Owners new to dog ownership are often surprised when their new dog doesn’t enjoy the leash. The chewing, resisting, barking, pulling, and jumping can make serene walks with your dog nothing but wishful thinking. Your dog could have trouble walking on a leash for various reasons, and none of them is your dog’s fault. Since many situations require your dog to be on a leash, teaching this skill is at the top of your pet parent list. Walking on a leash can be fun and can benefit you and your dog, from hiking to dining out with your dog to walking around the neighborhood or visiting the veterinarian. Our tips for successful leash training will help you overcome questionable leash walking skills. 

Start With The Right Gear

Everything is more accessible with the right supplies. For successful leash training, you’ll need the following:

  • Training treats to use as rewards.
  • A quality 6-foot leash that feels comfortable in your hand (a retractable leash is not recommended for training and is confusing to many dogs due to its constant pulling effect).
  • A well-fitted dog harness.

You may have a collar already and wonder why you need a dog harness. The simple answer is that a harness is safer for your dog’s neck. The pressure of a leash being pulled can cause physical harm, whether it’s you or the dog pulling. Using a harness distributes the pulling force evenly over your dog’s body, reducing the chances of injury. 

A front clip harness will work best for a dog who pulls since the position of the clip causes them to turn to the side when pulling – making it harder for them to dig in with the full force of their body. A freedom harness has clips on the front and the back, allowing you to choose which clip to use. 

Leash Training For Dogs

Once you’ve introduced your dog to the new gear, it’s time to start leash training. Remember that leash training isn’t a quick process. Limit your training sessions to 10-15 minutes per day initially (or shorter for puppies), and keep training sessions positive and upbeat. Leash training is all about teaching your dog where you want them to be, so yanking on the leash won’t teach them what you want them to know. Instead, rewarding them (positive reinforcement) for being by your side works much better. 

Start in a small, quiet space – Introduce leash walking indoors, with few distractions. Put the leash and harness on and feed a treat immediately afterward so your dog learns that the harness and leash lead to something good. Take one small step forward, and as soon as your dog takes one step with you, give a treat at their head level, next to your leg. Call them with a high, happy voice if they don’t follow you and pat your leg. As soon as they come with you, reward them. 

Practice moving around Practice walking in small steps in different directions, focusing on keeping your dog next to you by using verbal commands and rewarding with treats. Ignore the behavior you want to stop. Reward with each step until they are consistently walking next to your leg. Once your dog walks nicely with you for a treat after each step, vary how often you give the treats, keeping your dog focused on you. 

Add the great outdoors After your dog walks well on the leash inside the house, it’s time to expand. If you have a yard, start there. When you first move to the backyard or another new environment, return to feeding one treat for each step if you need to since distractions will be more significant in a new space.

The wide world Once your dog consistently displays good leash behavior at home, you can test their skills in the broader world. Remember to keep it positive, take smaller steps, and give more frequent treats at first, working up to larger and less frequent ones.  

If your dog’s behavior starts to fall apart, ensure you’re feeding tasty (high-value) treats, treat more often, or return to a more manageable situation (or all three). Steer clear of stressful situations for your dog until you and they are confident with their leash walking skills, and remember that this skill takes practice and time. 

The Big Picture

Leash training can be fun and satisfying for you and your dog and can open up a world of fun and adventure. It also protects your dog from predators, cars, and other dogs. And it keeps them healthier. If you need a little extra help, call us at (831) 335-3466. We can connect you with a training and behavior expert in our area. Felton Veterinary Hospital is here for you!