How to Leash Train a Dog or Puppy
Some people mistakenly believe that dogs naturally know how to follow people and walk properly on a leash.
Unfortunately, nothing can be further from the truth. When you take your pup for a walk, their canine instincts tell them to explore and smell everything around, to run in every direction at the same time, and to greet every human or animal they see along the way.
Curious to know how to leash train your dog so they walk calmly by your side, turning when you turn, and stopping when you stop? Read on to learn how to make your dream walk a reality.
Why Leash Train Your Dog?
Walking your dog on a daily basis is an important exercise that will keep your pup healthy and happy.
Outdoor walks allow the dog to explore the environment, take a “bathroom” break, and get sufficient physical activity to keep them fit. In addition, daily walks can help your dog sleep better at night and support healthy digestion.
Whenever your dog needs to walk, you need to be able to use a leash to keep them safe.
Most of the time, untrained dogs will pull against the leash instead of walking smoothly by your side. Here’s where puppy leash training comes in.
How to Leash Train a Puppy Step-by-Step
*Important: Always keep training short!
Training must be fun and engaging for your dog to learn properly.
10-15 minutes at a time is fine.
Take a break for at least two hours before another 10-15 minutes.
Introducing the Leash / Lead
Before learning to walk on a leash or lead, we need our dog or puppy to be comfortable with the equipment.
How to get your dog used to a leash or lead:
Have treats and toys handy nearby for this, and start when they are in a calm state, such as right after an engaging play session.
1. To show your dog that the leash and collar/harness are things they should like, place the items near them when they are in a calm state.
Treat them as you place the leash/collar/harness down or immediately after.
2. Keep their attention off the leash. If they go to bite it, redirect their attention toward a toy they can chew on.
Talk to them and praise them as they leave the leash/collar/harness alone.
3. Put the collar/harness on your dog when they are calm near the items. Treat them as or after you put it on.
If your dog attempts to play with them, distract them with a toy and consider going back to the beginning.
Don’t try to be sneaky and put something on your dog when they can’t see it — this may lead to distrust of the items.
4. When collar/harness is on comfortably, play you may add the leash/lead.
If your dog gets too excited, play with them while they have the collar/harness on until they can settle a little with their toy. Then, put the leash on.
Let your dog walk around or play with their toy (not the leash) while the leash is dragging on the ground. Give them some time to get used to the feeling of the leash without you holding it.
Again, if they attempt to bite or play with the leash, distract your dog with a toy.
5. After your dog has had enough time to get used to the collar/harness and leash/lead, you can pick up the leash and hold it. Give your dog another treat here.
You can leave the items on your dog for any period of time as they walk around or play. Always supervise them during this step and have distractions ready if they try to play with the leash.
Eventually, they will learn that it isn’t a toy, but it’s something they can pretty much ignore while behaving normally.
Walking on Leash
When our dog is comfortable with the leash or lead, we need to teach them to walk in the “heel” position.
This means that your pup is walking calmly by your side, without pulling on a leash or trying to run in a random direction. Here is how you can do this:
1. Get the proper harness or collar and leash ready (more on that later!).
2. Fill your pocket with your pup’s favourite treats.
3. Decide which side you would like the dog to walk on and keep a few treats on that side of your body.
For example, if you want your pup to walk on your right side, hold treats in your right hand or right pocket.
4. Hold the leash in the hand opposite from the dog.
For example, if you want the dog to walk on your right side, hold the end of the leash in your left hand. Let the leash itself hang loosely between your hand and the dog.
5. Take one step and stop. Give your dog some treats from your hand next to the dog, in line with your own legs. This will help you position the dog properly.
6. Repeat. Take one step, stop, give a treat from your hand that is next to your dog, in line with your legs.
7. Once the pup starts looking up at you waiting for more treats, start taking two steps at a time instead of one.
8. If the dog starts pulling ahead, stop walking. Call them back to you or use the treats to lure them back to your side.
However, don’t feed the pup until you take two or three steps forward again. If you treat them on coming back to you, the dog will learn a sequence like: “I pull the leash, I come back, I get the treat.”
