No More Pulling! Here’s How to Leash Train Your Dog

By: Irith Bloom, CPDT-KSAUpdated:

No More Pulling! Here’s How to Leash Train Your Dog
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No More Pulling! Here’s How to Leash Train Your Dog

Does your dog pull you down the street whenever you take them for a walk? Do they run circles around you (wrapping you in the leash in the process) or treat their leash like a tug toy? You’re not alone—walking on a leash doesn’t come naturally for many dogs. But here’s the good news: With the right training, most dogs can learn to walk politely beside you. You just have to know how to leash train a dog.

Since there are so many situations where dogs must be leashed, understanding how to leash train a dog belongs at the top of your pet parent priority list. From hiking to dining at dog-friendly restaurants to basic walks around the neighborhood, proper leash training opens up a world of fun activities for you and your pup to explore together.

Ready to get started? As a professional dog trainer, I’m here to guide you through everything you need to know about training your dog to walk on leash.

The Benefits of Leash Training

Leash training a dog has a variety of benefits:

  • Being able to take a walk without your dog pulling: While pulling on leash may not sound so bad, repeated walks with a dog who is pulling can cause stress to your muscles and joints. In extreme cases, a dog can pull you right off your feet. Walking with a dog who behaves well on leash is much more pleasant.

  • Opportunities to go here, there and everywhere: Dogs can suffer from boredom just like people. Regular outings to new places help keep your dog’s mind happily occupied. (And it breaks up the monotony of daily walks for you, too.)

  • Exercise (for you and your dog): Like us, dogs get cardiovascular benefits from walking. Movement is good for your dog’s body! And since walking with a dog who has good leash manners is fun, you’ll probably get more walking in yourself. It’s a win-win!

  • Outdoor time (for you and your dog): There are lots benefits to being outdoors. You get a break from staring at your computer while your pooch gets a break from staring at the walls, and you both get fresh air and a change of pace. Both you and your dog are likely to feel refreshed and happy after walking outside.

All of these benefits depend on training your dog to walk on leash properly. That means now’s the time to get started!

Supplies for Leash Training a Dog

Before starting to leash train a puppy or adult dog, gather everything your dog needs for success:

Why Do I Need a Dog Harness?

If you’re like most dog parents, a collar was probably one of the first purchases you made for your furry friend. So why should you use a dog harness rather than simply clipping their leash to their collar for walks?

The answer: Harnesses are gentler on your dog’s neck. The pressure of a leash being yanked on a collar can cause physical harm to your dog—and that’s true no matter whether you or your dog is doing the pulling. Using a harness distributes leash pressure more evenly across the dog’s body, so it’s less likely to cause injury.

If your dog is prone to pulling, I recommend a front-clip harness. That’s because when the leash is attached to the front of your dog’s chest, the force of their pulling will turn them to the side, which makes it more difficult for them to dig in and pull with their full force. Some harnesses, such as the Freedom Harness, come with both types of clips, so you can choose which clip to use.

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How to Leash Train a Dog: Step-by-Step Instructions

Training a dog to walk on a leash is all about teaching your dog where you want them to be. Yanking on the leash doesn’t help your dog learn what they’re supposed to do—and can cause injury to your pup. Positive reinforcement (aka rewarding your dog with treats for being at your side) works much better. The dog training steps below take you through the process of how to teach any dog, from a new puppy to adult or older dog, to walk on leash.
Pro tip: Before you get started, remember that walking on leash isn’t a skill most dogs learn overnight. Keep your training sessions around 10-15 minutes, or even shorter if you’re working with a puppy, since that’s about as long as the typical dog’s attention span will last. When you move to outdoor walks, you can work up to longer sessions—there’s a lot more out there to keep your dog entertained, after all!
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1Start in a small, quiet space indoors.

Teach this behavior indoors, in a small, quiet room. It’s much easier to start training dogs to walk on leash when they are in a confined area and aren’t surrounded by exciting distractions.
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2Introduce the harness and leash—with treats!

Put on the harness and clip the dog leash to it. Feed your dog a treat right afterward (it’s a good reminder that hanging out near you is worthwhile).
Pro tip: Having trouble getting your dog to wear their harness? Use a treat to lure your dog’s head through the neck hole, and continue feeding treats at each stage of the harnessing process: one when the harness goes on, another when you clip the harness, and a third when you attach the leash.
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3Take a small step in any direction.

It’s time to teach your dog to stay by your side. Take a tiny step, then stop and watch your dog. As soon as your dog takes even a single step in your direction, praise and feed the dog a treat right at their head level, next to your leg. (Feeding that tasty treat at your leg helps your dog learn where you want them to be.)
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4Practice moving in different directions.

When your dog has mastered following you in one direction, it’s time to switch things up. Keep moving around the room in different directions, feeding treats every time your dog follows your lead. For example, if you began by stepping forward, try stepping backward or to the side—all the ways you might move while on a walk. Treat your dog every time they move along with you.

