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How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash

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Excited, happy dog on leash with harness.

Wondering how to train a dog to walk on a leash? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as putting on the leash and going. If you train a dog to walk on a leash incorrectly, you’re at risk for unpleasant walks with problems like leash pulling and more. Check out these steps for how to train a dog to walk on a leash properly.

How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash — Adult Dogs vs. Puppies

A dog pulling on his leash out on a walk.

Avoid issues like leash pulling by training your dog to walk on a leash properly. Photography ©Westend6 | Getty Images.

Training a puppy versus an adult dog to walk on a leash isn’t that different. How to train a dog to walk on a leash — nicely— is something that eludes many, and, unfortunately, most dog parents don’t even properly “teach” their dogs how to walk on a leash. They don’t realize that, like sit, stay or come, teaching a dog to walk on a leash requires training — hence why so many dogs have mastered the art of leash pulling. This makes leash walking unpleasant for both the guardian and the dog.

The only real differences to consider when teaching a dog to walk on a leash is the time spent in each training session and acclimating puppies to the equipment, leash, harness or collar, whereas most adult dogs are already wearing a collar and have been on a leash, even if it’s just been to transport them.

How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash — The Basics

The key to teaching dogs anything new, including how to train a dog to walk on a leash, is to train in a familiar area with no distractions, like your living room, backyard, basement, etc. Next, have high-value treats, such as pieces of chicken, turkey, cheese or hot dogs, ready in a treat pouch.

You don’t just put the leash and harness on and go for a walk. Dogs aren’t born knowing how to walk on a leash. In fact, you’ll first need to acclimate your dog to wearing a harness with a leash attached to it. Once your dog has accepted having leashes and harnesses on his body, you can begin the process of teaching him how to walk loosely on the leash.

I prefer to use a harness when walking dogs because it eliminates the possibility of damaging the trachea, which is a very sensitive part of a dog’s neck. The hacking sound often heard when dogs are walked on a regular, flat collar is usually due to pressure and damage to the trachea.

How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash — Start with the Harness First

Teaching a dog to walk on a leash is best done when a dog is hungry, so he’s motivated by hunger. Don’t worry, you can feed him his meal after the training session.

  1. Hold the harness up. When your dog sniffs it, give him a treat. Repeat this about five times.
  2. Lay the harness over his neck or back and give him a treat, repeating five times. Only give treats when you put the harness on — not when it comes off.
  3. Lengthen the time the harness stays on his back from one second to 10 seconds.
  4. Next, buckle one buckle on the harness and treat. Then, buckle the second buckle and treat, repeating it several times.
  5. Leave the harness on and play a little game of tug-of-war or fetch to distract your dog from the feeling of having the harness on and buckled.
  6. After a short play session of about one-to-two minutes, go ahead and feed your dog his meal.
  7. Remove your dog’s harness when he finishes his meal, before he has time to feel bothered by it and try to get it off.

The Next Step in How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash — Add the Leash

Happy, excited dog with leash in his mouth.

How to train a dog to walk on a leash is easy — if you follow the appropriate training. Photography ©DanAlex120714 | Getty Images.

It’s best if you do three or four acclimation training sessions over a couple of days. Once your dog seems comfortable, leave the harness on for about five to 10 minutes a day for three days or so before introducing the leash. You’ll introduce the leash using the same steps as the harness training.

When you attach the leash, don’t pick it up, but let him walk around with it while tossing treats in front of him, as he’s walking, dragging it behind. Leave it on for a couple of minutes and remove. Do this several times a day for a couple of days before picking up the leash.

And Then — Picking Up the Leash!

By now, your dog is comfortable with the harness on and the leash dragging behind him because he knows treats are forthcoming. So, it’s time to pick up the leash. This step should take place in your training area with no distractions and with plenty of treats.

Pick up the leash and stand still, waiting for your pup to look at you. When he does, give him a treat. Then, take a few steps and stop again. When he looks at you, give him a treat. Gradually add distractions as he progresses, slowing down, speeding up, stopping and turning, so he’ll turn to look at you, at which time he’s rewarded with a treat. You are teaching him that even though he’s walking on the leash, he’s also engaging with you.

Now, it’s time to take your dog outside ­— but don’t walk him anywhere yet! You’re just adding bigger distractions but you have no destination other than loose-leash walking and being connected and engaged with your dog.

How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash — If He’s a Puppy

If you’re leash training a puppy, remember that puppies are learning about their new worlds and there’s so much to explore. Puppies explore/see their worlds through their noses and we must allow them to do so, even if they stop every six inches to sniff — and they will.

We don’t need to teach puppies to heel, we just need to teach them to walk with a loose leash, so that they can be dogs and do what dogs do — and that’s see the world through their noses. (This is a wonderful, short but very important, four-minute, video on the importance of allowing dog to go on sniffaris, by Alexandra Horowitz: author and teacher of psychology, animal behavior and cognition at Barnard College, Columbia College.)

How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash — If He’s an Adult Dog

How to train a dog to walk on a leash who’s never been on a leash before is the same as teaching a puppy, except that the training sessions can be longer. Instead of three- to five-minute training sessions with puppies three-to-five times a day, you can train for 10 minutes, two-to-four times a day.

Most adult dogs have already been acclimated to a collar, so if you’re switching to a harness, which I highly recommend for all dogs of any age or size, please go through the acclimation training, the same as you would teach a puppy.

The Bottom Line on How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash

Training dogs to walk on a leash is not difficult if you take the time to truly teach them how to do it right. Proper training will make walks more enjoyable for you and your dog.

Tell us: How did you train your dog to walk on a leash? What are some of your tips and secrets for how to train a dog to walk on a leash?

Thumbnail: Photography ©Gemma DiLullo | Getty Images.

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