Contributed by Amber Drake
There’s a common misconception that dogs automatically understand how to walk on a leash. But, this is a skill that needs to be learned by your dog. Dogs are not ‘natural leash walkers.’ Fortunately, this is a simple skill to teach in most cases.
The most effective way to train your dog to walk on a leash is step-by-step. Take small steps to acclimate your dog to this ‘unnatural’ behavior.
Step 1: Introducing the Collar and Leash
You should begin this process by allowing your dog to become familiar with the collar/harness and the leash. Place the collar or harness on your dog, then clip the leash to your dog’s collar, but don’t hold onto the leash.
Allow your dog to wear the collar and leash throughout the house while giving her treats. Using this step, your dog will associate the collar and leash with treats and happiness.
Step 2: Understanding the ‘Come’ Command
The next step is teaching the ‘come’ command. If he already knows the ‘come’ command, that’s perfect. We’re ahead of the game. If not, this is a skill that must be taught prior to walking on a leash outside (for safety precautions).
In this scenario, let’s say your dog already knows the command. Say ‘come’ and then reward your dog with a treat (with the collar and leash on).
While he’s still heading your way, begin walking backwards and provide the reward (treat, kibble) when he gets to you. If you have a puppy, this process will take more patience. Puppies have very short attention spans. But remember, patience is key.
Step 3: Practice Leash-Walking Inside
At this point in the process, your dog should understand how to come to you… and feel comfortable with the leash and collar on (from Steps 1 and 2). You can now practice walking on the leash in your home.
While you’re walking on the leash, reward your dog often. You may want to provide kibble in this step, so your dog doesn’t go over her treat limit. If you feed your dog too many treats, she could easily become obese. And, that leads to a range of other problems we simply don’t want.
Step 4: Let’s Go Outside
If your dog did well with steps 1-3, you can now go for a leash walk outside and test out her freshly-learned skills.
Don’t get upset if your dog struggles on her first few walks outside. Even though your dog has mastered steps 1-3, you may still face challenges in this step.
There will be all kinds of sounds, sights, and smells your dog may have never smelled before (especially if you have a puppy). And, if you have an adult dog, they may still smell, see, or hear things they haven’t heard before and want to explore just as much as a puppy.
At first, keep the walks short.
We know you want to go on long walks, but this takes time to master.
If your puppy or dog becomes distracted on your walk, re-direct his attention to you and continue walking.
What Should I Do?
There could be a few problems you run into. Don’t worry. Problems with leash-walking are common, and they’re generally easy to fix.
The first problem… what if my dog pulls on the leash? If your dog starts pulling, you should stand completely still and refuse to move until your dog comes back to you. You should never jerk the leash, or drag your dog, as these actions could severely hurt your dog.
Another note to add, if your dog is a puller, a front-hook harness or head halter is recommended as these are designed for dogs who pull on the leash.
The next common problem… what if she won’t stop barking? Some dogs have a barking issue when they’re going on their first walks. They aren’t sure what’s going on in the world surrounding them and may feel compelled to bark at the unknown (strangers, cats, other dogs, etc.). You can reduce this behavior by exercising with your dog before their walk.
Then, there’s the constant sniffing. Dogs want to smell everything. If your dog wants to stop at every step, you might be giving them ‘too much leash.’ Retractable leashes are not recommended for this reason… especially while training. Of course, there are times when it’s okay for your dog to sniff and explore. And, as your walk with your dog, she will learn when it’s appropriate and when it’s not.
The Bottom Line on Leash Walking
The most important thing to take out of this article is… be patient and understanding. Learning how to walk on a leash is a process for your dog. And, it’s not a natural behavior. Just like going ‘potty outside’ must be learned, leash walking is a process that we desire as humans that must be learned.
If you’re having a hard time getting your dog to walk on a leash properly, you should consult a Canine Behaviorist or Dog Trainer for additional tips.