Guide to Training Your Dog to Walk On a Leash

Published September 21, 2022
Happy woman walks her Labrador Retrieve in city park

If you're a dog owner, chances are you've already realized that walking your pet is about more than just putting on a leash and hitting the road. Your dog needs to be trained to walk on the leash properly if they're going to be safe and happy out in public. Additionally, you want to be the one taking them for a walk, not the other way around. Learn how to train a dog to walk on a leash with these practical tips.

Choose the Right Collar or Harness

The first step in training your dog to walk on a leash is to choose the right type of collar or harness. There are several different types of collars and harnesses, but not all are safe. Choke collars and pronged collars should never be used as they can cause serious injury if your dog pulls too hard against them.

Three dogs leashed being walked in the street

Harnesses are safer than collars because they distribute pressure across your dog's chest and shoulders instead of around the neck. Always make sure that whichever type you choose fits properly, and choose one that is comfortable for your pet to wear, so they won't try to take it off regularly or get injured if it's too small.

Collar and Harness Tips

There is no single best collar or harness for every dog. However, most dogs are happy to wear a collar or harness if it's comfortable and easy to put on. Figuring out how to teach your dog to walk on a leash is much easier if they have a properly fitting, comfy collar.

A collar should:

  • Be made of a material that won't irritate your dog's skin or chafe their neck. Leather collars are popular for their durability, but they can be stiff and confining. The more flexible fabric collars are preferred by many owners; this type of collar allows airflow around the neck area and prevents irritation from chafing.
  • Fit comfortably without being too loose or too tight; you should be able to fit two fingers between the collar and your dog's neck when you put it on them, but not much more than that. There should be room for growth. Don't forget they have a whole body under there!
  • Be easy enough for you to put it on your dog quickly; you don't want your pup getting tangled up in their collar or harness while trying to walk out the door!

Carefully Consider Retractable Leashes

Before you decide to use a retractable leash, make sure your dog is ready for it. A retractable leash should not be used on a dog that pulls on the leash or one that is untrained in how to use them. These leashes can be dangerous if they are tangled around your hand or foot, and they also pose a tripping hazard while you're walking together.

The best place to start with training your pup is in an open area without trees, bushes, or other people around. You'll want plenty of room so your pup doesn't feel trapped when trying to do what you ask of them.

Choose a Side

Many people walk their dogs on their right-hand side, but it's not always possible to walk your dog on that side. If you have a dog who tends to pull, it may be difficult for you to maintain control of them if they're walking on your left side and pulling toward traffic or other distractions. If there are obstacles or other dogs in your dog's way, they may get distracted by them if they are on your right.

Start Training Your Dog to Walk on a Leash

In order to train your dog to walk on a leash, you'll need to start by getting them accustomed to the collar and leash. You should always introduce new training methods slowly so that your dog can become familiar with them. This is especially true when it comes to collars and leashes because most pets don't like them at first.

Get Your Dog Acclimated to Walking

The first step to training your dog to walk on a leash is to get them used to the sensation of being walked. Dogs are naturally curious creatures, but they have no concept of why you might need them to walk with you and are often scared by the sounds and sights of the world around them. The first step in getting your dog comfortable walking on a leash is to start with short walks and gradually increase them in length over time.

Start by taking short walks around the neighborhood or even just inside your house if there are no other dogs around. Use treats and praise whenever your dog obeys commands, such as "Stay" or "Heel." Also, make sure that your pet is comfortable wearing a collar or harness before trying out this method of training. And if there are any animals nearby, such as cats or squirrels, it's important that you keep an eye out for them so that you're prepared in case anything happens during the walk.

Start With Short, Basic Walks

When you first start walking with your dog, keep it short, no more than 10 minutes at a time, and make sure that both of you are having fun. Start by walking through an area that's familiar to your dog or one that has minimal stimuli, such as through parks or sidewalks lined with trees or bushes where there are fewer distractions.