Practice this for around 10-15 minutes per day until your pup consistently follows you.

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5Start feeding treats only on one side.

Once your dog is consistently stepping along with you, pick a side to feed the treat on. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the left side or right—you just need to pick one, and consistently feed on that side only. This makes it easier for your pup to understand where you want them to be, and helps keep them from zigzagging in front of you.
Pro tip: If your dog ends up on the wrong side of you and isn’t following the treats to the correct side, step around them so that they’re on the correct side. Then, take a smaller step away from your dog and try again. If necessary, make your steps tiny for a while, so it’s easier for your dog to stay on the correct side.
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6Begin to vary how often you feed the treats.

Once your dog is walking nicely with you for a treat after each step, start to vary how often you feed the treats. You might do two steps, then a treat, then four steps, then a treat, then one step, then a treat, and so on. Keep the pattern random! That’ll help keep your dog focused.
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7Find new places to practice.

When your dog has mastered leash walking in a small room, practice dog walking in other areas. A hallway is a great environment to try next, because the narrowness of a hallway helps keep your dog near you as you practice. Go back to feeding one treat per step when you start in a new area, though, since it will be a little harder for your dog. Then gradually reduce the frequency of treats as you did before.

Eventually, you can practice walking in a larger room, walking all around your home and even in your backyard. In each new place, begin with small steps and frequent treats, and gradually work up to larger steps and fewer treats.

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8Take a walk out in the world!

When your dog consistently displays good behavior on at home, it’s time to test their skills in less familiar territory. Leash them up and take a walk around your neighborhood. Just like with the other new environments, use smaller steps and frequent treats until you can work up to a more challenging walk.
Pro tip: If your dog’s behavior starts to fall apart—if they start pulling, zigzagging or wandering away from your side—go back to an easier situation or feed treats more often (or both).

Leash Training Troubleshooting

Try these training tips to curb common behaviors while on leash:

Pulling

If your dog continues pulling, you may be feeding too few treats, the treats may not be tasty (aka high value) enough, or the situation may be beyond your dog’s level of training. Feed more often, use super-delicious treats, or take your dog to an easier location.

Lunging or Chasing Things

If your dog lunges or starts chasing something, stop walking and hold steady. Instead of yanking on the leash, call your dog’s name in a cheerful tone, making kissy noises, or stamping your feet. Once you have your dog’s attention, praise, hand them a treat, and then walk away, feeding treats with each step, until your dog calms down.

If you can’t get your dog’s attention, you’ll have to gently pull them away. This is the “least bad” solution. In a perfect world, your dog will come with you on a verbal cue (like “come”), but hey, life isn’t always perfect. If you do have to pull them away, do not jerk the leash. Instead, anchor your leash hand against your belly button and calmly walk away with the leash held firmly at your abdomen, creating steady but gentle pressure on your dog as you go. Direct your gaze, shoulders and hips in the direction you’re walking—to your dog, this implies that you’re walking toward something, which just might spark their curiosity and inspire them to join you!

Biting or Playing With the Leash

If your dog keeps turning around to bite or play with the leash, remember this No. 1 rule: Never pull the leash away from the dog! It might seem counterintuitive, but pulling back on a leash your dog is playing with just makes the leash an awesome tug toy. A loose leash is far less fun for your pup.

Instead, move the leash gently toward your dog so all tension is released and they can’t get that satisfying tug feeling. If necessary, use two leashes on walks, so that if your dog grabs one, you can let it fall to the ground while keeping your grip on the other leash.

Once your dog has dropped the leash, start walking, praising and rapid-fire treating. Most dogs decide pretty quickly that walking with you is way more fun than tugging on the leash.


Leash Training FAQs

Q:At what age should I start leash training a puppy?

A:You can start puppy leash training as soon as they come home, which is typically around 8 weeks. Just remember to keep things low-key. Work indoors, in the smallest room possible, and for puppies around 8 weeks, work for no longer than a minute at a time before taking off the leash. As your puppy grows up, you can increase the duration of your sessions.


Q:How do I train a dog to walk beside me?

A:To train a dog to walk beside you, practice tiny steps on leash in a small, quiet space and treat them whenever they move along with you. Gradually work up to different areas of your home, larger steps and fewer treats, until they eventually learn to walk beside you while on leash.


Q:How do I teach my dog not to pull on their leash?

A:To teach your dog not to pull on their leash, start by practicing tiny steps in a small, quiet space and treat them whenever they move along with you (rather than pulling on the leash). It’s also a good idea to use a harness with a front clip to deter them from pulling.

Training dogs to walk on leash opens up a world of possibilities for them (and you). Dogs need practice to master this challenging skill, and by working through the steps above, you’re on your way to relaxing, enjoyable walks for you both. Stay patient, and remember: It’s worth the time and effort. After all, this is a skill that will pay dividends for life!

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By: Irith Bloom, CPDT-KSAUpdated:

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