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How to Leash Train a Dog in 5 Simple Vet-Approved Steps

Written by: Chantelle Fowler

Last Updated on March 21, 2024 by Dogster Team

Young leashed Vizsla dog with a woman standing on grass outdoors

How to Leash Train a Dog in 5 Simple Vet-Approved Steps


Dr. Karyn Kanowski Photo


Dr. Karyn Kanowski

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dogs don’t instinctively know how to walk on a leash, despite how natural the dog owners in your neighborhood might make it look. They need to be trained to walk on a leash, not only for their own safety, but for yours and the people and animals around you, too. If you have never owned a dog before and aren’t sure where to start with leash training, we can help.

Read on to find five steps to make training a breeze, as well as a helpful troubleshooting guide if your pup likes to make things challenging.

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Before You Start

Before you start leash training your dog, there are some things you need to get and consider.

Invest in the right equipment

You will need:

Keep training sessions short

Man holding the leash of a Sarplaninac dog
Image Credit: Maximilian100, Shutterstock

The best training sessions are around 10 to 15 minutes, though you may want to keep them shorter if your dog is still a puppy; the younger the dog, the shorter the attention span. Forcing them to participate in training sessions that go on even a minute too long is a surefire way for your pup to create negative associations with their harness. You can work your way up to longer sessions once you’ve moved to outdoor walks, but initially, keep the training short and sweet.

Be realistic with your goal setting

Though it might seem as if leash walking is a natural activity for dogs, you must remember that it isn’t. This isn’t a skill most dogs learn overnight, so set realistic goals for leash training to keep you and your pup motivated.

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The 5 Steps for Leash Training Your Dog

1. Introduce the leash and harness indoors.

Before you take your dog outside with their new leash and harness, you need to get them used to the idea of wearing them. Let them wear the harness/collar inside the house and play with them while they wear it. Be sure to have lots of yummy, high-value treats for them to help them associate the harness with rewards. The goal is to have your dog equate their harness and leash with fun and food.

a Corgi dog on a leash with owner in a cafe
Image Credit: Masarik, Shutterstock

2. Teach a cue or marker.

A cue or marker is a sound or signal that pinpoints the exact moment your pup did something that earned them a reinforcer (treat). Clickers are great training tools for this purpose, but if you don’t have access to one, you can simply use the word “yes” or make a clicking sound with your tongue. Whatever cue or marker you decide to use, the method is the same. The key is creating the sound or using the clicker the exact moment your dog performs the desired behavior.

Begin in a quiet and distraction-free room with your pup on a leash with their harness or collar. Click your clicker or make the sound and the moment your pet turns to look at you, reward them with a treat. Once your dog learns that a reward always follows a click or sound, they will be pretty eager to do whatever they need to to earn more treats.

3. Teach them to come to you.

Next, move to a different area of the room and continue making the click sound. After several repetitions, you’ll notice your dog is looking at you and also coming to you to receive their treat. While they are walking over to you with their leash and collar or harness on, take a few steps backward and offer a reward when they reach you. Continue this exercise until your dog comes to you and walks with you when they hear the cue or marker.

It is important to continue indoor training sessions at this point.

Image Credit: yurakrasil, Shutterstock

4. Practice walking outside.

Once your dog has learned their cues and how to come to you when they hear the cue, you can test their skills outside. You must remain focused and patient during this step as there are many new distractions for your pet outdoors. Try to choose somewhere with as few new sights and smells as possible, such as your backyard. Keep the training sessions short to ensure your pup is engaged.

With your pup next to you on their leash, take a few steps, stop, and ask for their attention. Mark and reinforce by offering a treat every few steps while you’re in motion. Practice stopping, waiting for their attention, and then reinforcing. Do not rush this step.

5. Slowly increase distractions and distance.

As your pup masters step four, you can slowly begin increasing how far and long your walks are. Move your practice sessions from the backyard to your front yard and then down the street. Start by walking the distance of a house or two, gradually increasing the distance as your pup perfects their form.

If you notice your pup getting distracted, make the cue sound and move several steps away from them. When they follow you, reward them with a treat.

bluetick coonhound dog on leash outdoor
Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock

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Leash Training Troubleshooting

Leash training doesn’t always go off without a hitch. Here are some of the most common problems dog owners find themselves facing when teaching their pups to walk on a leash and how to fix them.

Leash pulling

If your dog tries pulling you in another direction, stop walking immediately. Call them over, and when they come, offer plenty of praise.

Pulling is sometimes a sign that your dog needs more exercise, so try playing with them before your next walk to see if that reduces how hard they pull.

You may need to get a front-hook harness or head collar to address leash pulling.

Do not yank them back toward you when they are trying to pull away, and never use a collar designed to inflict pain to stop your dog from pulling (e.g., electronic or choke collars).

Chasing or lunging

If your dog is inclined to lunge at or chase things they see on their walks, you need to learn to be proactive. Pay close attention to your surroundings, and if you notice something you know will trigger your pup (e.g., a squirrel or skateboarder), try to redirect their attention with a treat before they have a chance to lunge. You can also try increasing how much space is between your pup and the trigger.

This type of behavior is very common in herding breeds like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, but any dog can exhibit these behaviors. Educating yourself on your dog’s prey drive can be helpful in knowing your dog’s risk and addressing such issues.

Male and female American Bully XL puppy dogs on leashes outdoors
Image Credit: pauli15c, Shutterstock

Barking excessively

Sometimes, excessive barking may be the result of a lack of exercise and mental stimulation. Before your next walk, try spending some time playing with your pup or training them with new commands to see if that cuts back on their vocalizations.

If your dog spots something or someone that sets off their barking, quickly turn in the opposite direction, ask them to sit, and give a reward when they are quiet. This is something you will likely have to do many times before you see success, so be persistent.

Biting the leash

You may automatically respond to your dog biting or playing with their leash by trying to pull it away from them but resist the urge. By pulling it from them, you’ve engaged them in a game of tug-of-war. Instead, try moving the leash toward your dog so the tension they are creating is released. This removes that satisfying tugging feeling and may make them less likely to bite it again.

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Final Thoughts

Leash training can be a long and patience-testing task, but it’ll be so worth it for both you and your pup in the end. Training your dog to use a leash appropriately opens up an entirely new world of possibilities for them, so stick with it, even when it feels impossible. It’ll be worth all the time and effort when you and your pet can explore the world together safely.

Featured Image Credit: Laszlo66, Shutterstock

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