How to Train a Dog to Walk on a Leash: Turn Your Walks from Drag to Brag!

a dog walking next to owner

Ever feel like you’re being taken for a walk instead of the other way around? If your daily strolls with your furry best friend feel more like a tug-of-war championship, then you, my friend, are in for a treat. Leash training might sound as thrilling as watching paint dry, but trust me, it’s the secret sauce to enjoying peaceful and enjoyable walks (that are also good for your health). Buckle up as we take you through a step-by-step guide on how to train your dog to walk on a leash without turning it into a mission impossible.

  • Patience is Your Best Pal: Remember, every pup learns at their own pace. Keep the vibes positive and the treats handy!
  • Gear Up Right: Choosing the right leash and collar/harness is half the battle. Comfort for you and your furry friend is key.
  • Short and Sweet Sessions: Keep training sessions short to keep your dog's attention span from fizzling out.
  • Consistency is King: Stick with your training routine daily. Consistency builds habits, habits form behavior.
  • Praise and Treat Galore: Caught your dog walking nicely? Shower them with praise and maybe a little treat. Positive reinforcement works wonders.
  • Guide, Don’t Drag: Encourage your dog to follow with treats or toys, never by force. It’s all about making it a fun game.
  • Practice in Peaceful Places: Start in a quiet area to minimize distractions until your dog gets the hang of it, then gradually introduce more challenging environments.
  • Mix It Up: Variety is the spice of life! Switch up your routes to keep walks interesting for both you and your pooch.

Why Leash Training is a Big Deal

So what is the big deal with leash training anyway, you ask? Well, unless you got a dog that you plan on leaving inside or fenced in all day, everyday (although some lower-energy dogs would probably like this, it is NOT a good idea). Dogs, like us, need movement and exercise to stay happy and healthy!

But mastering the art of leash walking is a bit of an art, or craft. It takes a combination of knowing the basics, and your dog, and practice. When you get it down, taking those walks becomes a fun bonding time rather than a chore. Plus, no one wants to be the person with “that dog” who zigzags and pulls like a sled dog in the Iditarod.

What You’ll Need: The Gear Up

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk gear. You’ll need:

  • A good quality leash (4-6 feet is the sweet spot)
  • A comfortable, well-fitting collar or harness
  • Treats (because bribes work wonders)
  • Patience (lots of it)
  • A sense of humor (because at some point, you’ll definitely need it)

Step 1: Getting Comfortable with the Collar/Harness

Start indoors and make sure Fido is comfortable wearing his collar or harness. Some dogs act like you’ve just put the world’s heaviest burden on them, so give them time to adjust. Positive reinforcement is key here. Treats and praise will make them associate the gear with good vibes.

Step 2: Introducing the Leash

Okay, next up. You may have guessed this part - attach the leash! But before you go any further, let your dog simply get used to it by walking around the house with it on. This creates a no-pressure situation for both you and the dog. We are keeping it light and easy at this point (it ain't boot camp, yet - insert winky-face emoji).

Step 3: The Art of Following

Grab some treats! Yes, you. You can hold them in your hand, or put them in a bag and keep them in your pocket, While still in the house, have your dog follow you around, rewarding them by giving them treats as they follow you. Or you can even channel your inner Hansel and Gretel, leaving a trail of treats and praise. The aim here is to just teach your pooch to stay by your side rather than turning it into a sprint.

Step 4: Mastering the “Heel”

“Heel” might sound a bit old-school, but it’s essential for those moments when you need your dog to walk closely by your side. Start by having your dog sit next to you, leash in hand. Take a step, and if your dog follows, reward them with a treat. Repeat until you’re both strutting in sync.

Side note: Ever wondered where that "Heel" command actually came from? Well, it's not as modern as you might think. The command "Heel" harks back to the early days of dog training, where dogs were primarily trained for hunting and herding. These activities required dogs to stay close to their handler's side, avoiding distractions and maintaining focus on the task at hand.

Step 5: Taking It Outside

The great outdoors is full of distractions. Squirrels, other dogs, and that intriguing piece of trash can all lead to detours. Begin in a quiet area and gradually introduce more distractions as your dog gets better at staying focused on you.

