Strolling with your dog should be one of the joys of pet parenthood but for many pet parents, leash walking is an exercise in frustration, and in some cases, even pain.
Dogs that pull on leash turn what should be a bonding experience into a test of wills, which can lead to fewer walks and an under-exercised and frustrated dog. But even the most dedicated pullers can learn to walk politely with consistency, patience, and a pocket full of goodies.
Here’s our expert advice on how to train your dog to walk on a leash.
Dog Walking Tips: Supplies and Safety
Choosing the right equipment is the first step to ensuring a comfortable and safe walk for both ends of the leash. Less is more when it comes to leash selection—the safest options are fixed-length leashes between 4 and 6 feet long.
A 6-foot leash gives your dog enough freedom to sniff around and make deposits, but not enough length that it seems like you’re on separate walks. While the extra long cord on a retractable leash might seem like a great way to exercise your dog, the spring-loaded retraction mechanism can actually encourage pulling, and might even put your dog in danger by allowing him to approach other dogs and people without you nearby.
Dogs that need to brush up on their leash walking skills might benefit from wearing a comfortable harness instead of a collar. While a traditional flat collar is a fine option for dogs that have mastered the art of polite leash walking, they can be uncomfortable for pullers since the leash tension is concentrated around the dog’s neck. A harness that clips the leash at the chest or between the shoulder blades distributes leash tension more evenly, resulting in a more comfortable walk.
Finding the right location for training a dog to walk on a leash is important as well. Pet parents working on beginner training should opt for a low distraction setting during the early stages, which means that navigating a rush-hour sidewalk isn’t a great option. Taking the road less traveled or strolling on a quiet trail will help set your dog up for success.
Remember that exploring the great outdoors together requires the right kind of parasite protection to keep your dog safe. All dogs are at risk of contracting parasites while out on a walk. An effective parasite protection medication will offer protection against multiple types of worms. For example, Interceptor® Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel) is a chicken-flavored monthly chew that prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls adult hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections in dogs.
Spending time together outside also means exposure to tiny bugs that can create big problems, like ticks and fleas. Fast-acting chewables like Credelio® (lotilaner) can help protect your dog from ticks and fleas all month long.
See important safety information for Interceptor® Plus and Credelio® below.
Dog Leash Training 101: Basic Leash Manners
The goal of leash training a dog isn’t to make your dog trot beside you in a perfect heel. Walking together is your dog’s chance to explore the world outside your front door and forcing him to stay glued to your knee doesn’t give him a chance to do fun dog behaviors like tracking and marking.
A polite leash walk involves moving together without tension in the leash; sometimes your dog will be a few steps ahead or behind you, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s important to note that there’s no such thing as “training walks” and “real walks.” Any time you clip the leash on your dog, he’s learning about what works and what doesn’t, so always give him consistent and predictable lessons.
Before you set off on a leash walk, make sure to load up your pockets with tasty treats. Remember that when you head outside, you’re competing with distractions like squirrels and new friends, so high-value goodies like bits of chicken, cheese, or freeze-dried meats will help your dog focus on you.
Another way to encourage your dog’s focus is to use a clicker or marker word to pinpoint exactly why he’s being rewarded. A clicker is a small plastic toy that marks the moment your dog performs the correct behavior and serves as the “bridge” between the behavior and the treat. You can also use a word like “Good!” or “Yup!” to help your dog understand the behavior that led to getting a reward.
How to Leash Train a Dog: Reforming a Puller
An early (and unfortunate) lesson most dogs learn is that a tight leash means forward movement, but the exact opposite should be true: walks only happen on a slack leash. That means that during the early stages of training, the rewardable behaviors are anything other than those that make the leash tight.
To begin the process, take a few steps with your dog and if the leash remains slack, mark the moment with the clicker or word and immediately give your dog a treat. Continue walking, marking and rewarding your dog for keeping the leash loose, and remember it’s okay if your dog walks a few steps away from you.
It helps to get your dog to come close to collect his treat so that he starts to understand that being near you makes good things happen. During the foundation stages of leash training, reward your dog frequently and give him tons of praise for his efforts. The more information you give him about what “works” (walking without pulling), the more likely he’ll be to continue doing it.
A dog with a history of pulling will likely revert to it at some point during a walk no matter how tempting the treats are, and when that happens, it’s time to help your dog understand the strategy no longer works.
The moment the leash gets tight, simply stop walking. If your dog looks back at you, mark the behavior with the clicker or word and offer a treat to your dog near the side of your leg, then continue walking. If your dog pulls without looking back (for example, if he sees something on the horizon he wants to approach), try a “penalty yard”: simply move backward until your dog reorients to you, the click, or mark his focus on you and continue walking.
As your dog gets better at keeping slack in the leash, start to make him work a little harder in order to earn rewards. Rather than giving him a treat just for keeping slack in the leash, reward the moments when he’s walking close to you. Get him to walk longer distances before you reward him, but try to be unpredictable since dogs are good at picking up on patterns. Make your penalty yards more challenging as well by getting your dog to walk back instead of just reorienting to you before he gets his reward.
There’s an ebb and flow to fine-tuning leash walking since you’re essentially helping your dog to unlearn well-established patterns. But staying consistent, giving your dog clear information about what works and what doesn’t, and remembering to enjoy your time together will take your leash walks from frustrating to fun.
Credelio kills adult fleas and is indicated for the treatment and prevention of flea infestations, treatment and control of tick infestations (lone star tick, American dog tick, black-legged tick, and brown dog tick) for one month in dogs and puppies 8 weeks and older and 4.4 pounds or greater.
Credelio Important Safety Information
Lotilaner is a member of the isoxazoline class of drugs. This class has been associated with neurologic adverse reactions including tremors, incoordination, and seizures. Seizures have been reported in dogs receiving this class of drugs, even in dogs without a history of seizures. Use with caution in dogs with a history of seizures or neurologic disorders. The safe use of Credelio in breeding, pregnant or lactating dogs has not been evaluated. The most frequently reported adverse reactions are weight loss, elevated blood urea nitrogen, increased urination, and diarrhea. For complete safety information, please see Credelio product label or ask your veterinarian.
Interceptor Plus Indications
Interceptor Plus prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls adult roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections in dogs and puppies 6 weeks or older and 2 pounds or greater.
Interceptor Plus Important Safety Information
Treatment with fewer than 6 monthly doses after the last exposure to mosquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. Prior to administration of Interceptor Plus, dogs should be tested for existing heartworm infections. The safety of Interceptor Plus has not been evaluated in dogs used for breeding or in lactating females. The following adverse reactions have been reported in dogs after administration of milbemycin oxime or praziquantel: vomiting, diarrhea, decreased activity, incoordination, weight loss, convulsions, weakness, and salivation. For complete safety information, please see Interceptor Plus product label or ask your veterinarian.
Disclaimer: The author received compensation from Elanco US Inc., the maker of Interceptor Plus and Credelio, for her services in writing this article.
Credelio and Interceptor are trademarks of Elanco or its affiliates.
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