How To Teach A Dog To Walk On A Leash!

Our furry friends have four legs and naturally walk a lot faster than we do. To them, we are probably snails!

July 12th, 2019

Chances are, you’re here because you want your dog walking nicely on leash!

Don’t we all?

You’re not alone–some out there estimate that 95% of dogs exhibit less than ideal walking behavior.

Good news: you’ve come to the right place.

This is our step-by-step, no nonsense guide on how to teach your dog to walk properly on a leash.

A dog focusing hard on hiking.

Identifying Common Leash Walking Problems & Their Solutions

Before we get into the guide, let’s highlight the main causes of leash walking problems and draft a plan to tackle each one.

Dogs Walk Faster Than Humans Do.

Our furry friends have four legs and naturally walk a lot faster than we do. To them, we are probably snails!

Your dog may not even be aware he’s pulling so hard. He’s just walking at his normal pace.

To fix this, we’ll condition the dog to walk by our side using positive reinforcement. Also, whenever we notice tension in the leash, we’ll stop all progress with the walk until the dog returns to our side.

Your dog is enticed by all the sights and smells.

The outside world was meant to be explored! With a nose 10,000 times stronger than ours, it’s easy for our dogs to get sidetracked by all the smells.

To fix this, we’ll use positive reinforcement to redirect our dog’s attention back onto us with treats and verbal cues.

Some dogs enjoy pulling. Some were specifically bred to pull.

Certain breeds, such as the Bernese Mountain Dog and Siberian Husky, spent much of their time pulling carts and sleds.

A classic harness and leash setup is nearly identical to this. Except instead of pulling a cart… they’re pulling you!

To fix this, we’ll use the training techniques mentioned for the other two problems above. As your dog learns them, we’ll also introduce a front-load harness. This will cause your dog to steer to the side instead of directly charging forward, getting them further from their target and discouraging pulling.

A dog looks up in the middle of a nice walk.

Your dog is too excited to walk calmly or is barking at everything.

Is your dog so crazy and high-energy that the moment you open that front door, you’re unable to get him under control?

To fix this, ensure that you are exercising your dog enough. We have 22 ways to tire out your dog before a serious leash walking training session.

Remember, dogs retain concepts much better after they’ve been thoroughly exercised.

Finally, recall this golden rule of dog training.

In all things dog training, we want to take things slowly.

The key to helping your dog succeed with any trick or any behavior is to take baby steps consistently.

With that said, let’s get into the guide.

How To Use The Following Guide

Though this is a step-by-step guide, you can not and should not aim to finish everything within a day’s training session!

Rather, go at your dog’s pace. Each step may take days or weeks for your dog to master, depending on training frequency and quality.

Make sure you re-perform step 0 before every single training session. This helps warm your dog up and get them in the optimal mindset for training.

The subsequent 5 steps will have “Prerequisites” and “Graduation” requirements to outline when your dog is ready to move on to the next step.

Stay as long as you need on any step to really get the Graduation requirements down before continuing. There’s no rush!

A dog tilting her head in response to seeing some treats.

Step 0: Prep Work

For the most optimal results, prepare your dog for success with these tips.

  • Firstly, and most importantly, make sure your dog is exercised.
  • Consider conducting your training at a time just before a meal where you know your dog may have extra motivation due to hunger.
  • Get your dog geared up. You should have a leash, and a collar or harness. Your dog should already be comfortable wearing these items.
  • Use a front-load harness while you are learning the concepts to boost up progress.
  • Have a high value reward ready for praise throughout the training session.
  • Consider a clicker. It’s optional, but in any case, make sure you have a marker word (an enthusiastic “Yes!”) for good behavior.

Step 1: Getting Your Dog’s Attention (Indoors)

Prerequisite: You and your dog are both ready to learn some leash walking!

Every great concept begins indoors. We’ll start there.

A huge part of having a dog that behaves well on leash is being able to get their attention on you while they’re distracted, as Zak George says in his video.

This will be our goal in step 1. Let’s walk through it.

