How to Leash Train Your Dog

All dogs should be taught basic leash skills, regardless of age, size, or lifestyle. Whether it’s for a walk around the neighborhood or into a crowded veterinary office, good leash training is important for the safety of you and your dog!

Before you start leash training...

Make sure your dog has an appropriate collar that fits him properly, as well as a suitable leash. Do some research to determine whether your breed of dog would benefit from a collar or a harness. We do not recommend retractable leashes, pinch collars and shock collars.

Getting Started on Leash Training

  • In the beginning, make sure you have treats or other rewards to give to your dog.
  • Use a marker to signal desired behaviors. A clicker or an emphatic “yes!” will work when your dog does what you want them to do.

Keep Leash Training Sessions Short

  • If you are working with a puppy or an adult dog who has never had any leash training, start with short, positive sessions.
  • When leash training a puppy, start inside your home. This is where your puppy will be most comfortable. Once you are ready, you can move the training sessions to your backyard. Do not walk your puppy out in public until he completes his full series of vaccines. 
  • It is a good idea to teach your dog to walk on one side of you, and be consistent with this so he does not run from side to side.
Graphic explaining how to teach dog not to pull on a leash.

Prevent Pulling on a Leash

  • Begin by isolating your dog’s correct behavior. Even if he is a strong puller or runs all over the place, there will be times in which he stops long enough to let the leash go slack.
  • The instant the leash goes slack, mark and give a reward. Timing is very important as he needs to associate the slack with the treat.
  • If your dog walks nicely, mark and reward him periodically to give him a reference point. This helps him to realize that the way he is walking is desired. If he understands that you like when he walks calmly without pulling, and sometimes forgets or gets overly excited, be sure to mark and reward when he resumes walking calmly.

Troubleshooting Common Leash Training Problems

  • If your dog is such a determined puller that when you stop he just pulls more, turn around and walk the other way. Do not tug on his leash, talk to him, or wait for him. He needs to know that it is his job to pay attention to where you are, and stick with you. When he catches up to you, show him how happy you are to see him, and give him a reward.
  • If your dog is a determined puller, but he will not respond to any of your training, he may need a different collar or head halter to give you better control. Your best option may be to take an obedience class or a few private lessons with an instructor.
  • If your dog is weaving back and forth, or running 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 this until he stays beside you while walking, slowly increasing the time between treats, until he no longer needs to be rewarded. If his weaving or running circles poses a risk, you may need to shorten your leash.
Graphic explaining how to teach dog to walk on a leash.

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