Teaching your canine companion to walk politely and properly on a leash is one of the most important skills you can give them. Not only is leash walking crucial for your dog’s safety, but it’s also important so that you and your pup can enjoy long walks together throughout the year for their exercise and your shared relaxation.
But puppies aren’t natural leash walkers. They have to be taught to walk on a leash the right way, without pulling and yanking every couple of steps. But there’s no need to worry; if you’ve never trained a dog before, you’ve come to the right place.
Today, we’ll break down how to train your dog to walk on a leash step-by-step.
Treats, Treats, and More Treats!
The first major thing to keep in mind is that you need to grab tons of quality dog treats. We mean a lot.
Purchase a few bags of highly tasty treats for your pup that you only use when training them for specific things, like leash walking, going to the bathroom, or performing commands like sit and lay down. The treats will serve as your dog’s reward for positive behavior.
One great example of tasty treats that are perfect for training are our Organic PB & J Treats. Baked with all-natural ingredients, these delectable delights are perfect for reinforcing the best behaviors in your new pup.
Modern dog training principles rely on one key fact: Positive reinforcement is much better than negative reinforcement. This means that you, as your dog’s parent, should focus more on showing your dog what they should do correctly rather than punishing them for things they do incorrectly.
Dogs are eager to please. If you provide them with treats when they do what you want, they’ll be much more likely to repeat that positive behavior in the future.
With that in mind, always have at least a few treats on-hand when training your pup to do anything, especially when walking them on a leash.
Introducing a Cue and/or Clicker
By the same token, you may wish to come up with a cue or attention-getting sound so you can capture your dog's focus whenever you need it. Different pet parents may use different cues. Some might click their tongues, others may utter a simple and single syllable command, and still, more might use a clicker tool.
Clickers are simple devices that have just one button. When you press the button, it makes a mechanical click. Clickers are useful when trying to get the attention of your pup since they make a distinct sound.
With either a cue or clicker, the key is to make the sound or click your clicker tool, then immediately give your dog a treat when they look at you. You'll be surprised at how quickly your dog associates the click or cue with a treat. In no time at all, each time you click your tool or say your cue command, your dog will look at you and pay attention to your next command.
A clicker or cue is going to be important as you train your dog to walk on a leash properly, so be sure that you get this down before moving on to the next step.
How To Introduce Your Dog to a Leash/Collar
Once you’ve either associated a clicker or another cue command to your dog, you can then introduce them to a leash and/or collar.
Collars are basic leash attachments, and your dog should have a collar in most cases, including dog tags with identifying information in case they run away or become lost. However, some pet owners opt for harnesses rather than traditional collars that lay around their dogs' necks. Either can work—just make sure the collar or harness has a hook for your eventual leash.
Wild One’s Harness Walk Kit is a perfect pick when teaching your dog how to walk nicely on the leash for the first time. Plus, this kit comes with everything you need for a comfortable and successful walk training session, ranging from a waterproof leash to poop bags to clean up quick messes.
If you’ve just adopted a new puppy, they may not be used to a collar or harness at all. To make sure that they don’t associate the collar or harness with something unpleasant, let them sniff the collar or harness before placing it on them.
Once they’re fitted with the collar or harness, give them one of the treats mentioned above. Your dog will quickly think of the collar/harness as a positive thing and look forward to a treat each time you practice walking them with a leash.
You should repeat this process when introducing your dog to a leash. Dogs don’t naturally want to be tethered to you (until they associate the leash with a treat!). If you restrict their movements too much, especially while they are puppies, they will learn to resent the leash and be very difficult to train later.
Practicing Basic Commands
So, you’ve got your dog attached to the leash and used treats to show them that it’s not a negative thing. Now what?
At this point, it’s time to practice basic commands while walking your dog on the leash. As you walk your dog with the leash, try not to pull them toward you at all. This, again, associates the leash with restraint and may accidentally teach your dog that they should try to avoid being leashed at all costs.
Instead, leash your dog and take a few steps in one direction. See if they accompany you. Most puppies, especially after being adopted, will naturally want to follow you around since you’re now their pet parent.
The first command you should introduce is “come.” This basic command is useful both for leash training and for everyday activities. Say the word and, when your puppy arrives at your feet, click your clicker or say your cue command for the treat. This informs the puppy that they have done the right action and associates “arriving at my human parent’s feet” with a reward.
Clicking or saying your cue command right when your puppy arrives is vital. Don’t say the cue word or click your tool until they arrive after you’ve said, “Come.” Otherwise, your puppy may accidentally associate another behavior, like walking toward you, with the reward.
As your puppy learns this command, use it occasionally to get them to follow you while you walk them around with their leash.
Next is “heel,” which should be used to get your dog to return to you and sit down at your side. This command is useful when walking your dog outdoors when they may get distracted by other canines, critters, and a variety of interesting smells.
Say “heel” and give your dog a treat when they return to your side after venturing a little ways away from you while still on the leash.
Last is “stay.” This command should be used when you need your dog to stay put calmly, such as when you are conversing with another dog owner during your walk.
This command may be the hardest to teach to your puppy, given that most pups are pretty rambunctious and energetic. But you should say the command clearly and reward your puppy when they sit down at your side.
If you can master this trick, your dog will be a very polite walker while on the leash, and you’ll always have a command ready to go if you need to moderate their behavior. Like with all commands, practice makes perfect, so don’t worry if your dog doesn’t get it at first or if you need to reinforce the commands from time to time.
Once your dog knows all the basic commands you want to associate with the leash, you can take them outside and do some practice walks. Don’t be afraid to take your puppy back or bring them inside if they are acting up or if they become scared.
Your dog might take a little while to acclimate to the outside environment and its myriad distractions. However, your commands will provide stability and expectation for your pup. They’ll gradually learn how to walk politely if you follow the training process above.
When Puppies Pull on the Leash
Many puppies have issues with good behavior or energy when they start to learn how to walk on a leash. This is normal! But you should still correct certain negative behaviors when you see them, like when your puppy pulls on the leash.
When your dog does this, don’t yank them back (especially if they are just wearing a collar; you could accidentally hurt their neck). Instead, stand firm and simply stop moving altogether. Act like a rock, and your puppy will gradually tire out and realize that they can't pull you in the direction they want to go.
Say “come” and reward them with a treat, then continue on your walk.
When Your Dog Lunges
If your dog lunges at another dog, a squirrel, or something else that catches their eye, do the exact same thing and don’t move. Say “heel” and try to get your dog to calm down. If they don’t listen, end the walk or bring them back inside.
Your dog will gradually understand that lunging at something leads to no fun and that they’re better off remaining calm and listening to your commands if they want to continue enjoying some outdoor time. When on only a collar, pulling can be dangerous to a dog’s throat and neck; this is a key example of why a harness can be a great asset.
When Your Dog Barks
If your dog barks at other animals or people, the same principles above apply. Tell your dog to “heel” or use any other command word you may have trained them for to get them to hush. “Quiet” or “Shush” are ideal: “No” is too often associated with other activities and might not be clear enough. If they listen, reward them with a treat immediately.
If they don’t listen, end the walk. Remember not to drag them back home but to instead gently escort your dog back inside.
What if Your Dog Hates the Leash?
In that case, go back to the earliest part of this training process and continually introduce your dog to the leash. Connect it to treats, and your dog should overcome their fear of the leash/collar.
A Leash on Life
In the end, training your dog to walk on a leash is one of the cornerstone behaviors you should master before your dog reaches maturity. Nail this part of training, and your pup will be a polite, enjoyable canine companion to be around, and you’ll get to enjoy comfortable, relaxing walks with them all the time.
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