Leash training your dog

When you first put a leash and collar on your puppy, she probably resisted and maybe even sat and refused to budge. Later, as she got used to the leash, she may have started pulling, stopping, or turning suddenly. All dogs need lessons in good leash behavior. They are not instantly instilled with these skills just because you put a collar and leash on them.

Training good leash behavior can be demanding, mainly because most dogs get overly excited about going on walks, and once on the walk, they feel free to put their priorities above yours. Some dogs may be set on getting to their destination, such as a park, and want to make the trip as fast as possible; others see walks as a leisurely shopping trip and want to stop at every bush or pole, sniff at every little spot or check out every object in their path.

If you want to train your dog to loose-leash walk politely, it is imperative that you don’t allow pulling or sudden stops on any walks. Consistency is key. If you are lax, even for one walk, your dog will keep trying because it worked once. So, even when you are rushed, you can never “just this once” let your dog break the rules.

There are many training options to get your dog to walk on loose leash, and some options work better than others. Regardless of which option you choose, there are definite rules that you should adhere to:

  • First, remember that until your dog learns to walk loose leash, all walks are training walks. Keep these training walks numerous, short, and positive for your dog.
  • You will need to carry treats for rewards as you train leash manners. Select soft treats that easily eaten and make them special ones that your dog only gets on walks. Dried liver or jerky are good choices.
  • You will have a better chance for success if you play with your dog to expel some of her excess energy before walking her.
  • Keep a swift pace when walking. You will maintain your dog’s attention and she will be less inclined to stop every few feet if she is trotting.
  • However, your dog does need to sniff and go potty on her walk. In order to maintain the walking pace, allow her a short amount of time to do this in. Thirty seconds is a good time frame. After this, give a light tug on the leash and use the words “Hurry Up!” If she doesn’t move on, give her another 30 seconds, say “Let’s walk!” firmly and tug her back to the walk. After a while, she’ll get the message.
  • If your dog gets overly excited at the mere mention of a walk or your movement toward the leash, you must begin instilling good leash behavior before you even hook up the leash. Pick up the leash and walk toward the door. If your dog starts twirling or jumping with excitement, stop and give the sit command. If this doesn’t work, put away the leash, take a seat, and relax for a few minutes before trying again. Keep trying until your dog does sit, then give her lots of praise and hook on the leash. If she moves from the sit while you are putting on the leash, stop and give the sit command again. This can be frustrating for both you and your dog, but if you remain steadfast, your dog will begin the walk on the right note.

The Methods

There are four different approaches to training good leash behavior. Not every approach will work for every dog, so you will need to do a little trial and error before you find the one that works.

Method 1

Start by walking your normal route. As soon as your dog starts to pull, stop walking and wait. Your dog will may continue to pull, but stay put until the leash goes slack. Call the dog back to you and give the sit command. If she does this, give her a treat and praise her. Use a simple command such as “heel” or “go” and continue walking. If she walks loose leash, give her another treat and constant praise. If she pulls on the leash again, repeat the process of stop, the call-back, sit, treat and praise, and continue on the walk. Be sure to praise your dog when she walks loose leash.

You may not get very far the first few days with all this stopping and starting, but if you are consistent, she will learn two things: (1) when she stays close and walks loose leash, she is rewarded with treats and praise and (2) if she pulls on the leash, she must stop the walk (something most dogs do not want to do), return and sit before she can move forward. If your dog is pulling to get to an object or to go potty, follow the same rules, then after she returns and sits, you can give a command like “release” to let her go sniff. Be sure to give her enough slack so she doesn’t have to pull on the leash to go to the spot.

With consistency, constant praise, and rewards, your dog should get the message. It may take several days or even a couple weeks, but the urge to move forward will win out and you will have to stop less and less. Continue to reward and praise her even after she has the lesson down or she may slip back to the old ways. Also, be sure all family members and pet sitters know and use the method.

Method 2

This method is based on the principle that what you have is much better than anything your dog may find or see on the walk. Start before you begin walking by calling your dog to get her attention. When you have it, show her that you have a handful of special treats in your hand. Let her sniff at them to ensure she knows where they are. Give the command “walk” and head off on your route, keeping the treat hand down close to her. Give her treats every few steps as you walk along with praise for walking loose leash.

If she begins to pull, follow the steps in the first method; stop, call her back to you, command her to sit. Show her the treats again and resume the walk. If she jumps up for the treats say “ah, ah, ah” and pull your hand close to your chest. When she has settled down, command her to sit, then show her the treats and start walking, popping a treat in her mouth every few feet. Gradually spread out the time between treats as she begins to understand the lesson.

