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How to Leash Train a Dog: Experts Offer Advice for Leading Your Furry Friend 

Not all dogs instinctively walk well on a leash

All pet parents know our dogs need to be on leashes – on their daily walks, while traveling, maybe even in the house sometimes if you’re training a puppy and working on commands and boundaries. Even though attaching a leash to your pup is straightforward, how they behave and react to being on the leash depends on a variety of factors. They might feel uneasy about the leash, or they might simply not know how to properly walk with one. We asked canine behavior experts for their best tips on leash training a dog so you can take comfort in knowing your pup will be safe with a lead. 

Why might a dog be hesitant to walk well on a leash? 

There are many reasons that walking on a leash might not come naturally to a dog. In fact, they don’t instinctively understand how to do so, so each one will need some level of instruction. Some dogs will get the gist of the purpose of their leash relatively quickly, while others will take some more time. 

Dogs may be hesitant to walk on a leash due to fear of the leash itself, unfamiliar surroundings, past negative experiences walking on a leash where they may have been hurt or frightened or a nervous disposition that makes it generally difficult for them to relax. Your dog also might be experiencing discomfort. A leash needs to be attached to a collar or harness, and if either of those items don’t fit properly, your dog might be feeling discomfort especially as you walk them. 

Expert tips for how to leash train a dog 

1. Start leash training as early as possible

Experts strongly advise training your dog while they’re a puppy, or if you bring home an older dog, as soon as you get the home. With that being said, it’s never too late, so if you didn’t get a head start on leash training, you should still be able to succeed with the right tools no matter your dog’s life stage.

2. Slowly acclimate your pup to walking on their leash 

“Too often people throw a leash and/or harness on and expect a dog to figure it out,” says Erin Askeland, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, Camp Bow Wow’s animal health and behavior expert. “Instead, they should practice leash skills at home with minimal distractions where they can focus on attention, redirection, recall, and practice loose leash walking to improve leash skills.” 

Askeland adds that gradual desensitization and counterconditioning can help build positive associations with the leash and walking.

JustAnswer Dog Behavior Expert Sally Grottini suggests starting out in places with minimal distraction and slowly moving to more distracting places. If moving to that more distracting environment causes the dog not to listen to you, you should go back to the last place the dog listened to you and train for longer before moving forward.

“It’s important to instill leash manners in stages where a dog first learns to get comfortable wearing a leash and collar and then learns to stay close and pay more attention to their handler indoors before taking them on an actual walk outside,” says Alexandra Bassett, Lead Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant at Dog Savvy. “I’d recommend that pet parents spend anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks training a dog inside and close to home (i.e. just on the street in front of their home) to instill good manners in their dog before going on longer walks.”

3. Stay consistent and use positive reinforcement 

Both your training sessions and your methods should be consistent. This should include positive reinforcement when your dog walks well on their leash and listens to your cues. 

“Reward desired behaviors, such as walking nicely on a loose leash, with treats, praise, and attention,” says Askeland. Use consistent cues and rewards to reinforce desired behaviors and set clear expectations for your dog. Keep training sessions fun and engaging to maintain your dog’s interest and motivation.”

For example, Grottini recommends using an upbeat voice while training. Bassett suggests a positive method of training that instills confidence and makes good behavioral choices rewarding for a dog. Pet parents should avoid using aversive equipment like e-collars and choke chains as these can wear down a dog’s confidence and instill mistrust in their handlers, as well as cause the dog pain and psychological distress, she explains. 

She uses a method called “Learning through Games of Choice,” which incorporates a dog’s choice to offer behaviors into the training process. It uses training games that make good behavioral choices, like showing self-control and being polite, rewarding for a dog. 

Common mistakes made during leash training 

Brown daschund on a leash

Grottini says one thing people do that hinders the leash training process is to follow a beginner training course and then stop instead of moving forward to more challenging stages. 

“Also, most people do not train their dog in every situation they may end up taking the dog in,” she says. “People will train in a class, or in their home, but not on a busy street or a trail where other animals may roam. If you do not train in all areas, from quiet areas to more distracting areas, you may find your dog will not listen.”

Askeland says inconsistent or improper use of rewards and positive reinforcement can also be an issue. Using punishment or corrections, for example, can lead to fear or anxiety. Another mistake is not considering and respecting the dog’s individual needs and preferences, as well as proactively addressing underlying behavioral issues, such as severe fear or reactivity, with a professional.

Keep reading for more on dog behavior!

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