Teaching Your Dog to Walk on a Leash

All dogs, regardless of size, age, or lifestyle, should be taught basic leash skills. You should be able to take your dog for a walk around the block or into a crowded vet office without having your legs wrapped up. Good leash skills are also important for safety, both your dog's and your own.

Before You Start

#1: Your dog needs an appropriate collar that fits him properly, as well as a suitable leash.

#2: In the beginning you should have treats or some other reward for your dog.

#3: Use a marker for good behavior; a clicker or an emphatic "yes!" works.

#1: Keep Sessions Short

If you have a puppy or an adult who has never been leash trained, begin with short, positive sessions. For most sports, dogs are taught to walk on the handler's left side, but if you don't plan to compete and prefer to have your dog on your right, that's your choice. It is a good idea, though, to teach your dog to stay on one side so that he doesn't trip you as he runs back and forth.

#2: Prevent Pulling

  • Begin by capturing your dog's correct behavior on leash. Even if he's a whirling dervish or major-league puller, there will be times when he stops the craziness enough to let the leash go slack. He may even turn to look at you (probably to find out why you're plodding along).
  • The instant the leash goes slack, mark and reward.
  • If your dog walks pretty nicely without pulling or dancing, mark and reward him every so often to give him a "reference point." If he understands that you like him to walk calmly without pulling, and he gets excited and forgets his manners somewhere down the road, be sure to mark and reward him when he resumes polite walking.

If your dog has already formed the habit of pulling on his leash, you must convince him of two things: Pulling will not hasten his arrival at his goal, and walking politely will make you happy enough to reward him. If you are training a puppy, or if your adult dog is responsive and submissive to you, try the "no forward progress" approach to pulling. In other words, teach your dog that if he tries to pull you toward something, you will stop in your tracks. If your dog is determined to get where he wants to go, he may not notice right away that you are playing statue, but sooner or later he will either stop pulling or turn and look at you. The instant the leash goes slack, mark and reward, and then resume walking. If your dog pulls again, stop again. You may have to spend a few days going for short, slow walks, but many dogs figure out very quickly that pulling slows progress rather than speeds it up.

#3: Teach Him to Walk by Your Side

Your dog also needs to learn to stay on one side of you. (The left side is traditional.) If he constantly weaves back and forth or runs around you in circles, your walk won't be much fun and you could trip and injure yourself or your dog. If your dog tends to wander back and forth or circle you, show him what you want by following these steps:

  • Keep your dog's leash short enough that he cannot easily leave your side, thereby modeling the position you want him to be in. Don't keep it so short that you're dragging him, though.
  • Simultaneously lure him into the correct area by your side with tiny treats. You can mark the behavior with a word or clicker if you like.
  • When he starts to get the idea, stop luring but do reward him for staying by your side. Give a treat every few steps at first, increasing the distance you walk between treats until he forms the habit of walking at your side without treats. You can also give him a bit more leash as long as he doesn't weave or circle.

#4: Troubleshooting Common Leash Problems

Your pup is such a determined puller that stopping just makes him pull and dance more.

When he pulls, rather than simply stopping, turn around and walk the other way. Don't yank your dog, don't talk to him, and don't wait for him. It's his job to pay attention to where you are and to stick with you. When he catches up to you, be very happy to see him, and reward him for being with you. Most dogs quickly learn to pay attention and not to pull.


How to Find a Good Trainer

Your pup is a dedicated puller who won't respond to any of your training tactics.

He may need a different collar or a head halter for a while to give you better control. Of course, it may also be that you are inadvertently encouraging him to pull by hurrying along with him. Your best option is to take an obedience class or even a few private lessons from a qualified instructor.

Your pup weaves back and forth or runs circles around you.

Lure him beside you with a treat. When he takes a few steps in the right place, praise and reward him. Repeat until he stays beside you, slowly increasing the time between treats until he no longer needs to be rewarded. If his weaving or circling is wild enough to pose a risk, shorten your leash so that he has to stay on one side of you, and reward him when he does.


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