Method 3 (Not for use on dogs wearing a choke or pinch/prong collar)

When dogs walk, except when sniffing or going potty, they tend to concentrate on moving forward. For some dogs, stopping, treats, and praise just won’t stifle that instinct and they will continue to pull regardless. Method 3 denies them that urge as you make sudden u-turns. You will need to begin with a warning. If you notice your dog about to pull, before she gets to the end of the leash, give the warning command of “easy” or “slow.” If she obeys, then praise her, call her back and reward her with a treat and then resume. If she doesn’t obey, say nothing, turn around, and walk in the opposite direction.

If she comes to you willingly, praise and reward her, then turn and walk in the original direction. If not, stop, call her back, and command her to sit, then turn and walk in the original direction. If she goes back to pulling, turn around again. The learning here is that when she pulls, she gets a leash check and no longer gets to move forward. This is frustrating for her and she will eventually put two and two together. Give constant praise and rewards when she does walk loose leash as necessary.

NOTE: If your dog is running, a sudden turn and leash-check could cause serious injury to your dog… and you! The idea is to surprise your dog with the turn, not harm her, so use this method judiciously.

Method 4 (Not for use on dogs wearing a choke or pinch/prong collar)

Some dogs may be so used to having their own way on a walk that they resist these forms of training. In these cases, a sharp jerk and release of the leash may help. As with Method 3, it is important to give a warning to try to control your dog first. If you notice your dog about to pull, before she gets to the end of the leash, give the warning command of “easy” or “slow.” If she obeys, always praise her, call her back and then reward her with a treat before continuing. If not, use the command “easy” again; hold the end of the leash in one hand and with the other grab the leash up several inches and give a sharp jerk and release.

The power of your jerk will depend on the size and strength of your dog–Perky Pomeranian obviously won’t need as much of a yank as Donny Doberman. The idea is to get your dog’s attention, not pull her back to you, so be sure it is a jerk and release. You may need to repeat this two or three times before she slows down or walks back to you. Use plenty of praise and rewards when she does obey. After several days, you should be able to switch to Methods 1 or 2.

NOTE: As with Method 3, an overly powerful jerk could cause injury to your dog. A dog’s trachea is vulnerable to bruising, so be sure to use this method responsibly and switch to Methods 1 or 2 when she begins to obey.

Leash and Collar Choices

While in training, you should use a leash that is between four and six feet long. A material leash such as nylon, cotton web, or leather is preferred over chain, as chain leashes are awkward and can pinch. Be sure the width is appropriate for your dog’s size. Some leashes have padded handles for comfort and are made specifically for training purposes. Avoid extendable leashes, such as the Flexi (TM), or leashes longer than six feet for now, as they are not appropriate for training.

Collars come in all shapes and sizes and there is debate among professional trainers as to which ones are best for leash training. Some say a simple buckle collar is best, while others recommend a variety of training collars. These choices are left up to you; however, we have broken down collars into “Good” and “Not recommended” categories:

Good Training Collars:

  • A regular buckle collar
  • A martingale collar (also called a limited slip collar)
  • A halter/head collar (such as the Halti, Gentle Leader, or Snoot Loop)
  • A no-pull harness (such as the Sensation or the Lupi)

The head halters and no-pull harnesses may decrease pulling without additional training.

Not Recommended:

  • A regular body harness (these actually encourage pulling)
  • A fabric or metal choke/check collar (may be effective for your dog if used under the guidance of a certified trainer)
  • A pinch/prong collar (may be effective for your dog if used under the guidance of a certified trainer)

What if My Dog Doesn’t Like To Walk?

Some dogs resist walking altogether. They stop, sit and refuse to budge and even turn back toward home. This is often related to fear and anxiety over the sounds and sights they encounter and you will need to address this before you will be able to get them comfortable on a leash. Start by simply getting them outside the home; try sitting on a bench in the park or finding a quieter spot to start the training, such as a residential street rather than a thoroughfare.

Begin slowly, using treats and praise to lure them along. Keep your first sessions short, going down to the end of the block and back; then gradually increase the length of the walk. Use parts of Method 1 to help distract your dog from the noises and sights. Call her to you, give the sit command and then reward and praise her as you walk along. This will help keep your dog focused on you and not the environment around her.

Source: Adapted from the ASPCA