The Beginner’s Guide to Leash Training a Dog

Going for a walk with your pup should be a fun and enjoyable way to bond with your dog, get some exercise, and set up a positive routine. A daily walk or two is just as healthy for you as it is for your dog. But if your dog doesn’t know how to walk on a leash and keeps pulling, it can make walking with your dog stressful and annoying.

It’s also challenging to take your pupster anywhere if they don’t know how to be on a leash. This is why leash training your dog is so important. And the sooner you start, the better! So keep reading to get some tips and ideas to get you started today! 

How to Leash Train Your Dog

Dog and owner starting leash training

Training your dog to use a leash properly doesn’t require an advanced degree in animal behavior psychology or elaborate training techniques.

The methods are pretty simple by themselves. The hard part comes in being able to be patient and consistent enough to make the method work.

We’ll give you some tips about that later on. For now, let’s take a look at the simple techniques that are involved.

Getting Comfortable With the Leash

For puppies or any dog that is not used to a leash or has learned to be afraid of the leash, your first step will be just getting them comfortable with it before you try to take them on walks with it.

Depending on how nervous or uncomfortable it makes your dog, you might need to start by just placing the leash near your dog every day so they begin to get used to being around it.

Then, start attaching the leash to the collar but then letting it go so they can walk around the house with the leash on but still have complete control over their movement because no one is holding the other end.

Once they appear to be calm and accepting when you put the leash on, you can start taking them outside to train.

Man leash training pup with positive reinforcement

Positive Versus Negative Reinforcement

The debate between positive or negative reinforcement has been raging for centuries. In general, we think that positive reinforcement tends to be more effective, but this depends on your dog’s temperament.

Positive reinforcement is usually better because it helps to make your dog excited about the leash. Most dogs look forward to training and feel good about learning. These are more motivating factors than fear.

If you have a stubborn dog trying to become the pack’s dominant leader, you will probably need to use a harmful reinforcement method (like a choke collar or electronic collar) to assert yourself as the leader. But if your dog is not incredibly stubborn, sticking with an exclusively positive reinforcement method is always the best option.

However, you can also combine the two—rewarding correct behavior and punishing incorrect behavior for attacking the problem from both angles. When using any negative reinforcement, be sure that you are not behaving cruelly toward your dog.

Punishment should involve withholding treats or attention or, at most, a firm pat on the nose. You do not want to go overboard. If your dog starts to cower away from you, this is a sign that your negative reinforcement is too severe.

Girl walking dog

Stop and Go Method

This is one of our favorite methods for training your dog because it mostly focuses on positive reinforcement but still allows you to establish yourself as the alpha in this interaction.

The steps are pretty simple:

  1. Take your dog out for a walk as you normally would.
  2. When your dog starts pulling on the leash, immediately stop walking and stand firmly in place so that your dog is forced to stop as well.
  3. Call your dog to you with a simple command. 
  4. When they come to you, give them a treat and praise them for obeying your command.
  5. Begin walking again.
  6. When they start to pull again, repeat the previous steps of stopping and calling them to you.

This method works best if your dog already understands simple commands like “Come” and “Sit.” But it is still possible to use even if they do not. Just be prepared for the learning process to take more time.

If you want to go as positive as possible, you can keep treats on you and continuously feed them small pieces while walking beside you. This will help them build a positive association with walking at your side (rather than pulling) and help them make that habit.

Extra Leash Training Tips For Dogs

Owner treating good dog

No matter which technique for how to train a dog on a leash you are using, there are a few basic guidelines that you can follow to make sure that training sessions will run as smoothly as possible and be more effective.

Be Patient

If your dog is still pulling even after a few training sessions, remember to be patient. Don’t lose your temper and get angry. Remember that your dog isn’t trying to disobey you on purpose. They just aren’t quite getting what you are trying to teach them yet. Some dogs learn quickly. Others take more time.

Be the Alpha

Whether you’re using positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, or both, you need to be the pack’s alpha leader. That means being firm and fixed in your demands. That doesn’t mean yelling or getting angry.

Just express confidence and leadership, so your dog knows that you are the master around here. Once a dog knows that it should respect you, they will make a more significant effort to understand what you want them to do.

Be Good Company

You want to be the leader, but that’s no reason to be a tyrant. As we pointed out earlier, dogs are generally more motivated to learn something when it’s enjoyable for them. If training sessions are enjoyable bonding moments, your dog is going to look forward to each session and be excited at the chance to learn and interact with you.

Be Consistent

Don’t do a training session now and then at random. At that point, all you’re doing is taking your dog for random walks. You need to do it regularly, at least once per day (but two shorter sessions in a day would be better than one long one). Dogs, like people, learn best through steady, consistent repetition. In order to recognize the pattern, the pattern has to repeat often enough.

Dog getting reading for leash training routine

Stick to a Precise Routine

If you can manage it in your schedule, stick to the same routine.

  • Train at the same time each day.
  • Go through the same pre-walk ritual.
  • Walk the same route.
  • Use the same commands.
  • Stick to the same training method.
  • Go through the same post-walk ritual.

It’s less important exactly what the routine or method is so long as you are repeating as precisely as possible each time. The more of a habit it becomes, the better chances your dog will have of learning how to fulfill their part of that routine.

Using these tips in combination with the guidelines for leash training techniques above, you will increase your chances of successfully leash training your dog, no matter how slow of a learner they are!

But if you still find it’s too complicated or you don’t have the time to be as consistent and dedicated as you need to be, you can get some extra help by going with a trainer.

There are professional trainers you can hire to train your dog for you. But this can get very expensive (especially if your dog is a slow learner), so going with an online training service can save you a lot of money while still giving you the expert support you need to leash train your dog.

Final Thoughts

There is no single method that is the best when to leash training a dog in every case. So, as mentioned above, think about your dog’s attitude and temperament when choosing a method that best suits you. 

And if you’re not sure how to train a dog to walk on a leash, we would recommend starting with a positive reinforcement method first.

A reward is usually more effective and safer to try because it won’t harm your dog if it doesn’t work. And no matter what method you choose, the key is to be consistent and patient!

You don’t see results on the first day. So you can’t give up just because it doesn’t feel like you’re making progress. Stick with it. Your dog will figure things out eventually!

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