  • Set up a normal walking scenario indoors, leash and all.
  • Have a cue word reserved for getting attention (“Look” or “Look at me”).
  • Have a cue word reserved for coming when called (“Come” or “Come here”).
  • Choose the side (traditionally the left) where your dog will be walking.
  • Start by walking around the house. Stop periodically and have your dog look at you. Reward the moment you get eye contact. Repeat this exercise, while slowly increasing the amount of time of sustained eye contact before rewarding–up to 5 seconds is good.
  • Now, introduce some distractions. Scatter some toys around the house.
  • Again, start walking around the house, and have your dog follow closely. Continue to stop occasionally for their attention and reward.
  • Allow your dog to get distracted by the toys and create some tension. When they do, issue the “Come here” command–be as exciting as you can be! Let your dog come back to you naturally (do not pull them). When they do, reward and pretend like it’s the best thing in the world.

Keep these sessions light and short. Just 5 to 10 minutes for a couple days will help your dog learn and solidify these concepts and set a good foundation before taking it outside.

Graduation: Your dog is able to understand the “Look” and “Come” command indoors with very high confidence, even in the presence of toys or other mild indoor distractions.

Step 2: Training Outdoors

Prerequisites: Step 1, and a controlled outdoor environment.

Now that we’ve mastered the indoors, it’s time to venture outdoors.

For this step, we want a “controlled outdoor environment.” This means that though we are moving outside, we still want an environment with minimal distractions so it’s not overwhelming to our dogs.

If you’ve got a yard, perfect. Otherwise, try to find a quieter area of the neighborhood. Another good suggestion is to utilize a fenced dog park during off-hours.

For step 2, we want to continue to develop the concepts learned in step 1. We can break this down into two distinct parts: “Look” and “Come”.

“Look”

  • Do the same thing as we did in step 1 in your outdoor controlled environment.
  • Walk around the area, stopping periodically to check for attention, rewarding each time.
  • If your dog gets distracted by something, try luring them back to you by bringing a smelly treat right up against their nose and redirecting their attention to you. Time the cue word “Look” just as they meet your gaze.
  • Again, strive to build up sustained eye contact to around 5 seconds.
A dog sitting nicely and giving attention to her owner.

“Come”

  • It may help to use a longer 10 foot lead for this, but a standard leash is fine too.
  • As we did indoors in step 1, allow your dog to sniff around and explore for a bit. Then, say “Come” as enthusiastically as possible, and reward generously when they return to you.
  • If nothing you do gets your dog’s attention, you may want to revert to step 1. Alternatively, you can bring a treat to your dog’s nose as with “Look” and lure them back to your side.

Your goal is to build a positive connection in your dog’s brain: being close to you is good. It leads to praise, and is delicious!

Graduation: Your dog is able to understand the “Look” and “Come” command in a controlled outdoor environment with very high confidence.

Step 3: Putting “Look” and “Come” Into A Short Walking Exercise

Prerequisite: Step 2, and a frequently visited outdoor location.

By now, you should be able to reliably get your dog’s attention and get them to return to your side in a well-controlled environment.

For this next step, choose a location you frequent on walks. Maybe it’s a segment of your routine walk, or a park you visit just about every day.

It should be familiar to both you and your dog, but is less controlled than a fenced yard.

The area should allow for some variable distractions such as occasional other dogs or squirrels, but is still not completely foreign to your dog.

Grab a standard 4 or 6 foot leash and let’s begin step 3.

  • At your chosen location, practice walking your dog back and forth. Take about five steps, come to an abrupt stop, and issue “Look.” Then immediately take a 180, and go five steps. Again come to a stop, and get your dog’s attention.
  • Continue going back and forth in the area while slowly increasing randomness. Change the number of steps you take. Turn in different directions. Your dog should get used to watching you and following you despite your sudden changes.
  • At any point throughout the exercise, if your dog gets distracted, practice the “Come” command as in step 2.
  • The goal is for your dog to maintain a loose leash throughout. Start by rewarding your dog every couple of steps.
  • Slowly increase the amount of time required for your dog to be by your side before rewarding.