Remember, we want them to learn to walk by your side on a loose leash, not pull!
If your dog starts getting too excited or tired, consider taking a break and coming back later.
9. Keep increasing the number of steps you take forward between each treat.
You can talk to your dog along the way to keep their attention on you.
10. Once the dog starts walking well on a loose leash, add a command for this kind of walk.
This could be “Heel,” “With me,” or any other word or phrase of your choice.
11. Release your dog with a command such as: “OK,” “All done,” or “Free” when they no longer need to walk by your side.
How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash
Once your pup masters the standard leash walk, you can teach them a different walk for more relaxed moments. The only rule here will be: “no leash pulling.”
1. Use a word or phrase to represent this type of walk. You can use “Free time,” “At ease,” or any other word of your choice.
2. Decide how much leash freedom you want to give your dog.
You can hold some of the leash in your hand, but make sure to stay consistent throughout the walk and avoid releasing and gathering it multiple times. This will allow the dog to learn how much leash is available to them.
3. Give your pup the cue you chose (“Free time”/etc) and start the walk.
Let the dog sniff, look around, change sides, or lie down occasionally. Remember, they can do anything here except pulling.
4. If your dog starts pulling the leash, stop moving and call them toward you before starting again.
5. If the dog gets fixated on a person, another dog, or animal, call your pup’s name and get their attention.
Give them treats when you have their attention. Stand still or continue to walk while treating them, making sure they are paying attention to you, until the distraction is out of sight.
This teaches your dog that focusing on you is more rewarding than chasing a stranger.
6. If you’d like your dog to walk in the “heel” position again, bring him back to your side and say the verbal cue (“Heel”/etc). Give them a treat.
Choosing the Right Equipment
When following the steps of how to leash train a dog, you need to make sure that you have all the right equipment.
Choosing a Collar / Harness
The ideal type of collar or harness for leash training will depend on the dog you have.
In some cases, you may need to use a back harness when walking your dog.
- Standard collar.
This is the most common type of collar you see everywhere. For most medium and large dogs, this is fine.
However, dogs with sleeker heads and necks may be able to slip out of a traditional collar, so it wouldn’t work for them.
- Back harness.
A harness is ideal for smaller breeds, as they can be injured and choked by a standard collar.
A properly-sized back harness prevents small dogs from having airway damage in case they pull too much on the leash, and it is great for preventing small dogs from sliding out of restraints.
Choosing a Leash / Lead
When choosing a leash (also called a “lead”) to walk your dog, remember that it should be strong enough to be able to withstand a dog’s pulling or chewing.
Even though we work to train this behavior away, our equipment should still be able to handle it if something happens.
In addition, the leash should feel comfortable for you and fit your hand well.
Some of the leash choices available on the market include:
- Standard leash.
The standard leash can look like a flat band or simply a rope. These come in a broad range of styles and materials, so you can find the one you truly like.
Make sure the leash you choose is heavy-duty enough to withstand many outdoor walks in different types of weather.
- Retractable leash.
A retractable leash is not recommended because of several different safety hazards. Retractable leashes can cause injury in both people and dogs, and should always be avoided.
This type of leash has been used to give people control over the length of the leash. The leash itself is a thin cord coiled up inside a hidden compartment, and you can let out as much as you want.
However, the cord of a retractable leash may cut or burn people’s skin, tangle, or snap and let dogs loose. Additionally, the varying length may confuse dogs and encourage them to pull, leading to the break of the cord and/or injury.
When it comes to learning how to leash train a dog, remember that practice makes perfect.
Consistency and structure are important factors that will determine the ultimate success of nearly any dog training task.
Don’t fall for “unusual” training advice that claims to train your dog faster; it isn’t possible.
However, if you repeat the same steps day by day, you will be able to leash train your dog and ensure that this conditioning sticks with the pooch for their entire life.
If the training seems to be taking too long, don’t worry! Every training session, even an “unsuccessful” one, is one step closer, plus it is quality time you spend with your four-legged friend.
As long as you remain consistent, the results will come.