Congratulations! A new dog has joined your family, and you want to get things off to a great start. Whether your furry family member is a puppy or an untrained older dog, you might be wondering about all the training your dog needs to be healthy, happy, and a good canine citizen. One of the biggest things you can do to ensure your dog’s well-being is leash training.
Why is Leash Training So Important?
Health. Just like people, dogs need to stay in shape. Well-exercised dogs are healthier and calmer. They’re less likely to engage in negative behaviors like excessive chewing or barking. Well-controlled walks will be something both you and your pet can benefit from.
Safety. If your dog is off-leash or poorly controlled on the leash, mishaps, like being hit by a car or injuring another person or animal, can happen, opening you up to a variety of safety and even legal risks. Make sure you know the dog leash laws for your city, which may include rules such as the maximum leash length you must use.
Security. Dogs are pack animals, and they thrive on routine. If you establish yourself as their leader, and they learn to follow you, they know what to expect and feel secure.
These benefits are well worth the time you invest in leash training.
How to Leash Train Your Dog
1. Choose the right leash.
Depending on your preference, leashes come in a variety of materials, such as fabric, leather, and even waterproof rubber for rainy day walks. Your dog’s size is the most important factor—larger dogs need a thicker, heavier leash for good control and durability, while a little dog will feel comfortable with a smaller, more lightweight leash. Avoid retractable leashes—while they may seem convenient, they aren’t recommended by the American Kennel Club. They’re harder to control and can lock up at the worst moments.
2. Use rewards and cue sounds.
Eye contact is key to successful leash walking. Rewards will motivate your dog to look at you and then learn to cooperate on the leash. (Any favorite treat that’s easy to carry with you will do. Some trainers suggest saving special treats, such as cheese, for learning new skills.) Even before you take your dog for a walk, practice getting his attention with treats as a reward.
Choose a cue sound to get your dog to look at you. You can use a clicker device, make a clicking sound with your tongue, or say a word like “yes.” Your pup will learn that as soon as he looks toward you, a treat is coming.
3. Start small.
Before you even take Rover outside on the leash, get him used to having it on indoors. (The leash also enables you to pull your puppy gently toward you as you practice the all-important “come” command.) Then you can go outside in front of your home and walk back and forth—as your dog progresses in training, you can enjoy longer walks.
At first, try to walk at times and places where there are no distractions. Later you can add in distractions, such as other dogs, to increase your pet’s ability to stay focused.
4. Be consistent. Follow these steps for leash training success:
Have the dog walking on the same side of you each time, holding some treats in the hand on that side. Hold the leash in your opposite hand.
Talk to your pup as you walk, offering a treat at first for each step taken with you. Soon you can begin decreasing the frequency of rewards as your dog gets into the habit of walking in step.
Start with a five-minute walk three times a day, working up to 30-45 minutes at a time.
5. Don’t let your dog pull you!
Never follow a dog who’s pulling. Stop and wait until the leash goes slack, then allow her to move forward. After a few steps keeping the leash slack, reward your dog with a treat.
6. Take advantage of helpful resources.
Apps. Lots of apps are available to help guide you in training your dog. One well-rated app is Dogo, which offers dozens of training sessions, advice from trainers, a built-in clicker, and reminders to keep you and your pup on track with your training.
Videos. Learning is easier when you watch experts show you. You’ll find many training videos online to help you with leash training. Make sure to look for authoritative sources, such as the American Kennel Club, for reliable advice.
Training classes. Even if you’re practicing diligently at home, being in a group class offers in-person help to make sure you’re doing everything right and gives you experience dealing with distractions for your dog. Your dog will enjoy meeting some friends, too! Check that the instructor is a fully certified trainer. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend one.
7. Be prepared if you run or bike with your dog.
Once your dog is fully leash trained, she can get even more of a workout running or biking with you. Some things to get before you go:
- A checkup with the vet to make sure your dog’s in good shape and not too old or young for the high-impact exercise.
- A leash that’s made for your activity. For running or jogging: hands-free leashes that go around your waist (best if your dog already has experience running with you). For biking: a special bicycle leash that keeps your dog safely away from the wheels.
- A harness, which is safer for your dog than a neck collar.
- Water bottles for both of you.
Even once your dog is walking on a leash like a champion, you can’t always be there for those all-important outings, of course. Fortunately, your dog doesn’t have to lie around waiting for you to get home. You can sign up with a professional dog walker to ensure that your pup gets plenty of exercise and stimulation every day. Then you’ll be ready to enjoy a healthier and happier life together!