Wondering how to train a dog to walk on a leash so your dog is walking happily by your side, stopping when you stop, turning when you turn, and continuing with you past other dogs and people? He doesn’t pull on the leash, and he only goes potty and sniffs when you give permission. Dog leash training is probably the most challenging thing you will probably teach him to do, but leash training a puppy is fun and well worth the effort! Read on to begin to make this vision a reality.
Prior to Leash Training a Puppy
A head collar or front-attachment harness can help to discourage your dog from pulling, but a dog needs leash training to learn to walk beside you without pulling at all. A front-attachment harness is a safe and easy to use no-pull device that is great for all dogs. Choose a head collar for dogs with aggressive tendencies or for those that need the maximum amount of control such as a small owner with a giant-breed dog.
Gigo wearing a Comfort Trainer head collar (left) and an Easy Walk front-attachment harness (right)
The front-attachment harness and head collar should only be used with leashes that are a maximum of 6 feet long. If the leash is too long, it is possible that he could get going fast enough to hurt himself if he were to hit the end of the leash abruptly.
Dog Leash Training Step by Step
The steps below will go into more detail about how to train a dog to walk on a leash politely.
Step 1: Walking with My Human Is Delicious!
- Start leash training a puppy by attaching them to a long rope or leash that is 10-20 feet long (but not retractable) while he is wearing a standard harness. Get some pea-sized pieces of fresh meat or cheese to use to reward your dog and go to a familiar outdoor area like your backyard.
- Decide whether you prefer your dog to walk on your left or right (left is traditional). Whichever side you choose, you will feed him his treat reward right by your thigh on that side. He will soon begin to stay near that side since that is where yummy treats appear!
- Walk briskly and randomly around your yard. Whenever your dog happens to choose to walk beside you, reward him with praise and a treat next to your thigh on your preferred side. If he continues walking next to you, reward him for every step you take together. As he gets better at this you will not need to reward him as often. If your dog is completely uninterested in you, take him inside and then try again later at a time when he is a bit more hungry.
- Practice leash training your puppy until he is staying beside you more often than not.
Gigo walking by my side. Feeding Gigo a treat by my side.
Step 2: It’s Worth My While to Watch Where My Human Is Going and Go Along, Too!
- Begin this step of leash training a puppy by walking about your yard. Wait for a moment when your dog is walking off on his own or is lagging behind to sniff or go potty. Say “let’s go” in an upbeat voice, slap your thigh the first few times to make sure that he notices you, and turn and walk away from your dog.
- When he catches up with you, reward him with praise and by feeding a treat to him next to your preferred side. Then feed him a treat every couple of steps if he continues to stay with you as you walk. If he catches up to you very quickly, give him an extra reward.
- If the leash is tight and he does not come towards you, stop walking and apply gentle leash pressure. The leash pressure is meant to be a reminder of your presence and to make it slightly unpleasant for him to ignore you, but not to force him towards you. Praise him and release the pressure once he begins to come towards you. When he catches up with you, reward him with praise and by feeding a treat to him next to your preferred side. Then feed him a treat every couple of steps if he continues to stay with you as you walk.
- Continue to practice this step of leash training a puppy in your yard until he is staying by your side most of the time and if he veers off away from your side, he comes right back to your side after you say “let’s go”.
“Let’s go”, and walking away.
Step 3: I Know When It’s Time to Smell (Or to Pee On) the Roses
- When leash training a puppy, they need time to sniff and relieve themselves while on the leash, but it will help them to learn better manners if you decide when that will be. As you are practicing how to train a dog to walk on a leash, about every 5 minutes at a time when you would usually give a food reward, instead say something like “go sniff” and let him sniff around or go potty while he is on the leash. This is a privilege or reward, so if he pulls on the leash during this free time say “let’s go”, and walk in the opposite direction, thereby ending the free time.
- When you are ready to end the free time, say “let’s go” and begin walking.
Authorized sniff break!