How To Leash Train Your Dog For A Stress-Free Walk

No more who's walking who 😎

Do you need to train your dog to walk on a leash?

Not only are walks a super great bonding experience for you and your pup, but they’re also a great opportunity for you to do some training — and have some fun!

The Dodo spoke to Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven rescue in New York City, and Colby Lehew, head trainer at Dogletics in Chicago, to find out their best tips and tricks for leash training.

What does it mean to leash train a dog?

Leash training is the process of teaching your dog how to properly behave when on (or even just around) a leash.

Leash training will include:

1) Acclimating your dog to the leash and collar
2) Impulse control and heelwork
3) Teaching her not to chew, tug or pull forward on the leash

Why is leash training important?

Leash training is important because having a well-mannered dog when you’re out in the world is crucial to not only your sanity (have you ever seen someone being DRAGGED around by their dog?!), but it’ll help ensure your dog is always safe when out on a walk.

The earlier you start leash training, the better — but according to Lehew, you should start leash training a puppy at around 8 weeks of age.

But when it comes to actually heading out into the world, Lehew suggests waiting until your dog is fully vaccinated (at about 16 to18 weeks old) before you start taking her out on walks.

So before your pup’s fully vaccinated, you can start getting her used to the dog walking equipment and practicing indoors.

Can you leash train an older dog?

You can absolutely leash train an older dog.

The process may take a little bit longer since you’ll likely be undoing some bad leash manners your pup probably picked up along the way, but leash training an older dog just takes a bit more patience.

Best dog leash for training

“Making sure you have the proper equipment to safely and comfortably walk your dog is key,” Semel told The Dodo.

Semel recommends a no-pull harness for all dogs. “This helps to manage your dog’s pulling while you work on teaching your dog to walk nicely,” Semel said.Collars can put strain on your dog’s neck, which can cause injury, so harnesses are best when you’re walking your dog. “Only walk your dog on a collar if they have been fully trained to walk on a loose leash to prevent throat injuries,” Semel said.

But that doesn’t mean collars are completely useless — they’re actually super important if your pup ever goes missing.

“Dogs should have a flat buckle collar for tags, including identification tags in case your dog gets lost,” Semel said.

Here’s the equipment Semel recommends for walking your dog on a leash:

A no-pull harness

When leash training your pup, look for a harness with a front-attaching clasp. When you connect the leash to the front of the harness, it can make it way easier to control your pup.

If you have a very large — or bossy — dog, you might need to consider a gentle leader (aka a head harness), like the Halti head collar, instead, but Semel says you should make sure to discuss this with your trainer before buying one.

Like the Tru-Fit Smart Dog Walking Harness from Kurgo for $31.99
(*Note, this no-pull harness is also a Paw of Approval winner!)

A 4- to 6-foot non-retractable nylon leash

Retractable leashes aren’t generally recommended by trainers for leash training your dog because they can encourage pulling behavior.

Since a retractable leash always applies a gentle pressure on the harness, it can teach your pup that pulling works and will get her where she needs to go. So your best bet is to opt for a loose leash instead.

Like this Nylon Dog Leash from Amazon for $5.99

Introducing your dog to the equipment

“If your puppy has never had a harness or collar on, spend time desensitizing them to it before taking him on a walk,” Semel suggested. “Go slowly and use a lot of positive reinforcement.”

Here’s how Semel suggests desensitizing your dog to her harness or collar:

  • For a collar, put it on loosely while you’re still inside the house, and play some fetch and practice some training cues to distract her.
  • For an over-the-head harness, lure your puppy to put her head through the harness with a treat, and reward her when she’s completely through. Some puppies can be uncomfortable putting their heads through a small opening — so work slowly.
  • If your harness is a step-in harness (i.e., your puppy needs to put her paws through the harness and then buckle it across her back), lure your puppy to walk into it with a large dog treat and then buckle it while she chews.

“Avoid picking up your dog and manhandling to get him in this harness, especially if your dog is already uncomfortable with handling,” Semel said.

  • While your puppy is wearing his walking gear, walk her around indoors slowly, allowing her to adjust. Make the first few associations with her new equipment very positive!
  • How to leash train a dog step by step

    When it comes to getting down to leash training your dog, these are recommended steps:

    1) Get accustomed to a leash

    Focus on getting your dog accustomed to having a leash behind her. “At this stage, it is recommended to use a dragline that is no more than 1 foot long,” Lehaw told The Dodo. “A dragline of this size is perfect for indoor use.”