If your dog seems nervous or scared during these early walks, don't push them too far beyond their comfort zone just yet! It's better for them if they get used to the sensation of being walked slowly before being taken out on busy streets where there will be more sounds and sights that might frighten them off into traffic or into another person's yard where they could get lost.

Once your dog appears to be comfortable walking on a leash for 10 minutes at a time, you can gradually increase the time until they're a leash-walking pro.

Use Cues or Markers

When you're training your dog on a leash, you need to be able to give them clear cues. The best way to do this is by using a marker word or sound.

When you see your dog doing something that you want them to repeat, make a noise that they'll associate with that action. This can be anything from clicking your tongue to saying "Yes" or "Good." Then, every time you use this noise, it should mean the same thing: "I'm happy with what you just did!"

It's important not to get too excited about using your marker word or sound at first -- just use it when your dog does something right and then let them figure out what it means for themselves.

Keep Them Close, But Not Too Close

Another key aspect as you're learning how to train a dog to walk on a leash is how close they are to you physically. As you're walking your dog, you want to keep them close, but not too close. You also want to make sure that you have control of the situation and that your dog isn't dragging you down the street by their leash. It's ideal if they walk next to or slightly behind you.

Humans tend to walk at a pace of around 3 miles per hour, or around 280 feet per minute. Dogs can easily keep pace with you, and if they're motivated, they can easily outpace you. A good rule of thumb is that if they are moving forward faster than 300 feet per minute, then they're going too fast for this exercise and need some extra training time before practicing again on a leash. When your dog pulls ahead of you, it's important not to pull back on the leash.

Instead, try calling them back to you using their name and rewarding them with a treat when they get close enough for you to reach out and pet them. If your dog lags behind, try slowing down and making sure that they're comfortable with the pace before you start walking again. Also, consider their general health and check to make sure they aren't injured, as this could be slowing them down, as well.

Young woman trying to walk her dog in nature

Use Positive Reinforcement

Teaching a dog with positive reinforcement is a fun way to train your dog to walk on a leash, as well as a great way to build trust and strengthen the bond between the two of you. This method of training focuses on rewarding your dog when they do something right, instead of punishing them when they do something wrong. The idea is that the dog will associate the behavior with receiving a reward and will repeat it.

There are several ways to use positive reinforcement in training your dog to walk on a leash, but one of the easiest ways is through offering them treats. To start, you need to find out what kind of treat your dog likes best; some dogs like meat treats, while others prefer cheese or peanut butter.

Then, when teaching your dog to walk properly, simply reward them with their favorite treat every time they listen to a cue or command. If you're using treats for training purposes only and don't want to give them any more than necessary, try freezing some bone broth into ice cubes as a nutrient-dense option. Remember, treats should not be more than 10 percent of your dog's daily diet.

Use treats as positive reinforcement for good behavior and use a calm voice when giving them commands. A calm voice will help keep the dog relaxed during the training and make it easier for them not to get distracted by things like other dogs or people walking by them while out on the street with their owner.

The secret to leash training dogs is making sure that the dog feels good when they do what you want them to do; that's why it's called positive reinforcement. It means that when your dog does something good, like walking next to you on a leash or sitting down when you say "Sit," you tell them how awesome they are and give them a treat.

You should never use treats and praise to encourage bad behavior. You should also avoid using treats and praise to reward your dog for doing what they should be doing anyway, like coming when called or staying calm around other people or dogs. You also should never punish or yell at your dog as you're training them to walk on a leash. This not only makes them not want to listen to you; it could severely damage the bond you share for a lifetime.

Be Patient as You Teach Your Dog to Walk on a Leash

Dogs can be trained to walk on a leash if given good instruction, patience, and plenty of practice. Dogs are creatures of habit, so it's important to train them consistently and from an early age, if possible. The more consistent you are in your training methods, the more likely you will be successful when teaching your dog how to walk on a leash. Practice taking your dog for walks every day until they become accustomed to following commands. It's important to remember that training a dog to walk on a leash is not something that happens overnight. It takes time and patience, but the end result is worth it!

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Guide to Training Your Dog to Walk On a Leash