to identify the below ‘A-B-C’ methods.
Antecedent – What happens immediately before your dog starts pulling?
Behavior – Pulling is the behavior in question, but it is probably accompanied by other behaviors. What are these other behaviors you notice?
Consequence – What happens during or immediately after the pulling? This is the “result” from the dog’s point of view.
Once you have analyzed this with your pup, you can then determine how A (Antecedent) and C (Consequence) can be changed so that B (Behavior) will change. This will help create a uniquely formulated pulling plan for your dog. This pulling behavior can be reversed or prevented in conjunction with their reward based training.
Be consistent with your training technique when training your dog to walk on a leash
The last thing you want to do is confuse your dog by switching up your training routines and techniques. As you select your preferences from your cue to what side your dog should walk on, ensure this is consistent. This will help teach your dog exactly what is expected of them. It would not be fair to train different techniques and expect your dog to read your mind and follow along with you. So have a plan and stick to it! This would also mean anyone else who walks your dog needs to understand it and stick to it so they too can be helpful when training your dog to walk on a leash.
Understand when it’s time for a referral for professional help
There are some dogs who lunge hard and constantly at the end of their leash. They may also leap or chase other animals, people, moving cars, etc. If behavior has not improved and these behaviors are present, talk to your veterinarian, so you can be referred to professional trainers to stop this dangerous behavior. A behavior training plan that is custom may need to be created for your pup because not all pups respond to the same training techniques that work for most other dogs.