    A dragline is a leash without a loop at the end. Using a leash like this prevents your dog from snagging on anything in your house while she’s getting used to having it flopping away behind her.

    You can try this 18” Nylon Drag Leash from Amazon for $12

    2) Teach your dog to sit when the leash is out

    “Pet parents need to teach their puppy self-control (aka impulse control),” Lehew said. “Impulse control exercises will provide the puppy with skills required for heelwork, recall and ‘drop it.’”

    One very important self-control exercise is “sitting before being leashed.” It also makes for good leash manners.

    To train this:

    a) Hold your leash.

    b) Wait for your puppy to sit.

    c) If she sits, begin to bend over and try to leash her.

    d) If she jumps or gets out of the sit, you should straighten up and try again. If she stays sitting, leash her. This will take about five sessions to click, according to Lehew.

    “Additionally, it is important that you do not give hand cues (pointing at their butt) or verbal cues (saying ‘sit’),” Lehew said. “You want your puppy to make the choice to calm down.” If your pup calms down by herself and she gets rewarded, she’ll be more likely to repeat this behavior again.

    3) Teach your dog to refrain from chewing the leash while walking

    Some pups have a habit of chewing on the leash when they’re walking. You can teach your pup to stop this behavior, which can be taught as early as 8 weeks old.

    For this, Lehew recommends teaching your pup to “drop it.”

    1) Get a rope toy and drag it across the floor while saying “get it.” Your puppy will chase it and hold it in her mouth.

    2) Play tug-of-war with the puppy. Tug as lightly as needed to keep your dog biting the toy, making sure you swing left and right and never up and down. After 10 seconds of play, hold the toy completely still, say “drop it” and wait until she drops it. It’s important to keep the toy still, since she’ll happily drop a boring toy.

    3) Once she drops it, sway the toy back and forth while saying “get it.” Continue playing with your dog. Repeat three times.

    Train this once a day for about a month.

    Once your dog does “drop it” with a toy, use a rope leash to train her to drop the leash on command if you ever catch her chewing on it.

    “This method teaches a dog that ‘drop it’ does not always mean stop the fun thing. This is the number one issue when teaching ‘drop it,’” Lehew said. “Pet parents teach their dogs that ‘drop it’ is a ‘stop the fun’ command. Instead, we turn it into [a] ‘continue the fun’ command.”

    4) Teach your dog to walk by your side (aka heelwork)

    Teaching your dog to walk next to you is also known as heelwork. It teaches your dog to focus on you during her walk and not get distracted by things outside, like cars or other dogs.

    To teach her to heel, you can follow these steps:

    1) When your dog’s facing you, hold a treat out in front of your dog's nose in order to get her to look at it.

    2) Once she’s focused on the treat, swing your arm around to get your dog to follow it to your side.

    3) Make sure your dog is standing at your side, facing forward, then click and reward.

    Tips for leash walking with your dog

    Once you actually start walking, here are some common problems and how to handle them, according to Semel.

    If your puppy is pulling forwards: When your puppy is pulling, stop dead in your tracks and wait for her to stop as well. You can then get her back to your side with a treat and start your walk again. Always make sure to stop whenever she’s pulling forwards so that she knows it’s wrong — and give her praise when she’s walking appropriately.

    If your pup’s pulling you towards a sniff spot or another pup: Rather than letting your puppy take control of the situation, stop walking and call her name. Wait for her to focus her attention on you and then reward her. If you want her to sniff the spot or say hi to the other dog — with the other owner’s permission, of course — do so after rewarding her. If you don’t want her to do either of these things, keep her distracted by saying her name and giving her treats as you pass by.

    If your puppy’s dragging: When she’s dragging behind you — how dramatic — avoid turning around or making eye contact. Instead, wait 20 to 30 seconds, and if she starts walking on her own, give her tons of praise. Keep praising or rewarding her every several steps. If she doesn’t start walking, hold out a treat and give it to her after she walks a few steps. Repeat as necessary.

    If your puppy’s switching from side to side: If she’s swerving all around, pick one side yourself and stop walking if she switches over. Lure her back to the correct side with a treat and start again! Make sure to always praise her when she stays on the correct side for several steps in a row.

    Walking your dog’s probably one of the best and most looked-forward-to activities you’ll do together! With these tips, your walks will always be a good time.

    We independently pick all the products we recommend because we love them and think you will too. If you buy a product from a link on our site, we may earn a commission.