Graduation: Your dog is able to follow you on a loose leash as you walk in random directions around a familiar outdoor environment. If your dog strays away temporarily, “Come” should get them back to your side, and “Look” should get their attention onto you consistently.

Step 4: Introducing Stronger Distractions

Prerequisite: Step 3, and a strong distraction such as a friend’s dog, or a busy dog park.

Now that your dog is already pretty reliable at following you with a loose leash in a training environment, let’s simulate a real-world distracting environment.

In this step, seek out a friend’s help or an area you know will be distracting to your dog.

For Yuna, this is easily any place where there are flocks of geese.

A dog smiling in front of some geese wading in a lake.

For many dogs, a dog park is sufficient. Don’t go inside the dog park, but stay outside the fence and just use the dog park as a distraction.

In any case, the distraction should be EXTREMELY… distracting.

Now that everyone’s distracted, let’s begin step 4.

  • In front of the strong distraction, practice the same exercise from step 3. Walk around the area back and forth and stop abruptly. Reward your dog’s attention.
  • Continue to reward your dog every few steps for staying by your side.
  • Continue to inject randomness to the training session. Vary your direction, your speed, and the distance you go before turning.
  • Your dog will likely get quite distracted during this whole ordeal. If your dog can’t seem to get his eyes off of the distraction, increase the distance between them. Start off from a point where you can reliably get your dog’s attention, and slowly move back towards the distraction.
  • Don’t be afraid to act goofy and exciting to get your dog to come to you. No dog will choose a monotonous “Come” over an exciting field of playing dogs.

This step will take lots of time to master.

Ensure your dog is well exercised from step 0 before making significant headway here. Perhaps even allow them to play in the dog park first to let them get some steam out.

Graduation: Your dog is able to follow you on a loose leash as you walk in random directions in a highly distracting outdoor environment. If your dog strays away, “Come” should get them back to your side, and “Look” should get their attention onto you consistently.

Step 5: Piecing Together A Walk

Prerequisite: Step 4, and a desire to see how far your dog has come!

Up till now, we’ve been doing training exercises where we were either walking around in a controlled environment or randomly in a controlled space.

It’s now time to put everything together. Time to take a real walk and check on your dog’s progress!

Step 5 is essentially a walk with checkpoints to reinforce your dog’s behavior. A good habit would be to perform step 5 every day for the rest of your dog’s life, to continually reinforce proper leash walking habits.

As you progress through this step, you may choose to wean out treats, or special gear such as the front-load harness.

With that said, let’s go for a walk.

  • Conduct your walk normally. When your dog is about to stray away, call their name or say “Come.” Ideally, your dog stops and returns to your side. It is incredibly important you time your command just before the tension is about to be created on the leash: this Zak George video highlights this.
  • You want your dog to slow down and return to your side. Reward this generously! This is very impressive for any dog to do and deserves recognition.
  • If your dog continues and creates tension on the leash, stop immediately and do not budge. Issue a “Come” and give affirmation as son as tension on the leash is released. Give a big reward and continue the walk.

Over time, your dog will come to realize that to make any progress at all, there must not be any tension in the leash.

A dog smiling widely up at the camera.

Of course, you should take note to also afford your dog time to frivolously explore his surroundings for a walk.

Your dog needs to work his sniffer, and occasionally allowing them time to stray away from your side is healthy.

However, you should be able to get your dog back to your side when you request it. That is the entire goal of this article!

Graduation: You are able to enjoy loose-leash walks with your dog.

Conclusion

If you follow this 5 step process, you’ll be well on your way to teaching your dog how to walk properly on a leash.

It’ll be a process, but soon, gone will be the times of leash burn against your wrists. You’ll have a dog the entire neighborhood gets jealous over.

It is important that you pace yourself throughout this guide. Seriously, don’t move on until you are sure your dog confidently reaches each step’s graduation requirements.

A dog looking extremely happy while receiving pets.

Walking your dog is an everyday activity. Since you’re going to do it so much, you may as well take action today to make it more enjoyable for both you and your dog.

Let us know if you found this guide useful! Don’t forget to follow Yuna’s Instagram for more free dog tips and updates.