Step 6: Handling Pulling

Pulling is the bane of peaceful walks. If your dog starts to pull, become the most uninteresting thing on the planet. Stop in your tracks, become a statue, and wait for your dog to give you their attention. Once they do, reward them and continue walking. Consistency is key!

Step 7: Practice Makes Perfect

Like any good skill, practice is essential. Keep sessions short and sweet, and always end on a high note. Soon, you’ll be the envy of the neighborhood with your impeccable leash manners.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

My Dog Treats the Leash Like a Chew Toy

Ah, the ol’ “This is a fun toy, right?” dilemma. If your dog starts treating the leash like their personal chew toy, a firm “no” and redirecting their attention to a proper toy or treat should do the trick. Consistency and positive reinforcement are your best friends here.

My Dog is Afraid of the Leash

This is pretty common! A lot of dogs may be scared of the leash, or any new object they are not familiar with. The key here is to introduce it to them slowly. Try putting the leash near them, without even putting it on. Gradually expose them to the leash so they build comfort and some confidence (that this is not a dangerous thing, after all) around it. If they get closer, and check it out in a calm way, quickly reward that behavior.

My Dog Still Pulls Like a Freight Train

If pulling is still an issue despite your best efforts, consider enrolling in a training class or consulting a professional dog trainer. Sometimes, a little expert advice can make all the difference.

Are there different ways to train a dog to walk on a leash?

Just like there are different ways to raise a child, there are different ways to leash train your dog. Every dog has their own, unique personality, with their own idiosyncrasies. And while some dogs may take to a traditional leash training quickly, for other dogs this may not be the best route. 

Another common training tool on the market is a clicker trainer, which is great for dogs who respond well to auditory feedback. Using a clicking sound to mark the desired behavior followed by a treat. Then there’s the gentle leader method for our strong-willed companions, guiding their head and where they look, which naturally influences their walking direction.

For the more adventurous souls, you might even try the umbilical cord method where your dog is attached to you with a leash at all times during training, allowing them to mimic your movements and learn proper leash behavior through constant, gentle guidance. And for those furballs that are a tad more independent, the stop-and-go technique can work wonders. This involves stopping every time they pull and only moving when the leash is slack, teaching them that pulling gets them nowhere, literally.

Remember, the key is patience and finding what clicks with your dog. Don't be afraid to try different methods until you both find your stride. Happy walking!

When to Call in a Pro (A Dog Trainer)

Even after all your efforts, there might come a time when you need an extra pair of hands – or paws, in this case. But when do you decide it's time to call in a professional dog trainer? Here are a few signs:

  • If your dog consistently ignores commands during walks despite your best efforts at training, it might be time for professional intervention.
  • Behavioral issues like excessive aggression towards other dogs or people can be tricky to manage on your own. A pro can provide targeted strategies to address these concerns.
  • If you're dealing with a specific challenge, such as anxiety or fearfulness that leads to undesirable leash behavior, a trainer can offer personalized guidance and support.
  • Maybe you're simply feeling overwhelmed and unsure about your training techniques. That's totally okay! A professional can reassure you and provide the expertise to move forward confidently.

Remember, seeking help isn't a sign of failure. It's about wanting the best for you and your furry friend, ensuring those walks are enjoyable for both of you. A good trainer can bring a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective to tackle even the toughest of challenges.

Wrapping Up

Teaching your dog to walk on a leash (and to do it nicely) is more than the act itself; it can actually build a deeper bond between you and your dog. With patience, consistency, and a dash of humor, you’ll turn those chaotic walks into enjoyable adventures.

Remember, every dog is different - what works for one might not work for another. And it is also important to note that dogs can go in and out of different phases in their lives (and get into bad habits even if they once did something well). Our family dog, for example, a brown Portuguese Water Dog, was trained as a puppy to walk on a leash and did so quite well for a number of years. During a long stretch after an injury (human injury) which impeded the frequency of walks she was getting, she developed some bat habits, including pulling toward every single squirrel in sight! This was dangerous for almost anyone who would walk her. But through diligence and re-training, we were able to get that lady back to walking calmly by our side.

