When you got your dog, you had visions of the two of you walking together, in perfect harmony. You may have picked out a sporty collar and matching leash as the perfect ensemble to make your dream a reality. It can be a bitter disappointment when your dog has other ideas.
Dogs aren’t born knowing how to walk on leash. From a dog’s perspective, it’s pretty restrictive. Why can’t he go where he wants? His nose is calling him to explore. You have two legs and he (usually) has four, which means you’re rather slow in comparison. Why can’t you just keep up?
Introducing a dog to a leash can be frustrating. You see it as a tool to control where your dog goes, keep him safe, and comply with local leash laws. He sees it as an annoying chew toy. Before you can learn how to walk together as a team, you need to get your dog used to wearing a leash.
Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, the process is the same. The main difference is that with an adult, you may need more patience. For example, if you adopt an adult dog who has never been leash trained, he has been used to going whichever way he wants for a long time. So the adjustment may be a little slower.
What You’ll Need
First, a collar. A flat quick-snap or buckle collar will do nicely. You should be able to just get two flat fingers between the collar and your dog’s neck. Any looser and he could easily slip out of it.
For leashes, stick to a regular six-foot leash. Avoid retractable leashes. If you drop a retractable leash, it chases the dog and can terrify him. When a retractable leash zips at high speed, it can give the handler some nasty friction burns. Also, because a retractable leash constantly takes up slack, your dog learns that tension in the leash is normal. But once your dog is accustomed to a leash, you will want to teach him that a loose leash is best.
If you have a small dog, make sure the clasp of the leash is proportionately small. I’ve seen some huge, metal clasps on tiny leashes that will weigh down your little dog’s head like an anchor.
Lastly, get a handful of delicious treats.
Training Your Dog
Put the collar on your dog and attach the leash. Immediately give him a treat. Let him drag the leash around the house while you supervise him. Don’t hold it yet, just let him get used to the weight of it. Give him random treats and lots of praise. Take the leash off him and ignore him completely for about 20 seconds.
Repeat this sequence – lots of treats and attention when wearing the leash and ignoring him for 20 seconds when the leash is off – a couple of times. You’ll find that he starts to look forward to wearing the leash.
At this point, you’re ready to pick up the leash. Don’t yank your dog, but don’t let him drag you all over the place, either. Calmly walk around your house, giving him treats and attention, for a couple of minutes. Take the leash off and ignore him for 20 seconds. Repeat. If he freaks out and acts like a fish on the line, just be still and quiet. As soon as he’s calm, treat and praise.
When your dog is wearing the leash, engage him. Encourage him to play with his toys. Make it fun. After a few sessions he’ll learn the leash is his line to fun adventures.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.