Tackling Leash Training: Tips for Polite and Enjoyable Walks

Key Points

Walking has a multitude of health benefits for both you and your dog, everything from lowering your cancer risk and boosting immune function to relieving insomnia and supporting a longer life. Walking your dog is one of life's simple joys and a mainstay for a long and healthy life together.

Going for their daily walk is a highlight of your pup's day and one of the best enrichment activities you can do with your dog. Follow these simple and enjoyable leash training tips to teach your dog polite walking behavior so you can both benefit from a lifetime of walking together.

Choose the Right Equipment

Selecting the right gear for your individual dog's needs and learning leash training tips sets them up for success. A comfortably fitted harness is an excellent idea for especially tiny dogs, senior dogs over the age of about seven years, or any dog with a history of back, neck, or other musculoskeletal physical challenges.

A front clip harness, such as the easy walk harness, helps prevent pulling and makes walking more comfortable for both you and your dog.

Beagle dog on leash

If a collar is the better option for you, select a martingale-style collar that immediately releases pressure on your dog's neck when they're not pulling and prevents your dog from slipping out of their collar. Martingale collars are a good choice for dogs with slender necks, like greyhounds or whippets, and work well for any breed of dog to prevent putting too much pressure on the throat.

A combination martingale collar and lead is a top choice of many dog trainers. The right equipment for your dog always includes wearing an identification tag with your contact information clearly visible.

Start in a Distraction-Free Environment

Minimize distractions by beginning indoors or in a quiet area to keep your dog focused on learning. Be sure your dog has let off steam ahead of time by having a fun session of play or a run around your home or yard, so your dog will be ready to begin leash training focused and relaxed.

Always keep your training sessions short, only a few seconds at a time between breaks. Remember, your dog experiences the environment with their nose, so it's important to allow your dog to investigate with lots of sniffing breaks while out for a walk.

Walking Jack Russell Terrier

Even in a distraction-free environment, your dog needs frequent chances to reset their focus by allowing lots of sniff rests.

Practice the Stop-and-Go Technique

Once your dog has blown off steam with a good romp or play session, begin by attaching your dog's leash to go for a walk. If your dog pulls or puts pressure on the leash, simply stop, stand still, and do nothing. Wait as long as it takes for your dog to get bored and sit down.

At first, this may seem like a very long time, but be patient; your dog will eventually sit. As soon as your dog sits, immediately and cheerfully say, "Let's go!" as you energetically move forward to encourage your dog to continue the walk. If your pup leaps forward and pulls, be patient, stop, and wait for your pup to sit again.

Any time your dog puts pressure on the leash, play the stop-and-go game by stopping, patiently waiting for your pup to sit, then continuing the walk with a cheerful "Let's go!" Avoid telling your dog to sit; instead, wait for your pup to sit using their own muscles and mind.

Leash walk with dog

The stop-and-go technique takes patience at first but is well worth it for a lifetime of enjoyable walks with your pooch. Put in the work now to reap the benefits later on.

Be Consistent

Maintain consistency in your expectations and rewards to help your dog understand what behavior you desire during leash walking. Your dog will repeat the reinforced behaviors, so always rewarding the behaviors you desire ensures success.

Calming Dog Ad

Using the stop-and-go technique takes time at first, but with each repetition, your pup learns polite walking behavior with the reward of continuing the walk.

Use Turns and Changes of Direction

Change direction and turn frequently to keep the walk fun and exciting for your pup. Make a game of doing loops, turning about-face quickly, figure eights, or zig zags. If the neighbors think you're crazy, you're doing it right!

The more frequent and unexpected the direction changes, the more fun the game of walking is for your dog. Remember to consistently reinforce direction changes with cheerful praise. Clapping and laughing are engaging for most dogs and fun for you as well.

Walking dog on leash

Teach the Heel Cue

The heel command is a fun trick to have in your dog's repertoire.

To learn precise heeling, first teach the loose leash walking game. Begin by having your dog's favorite tasty snack divided into tiny bites they can quickly consume. Randomly reward your dog for walking by your side with a loose leash. Gradually progress to rewarding your dog for being directly by your side in the heel zone.

Don't worry if your dog forges ahead or lags behind at this stage. Simply keep walking and popping a tidbit to your pup every time they get into heel position on their own, which they'll quickly continue to do to get the reinforcement of praise and a tasty treat.

Soon your dog should purposely engage you by getting into heel position in anticipation of a tasty tidbit. Always reward with praise and play breaks, and you'll eventually be able to fade the food reward while they heel. Use the heel command judiciously. The expectation is not to heel militantly by your side for long stretches at a time.

Walking is a fun and relaxing experience for both of you and while heeling can come in handy for certain situations, you must reserve it for short periods of time. It's important to give frequent sniff breaks to allow your dog to reset and enjoy their surroundings.

Be Patient and Persistent

Loose leash walking takes time and requires repetition, so remain patient and persistent when helping your dog develop good leash walking habits.

Person walking their dog on leash

Positive reinforcement is the best way to teach your dog appropriate walking behavior, and with patience and persistence, your dog will eventually ask you to heel at its side by getting into the heeling zone.

Use Positive Reinforcement

A note on positive reinforcement: it's essential to consistently reinforce with verbal praise and play to reward your dog. Your dog finds value in behavior that gets rewarded and will continue to repeat good behavior that is reinforced.

You will not always have to provide food rewards, but to get started it's a great idea to have tasty tidbits your dog finds rewarding.

A bait pouch or inexpensive contractor's apron is great for conveniently having dog treats on hand. Reward your pup with praise or treats for maintaining a loose leash, encouraging good behavior, and creating a positive association with leash walking.

The wonderful thing about teaching polite walking behavior is that your dog quickly gains this default setting because continuing along your walk together is reinforcing.

Couple with leashed dog

Rewards and Praise

Remember that since dogs use their noses to evaluate, experience, and enjoy their world, it's vital to allow them to sniff frequently while out for a walk. In between any training repetitions, your pup will reset and recharge with rewards of praise and allowing your dog to sniff and appreciate their surroundings.

Consistency, patience, and persistence are the best way to teach polite walking behavior, together with lots of praise and enthusiasm from you.

Check out Breed Expert for more tips on training your dog for an enjoyable life together.

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