Don’t be afraid to try different techniques until you find what clicks for you and your pup. Happy walking!


How do you train a dog to walk on a leash without pulling you?
The Magic of Positive Reinforcement

The key is positive reinforcement, which is just a fancy term for rewarding your dog when they do something you like. Here’s how to make it work for you:

  1. Start with the Right Gear: Make sure you're equipped with a comfortable harness that gives you control without discomfort for your dog.
  2. Catch Them in the Act (of Walking Nicely): Keep those treats handy and whenever your dog is walking nicely by your side, reward them with a treat and plenty of praise. This helps them associate walking calmly with good things, like treats and your happiness!
  3. Be a Tree: The moment your dog starts pulling, stop moving. Stand firm like a tree. This teaches them that pulling won’t get them where they want to go faster. When they ease up and look back at you wondering why the sudden pause, that's your cue. Call them back to your side, reward, and resume walking.
  4. Change Directions: If being a tree gets old, switch it up by changing directions. If your dog pulls right, you go left. This unpredictability keeps them focused on you, waiting for cues, rather than whatever is at the end of their nose.
  5. Short and Sweet: Keep training sessions short to keep their attention. Always end on a positive note so they associate leash training with fun times.

It does take patience, no doubt, but with consistency walks with your pup with become easier. We promise! It is also important to remember that dogs learn at different paces, and one dog may respond to one cue that another dog may not. So, when you make some progress, any progress, celebrate it! And before you know it, you and your dog will be walking next to each other, enjoying each other’s company, and marveling at just how far you’ve both come.

The Fastest Way to Leash Train a Dog? Consistency & Patience

Okay, so you are probably thinking: "What is the shortcut here? How can I get my dog walking on a leash ASAP?" Well, you may have saw this answer coming from us, but unfortunately there is no magic bullet.

While we wish magic wands worked for dog training, the real "fastest" way combines good ol’ consistency and patience. Yep, it's not flashy, but it works!

If you can commit to regular times to do your training with your dog, keeping them short, concise (and effective), aand full of reinforcements, your dog will start picking up what you're putting down way faster than if you're all over the place with commands and expectations. Stick to the plan, Stan! Keep your cool even when progress seems slow, and you'll be amazed at how quickly your furry friend gets the hang of it.

The real trick? Celebrate the wins, no matter how small. Did your pup not pull on the leash for five whole seconds? That's a win! Treats and praise all around. Keep your energy upbeat and your approach consistent, and you'll find that this "fast" method isn't just effective — it's also building a stronger bond between you and your dog. Happy training!

Navigating the Leash Jungle: What’s the Best Leash for Dog Training?

We hear this question a lot! And rightfully so....with the thousands of leashes on the market now, choosing the right one for your pup can seem daunting, but here’s some insight and tips to hopefully make your decision making a bit easier:

For basic training, including walking for beginner dog owners (and pups) a standard flat leash is probably your best bet. Why, you ask? It’s reliable, straightforward, and gives you enough control without overwhelming your dog. These leashes are typically made of nylon or leather, offering durability and comfort for both of you during those training sessions.

If you have a dog that is a pull-er or is larger, or heavier, and likes to throw his or her weight around, then a no-pull harness coupled with a standard leash can be an option absolutely worth considering. Why? A no-pull harness can help manage pulling while keeping your dog comfortable and injury-free. Remember, while retractable leashes might seem convenient for giving your dog freedom, they’re not the best for training purposes. They can make consistent commands and corrections tricky, which could slow down your progress.

Above all, the best leash is one that keeps you and your pup safe and happy on your learning adventures together. Keep it simple, stay patient, and you’ll find the leash that works best for your training goals. Happy training!


1) Potter K, Rajala C, Chase CJ, LeBlanc R. Testing Leash Walking Training as a Physical Activity Intervention for Older Adult Dog Owners: A Feasibility Study. Geriatrics (Basel). 2022 Oct 24;7(6):120. doi: 10.3390/geriatrics7060120. PMID: 36412609; PMCID: PMC9680302.

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