How to Teach a Puppy to Walk on a Leash
Dog walking has a variety of mental and physical benefits for canines and humans. It’s a way for pet parents and their pups to get outside, get some exercise and bond over an activity.
Teaching your puppy how to properly walk on a leash at a young age will help prevent frustrating behavior like leash-pulling or leash aggression later in life.
“There is nothing more natural for a dog than to go for walks,” says John D. Visconti, CDPT-KA, owner Rising Star Dog Training. “Doing so allows the dog to sniff, investigate, socialize, exercise, relieve boredom and have fun.”
Steps for teaching a puppy to walk on a leash
It’s important to remember that puppies won’t instinctively understand how to walk on a leash. Pet parents should be prepared to spend time training their young dogs to walk properly on a leash.
Lina Eklof, dog training education manager for Petco, says that the best place to start is with a “sit” behavior.
After getting your puppy safely leashed with a collar or harness, ask them to sit by your side. “This is a cue to let them know you are both facing forward and ready to start together as a team,” she says.
Next, make sure you have your training treats in the hand closest to your puppy. “Otherwise the puppy can pull in front of you to reach the treats,” says Eklof.
Once you and your puppy are ready, and your dog is sitting by your side, you can begin moving forward. “Circle around your puppy, waiting for them to notice you and catch up,” says Eklof. “Treat the instant they do. Simply move around until the puppy moves to be near you and treat their behavior.”
Don’t try to control the situation. Let your puppy get comfortable making decisions on their own. If they approach you while on their leash, offer praise and hand out a treat. If they are walking by your side, offer praise and hand out a treat.
Try to change the pace and direction of your walk. As your puppy follows along and walks with their head by your knee, make sure to continue to offer rewards and praise.
In the early stages of learning, says Eklof, you’ll need to use a lot of treats. Look for a low-calorie, small-size training treat specifically designed for this type of activity.
As your puppy gets more comfortable walking on a leash, you can add other training cues into your walking routine to get in practice and keep your puppy on their toes.
“Doing simple things like asking your dog to sit and paying for performance with a high-value treat is an easy way to interact with your dog, and a way to make the walk more enjoyable for all involved,” says Visconti. “Ask your dog for a ‘watch’ or ‘look at me’ cue while moving. Be sure to pay for good performance.”
How to stop a dog from pulling on a leash
Whether you’re training a puppy to walk on a leash or you’re working with an older dog, leash-pulling may occur. Dogs can become overly excited and try to run out ahead of you, tugging you along.
If this happens, says Eklof, you can try two things: First, you can simply stop, wait for your dog to calm down and return to your side, and start up again. Or you can turn and start walking the other way and encourage your dog to catch up with you.
If your dog or puppy continues to pull on the leash, don’t get frustrated and reprimand them. Simply keep working on rewarding good behavior with high-value treats and using an upbeat, positive voice. Soon enough, your dog will start to learn and associate the right behaviors with beneficial rewards.
Is leash training an older dog possible?
Although leash training an older, adult dog may take more time and dedication, it’s never too late to train good behaviors. In these instances, routine training sessions and continual practice are key to getting your dog to learn good leash behavior.
If your dog shows any signs of leash reactivity, make sure to be extra cautious when out on training sessions or walks until they are more comfortable on the leash. This is especially important in areas where you may encounter off-leash dogs. “Be prepared for how you’ll respond,” says Visconti. “Better still, walk your dog in areas where this is less likely to occur.”
If you’re struggling to train an older dog to walk on the leash, consider enrolling your dog in training classes or work with a dedicated trainer or behaviorist who can help you address your dog’s specific behavioral problems.
Petco offers private lessons and training classes for puppies and dogs, whether you need leash-training help or starting off on the right paw!