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Training Your Dog to Walk on a Leash – Our 5 Easy Tips

Nicole Cosgrove

Are you trying to train your puppy how to walk on a leash, but are unsure of how to start? Do you have an adult dog who tends to pull every time you take him out on a walk? People sometimes assume that dogs will instinctively know how to properly walk on a leash, but that isn’t the case. As with other behaviors, walking on a leash is a learned behavior. Luckily, teaching your dog good leash skills isn’t as hard as you may think.

In this how-to guide, you will find everything you need to know about teaching your dog to walk on a leash, from the basics to the best tips to try.

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Leash Basics

dog leash
Image Credit: Michael Beermann, Pixabay

Choosing a Collar

First things first: you need to ensure that your dog’s collar is the proper size. A collar that is too big could slide off, but a collar that is too tight could harm your dog. In general, you can loosely measure your dog’s collar by trying to slide your fingers between the collar and your dog’s neck. The collar should be snug enough so that no more than two fingers will fit underneath. You can also use a measuring tape to find your dog’s neck size. Pet stores may recommend certain collars for certain breeds, but it is still important to measure to get the correct fit.

Your dog’s overall size and breed should also be taken into consideration when choosing the width of your dog’s collar. A wider collar (1-2 inches) will provide more support, making it suitable for larger and stronger dogs. On the other hand, a narrow collar (⅝-1 inch) is appropriate for small breeds.

Choosing a Leash

Leashes come in many different styles, materials, and lengths. A standard leash is typically 4-6 feet long and ⅜-1 inch wide. Nylon is the most common leash material because it is affordable and easy to clean. However, if your dog likes to chew on his leash, nylon may not be the best option because these leashes can be easy to chew through. You can opt for a rope or leather leash for a sturdier material, but you should keep in mind that leather in particular can be difficult to clean. For a hypoallergenic option, choose a hemp leash. Hemp is unlikely to bother a dog with sensitive skin.

If you find that a standard leash doesn’t work for you and your needs, there are several other options to choose from, including retractable leashes, adjustable leashes, and umbilical leashes. Each of these options has benefits and drawbacks.

chihuahua on a leash
Image Credit: IIIBlackhartIII, Pixabay

Retractable Leashes

If your dog likes to wander, a retractable leash may be a good option. However, you should know that they can cause injury to humans and dogs if your pet is not trained properly. In particular, if your dog has a high prey drive and has a tendency to bolt after objects and animals that have caught his interest, a retractable leash can cause neck injuries because it gives your dog leeway to run at full speed—until they reach the end of the leash, causing a sudden lurch.

Adjustable Leashes

Because adjustable leashes have clasps on both ends, they can be a good option if you need to tie your dog to a post or a tree or if you want to walk multiple dogs at a time. You can even loop an adjustable leash around your waist while walking your pup so that you don’t have to hold onto the handle, though this type of leash isn’t recommended if you plan to take your dog for a run or hike.

Umbilical Cord Leashes

Umbilical cord leashes are a great hands-free option for an active pup. You can buckle these leashes around your waist while on the go but maintain control over your dog thanks to two built-in handles. This type of leash also features a bungee cord that prevents injury as you start and stop while out for a run.

At What Age Should You Leash Train a Puppy?

You may be surprised to learn that you can start leash training your puppy as early as 7 or 8 weeks old. Dogs begin to solidify their adult behaviors from a very early age, so if you wait too long to start training your dog to walk on a leash, you may be missing an opportunity to set expectations for your dog’s behavior. Of course, if you start training a puppy that young, you will need to be very patient. Make sure you are using plenty of repetition and positive reinforcement along the way.

Now that you know a little bit more about the basics, let’s discuss some of our top tips for leash training your dog.

puppy on a leash
Image Credit: dandaviddesigns, Pixabay

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Our 5 Tips for Training Your Dog to Walk on a Leash Are:

1. Introduce your dog to its collar and leash.

If you have a puppy, it may take a while for him to get used to wearing a collar. Before you ever take him outdoors, you should spend some time in your home getting your dog accustomed to wearing a collar and leash. If you feed him treats whenever he wears the leash, he will positively associate leash time with fun time.

dog looking at the leash on the floor
Image Credit: Mat Coulton, Pixabay

2. Practice walking your dog inside.

Once your dog is accustomed to his leash, practice taking him on short walks inside. If possible, find a quiet area of the house to practice walking in so that there aren’t too many distractions.


3. Teach your dog to stay on one side.

Use your indoor practice time to teach your dog to stay on one side of you to prevent him from tripping you up. If you intend to have your dog compete in sports and competitions, you should train him to walk on your left side, as this is the traditional side. If you don’t plan to compete, you can train him to walk on whichever side is most comfortable for you. If you’re right-handed, you may find that it’s most comfortable to keep your dog on your right. The best way to keep your dog by your side is to keep his leash relatively short so that he can’t circle or zigzag. You can also give him treats only when he stays on the appropriate side.

german shepherd on a leash
Image Credit: nori jaafer, Pixabay

4. Once your dog has mastered indoor walks, take your walks outdoors.

Put your dog’s skills to the test by taking him outdoors for his first real walks. Understand that the outdoors will inevitably present many new distractions for your dog. You will need to be very patient with your dog and ideally, you should keep the first several walks short. Move away from objects that are distracting your dog during the walk. Once he moves away from the distraction to follow you, give him a treat as a reward. Over time, you can reduce the number of treats you give your dog while out on walks.


5. Finally, work through leash problems.

Even if your dog or puppy is a quick learner, you are likely to run into some problems along the way.

dog pulling leash
Image Credit: icsilviu, Pixabay

Leash Pulling

One of the most common problems is leash pulling. If you find that your dog tends to pull on his leash, try staying still when it happens and remain still until your dog comes back to you again. Don’t yank on the leash, as you could harm your dog. You can reward your dog with treats for coming back to stay with you so that he will learn that staying with you, not pulling ahead, is a good thing.

If you continue to have problems with pulling, you may need to get a head halter or a different collar so that you can gain more control over the pulling. A head halter is a type of collar that wraps around your dog’s muzzle instead of his neck.

Lunging

Lunging is most common in dogs with high prey drives or herding breeds, but it can be a problem in any dog that has a tendency to get excited. If your dog has a tendency to lunge at people or objects while you’re walking, pay attention so that you can be proactive. If possible, get your dog’s attention with a treat when you see a possible target coming so that he will be too distracted to try and lunge.

Barking

Excessive barking is usually the result of boredom. If you find that your dog barks a lot while you’re out for walks, try increasing the amount of mental stimulation and exercise he is getting. If barking is still an issue, you can use the same method that you would use for a dog who tends to lunge; redirect his attention with a treat before he has a chance to bark. If your dog tends to bark when he sees other dogs, for example, he will hopefully start to get into the habit of turning to you instead of barking when other dogs walk by.

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Conclusion

With enough practice and patience, your dog will be ready to walk on a leash in no time. If you try all of our tips above and you still have issues with pulling, lunging, or barking, your best bet is to take your dog to obedience school so that he can work with an experienced trainer. The sooner you correct bad habits, the easier it will be for your dog to learn new habits.


Featured Image Credit: dekazigzag, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.