- Walking on a leash is a learned behavior that must be taught — Contrary to popular belief, puppies don’t just instinctively know how to walk beside their owner.
- Don’t yank, drag, or pull if your dog misbehaves — Successful training means teaching your pup to walk calmly by your side within the length of their leash.
- All dogs should know how to walk on a leash — Leash training helps strengthen the bond between a new puppy and their owner and boost the overall confidence of both.
Many people think walking on a leash is second nature to dogs. But just like any other trick, this skill needs to be taught. The good news is that dogs of all ages can be leash trained — it just might take a little longer to undo an older dog’s poor leash manners. It requires some time and patience on the owner’s end, but you’ll find the effort is well worth it when you can comfortably explore the outside world with your best friend by your side.
Read on to learn what else you need to know about leash training a dog.
👏 These vet-approved tricks are useful for dogs of all ages—whether they’re entering puppyhood or savoring their senior years.
Leash training essentials
Before you start to leash train your pup, gather these essentials. Using the right equipment (and, of course, the right attitude!) will help your dog get more comfortable learning a new skill and even speed up the learning process.
Leash. Before you hit the dog walk, the first thing you’ll need is a good dog leash. We recommend buying a 6-foot-long leash, made of nylon or leather—or something else that’s sturdy but comfortable in your hand.
⚠️ Avoid retractable leashes for dogs just beginning the leash training process, as they can easily get tangled up in it and become confused.
Collar/harness. Most dog owners buy their puppies a dog collar right when they get them. However, we advise against attaching a leash to your dog’s collar to avoid unnecessary roughness on their neck. A well-fitting harness is a gentler, better option, especially for puppies and smaller dogs.
🐕 If your dog struggles with leash pulling, consider a front-attach harness. This prevents them from pulling with their full force and makes your job as a dog walker a lot easier.
Treats. High-quality dog treats are one of the best rewards a dog can get for correctly obeying a command. Treats are great indoors for making dogs more comfortable with their leashes and outside to incentivize against unwanted behaviors.
Barriers. Crates, pet pens, and playpens can discourage unwanted behaviors while leash-training your dog. Some owners like using barriers to give their puppies limited free space when they first start using a leash.
Poop bags and holders. Leash training or not, never take your dog on a walk without these.
Now that you know what you need to tackle the adventures and challenges that that leash training can bring, it’s time to check out our vet-approved step-by-step guide to stress-free dog walking. (We promise—it IS possible!)
How to teach a puppy to walk on a leash, step by step
Keep training sessions between 10 and 15 minutes long when you start leash training your dog, as most dogs have a relatively short attention span. If you’re leash training a new or young puppy, keep training sessions even shorter. Remember to take things slow and give your pooch plenty of positive reinforcement through praise, play, and treats.
1. Introduce the puppy to the harness or leash
Regardless of age, you should always start the training process by letting your dog wear their leash and harness inside the house before taking them outside. Start with short periods and gradually increase each session’s duration as they become more comfortable. Play with them and give treats during these sessions to teach your dog to associate leash time with their two favorite things – food and fun!
2. Teach them a marker
Once your dog seems comfortable wearing their harness, try teaching them a positive association in the form of a sound cue (either verbal or via clicker), or a hand signal that lets them know they’ve successfully performed the desired behavior and earned a reward in the form of a treat.
Some other examples of the cue technique include:
- A positive or happy verbal cue – A “good walk!” or something similar can be enough to let your pet know they’re on the right track.
- A physical cue – A hand signal (like a thumbs up) accompanied by smiling eye contact can be enough to work, too.
- A classic treat bag – Treats are always a great way to get your dog’s attention and can be helpful to you as you leash train. Be sure to award them at the moment they do well so your dog can build the association.
3. Make them come to you
At this point, you can begin teaching your puppy to come to you while they’re wearing their harness. This step is simple. All you have to do is take a few steps back as they approach you, and reward them with a treat when they make it to you—or the positive cue of your choice.
You can build this habit of reliable recall over time, and it will benefit both you and your pup throughout adulthood. Continue this until they automatically walk a few paces with you upon hearing or seeing your cue.
4. Practice inside
Once your puppy understands how to come to you, you can attach the leash to their harness and practice walking them a few steps inside the house. Just feeling or seeing a leash can be challenging for a dog, so remember to go slow and keep giving them positive reinforcement.
⚠️ Puppies commonly pull away when first introduced to the leash, but don’t stop them. Let them drag the lead around the room until they seem comfortable with the feeling of a “J-shaped” loose leash.
5. Take it outside
Once you’re happy with your dog’s progress inside the house, you can gradually begin to take your leash training sessions outside. This is another challenging hurdle, as puppies will often feel overwhelmed with all the sights, sounds, and smells of the outside world. Plan accordingly and choose an enclosed or fenced-in space where your pet will remain as safe as possible.
6. Increase distance over time
Don’t try to go long distances with your pet immediately. It’s best to be patient and limit your walks to a few minutes at first. If you notice your dog getting distracted and it seems like they’re about to pull or lunge, make your cue noise and take a few steps back. Over time, you can continue to walk them progressively farther from the house as they get used to their new surroundings.
Common struggles with leash training
Every dog is bound to run into the occasional leash training hiccup, particularly when they’re exploring new areas for the first time or exposed to new people and pets. Owners need to recognize any problem behaviors at the earliest stage, to give them the best chance to redirect or retrain their pups. Common canine leash behaviors include:
Pulling and lunging
Pulling is the most common leash-training problem among dogs. Distractions like squirrels and other dogs may excite a dog and cause them to pull or lunge in its direction. When this happens, the best advice is to plant your feet firmly on the ground, standing still or refusing to move until they come back to your side. Do not yank or pull on the leash to bring them back.
If the distraction is especially intense, try gently turning them around and walking in the opposite direction. It also helps to reward your pup with a treat each time they come back to you.
🐶 Certain dog breeds, like greyhounds, English foxhounds, and boxers, have high prey drive.[trusted url=”https://www.akc.org/” title=”American Kennel Club (AKC)” description=”Registry of purebred dog pedigrees.”. This means that they’ll probably be especially prone to lunging, especially at other small animals—dogs or not.
If your puppy is teething during leash training, you may notice them biting their leash. The most effective way to stop this is to redirect their attention from the leash to a treat or chew toy. Do not pull on the leash if your dog is biting on it — this makes it seem like you’re playing a game with them and reinforces the unwanted behavior.
👉 This chomping and biting can wear on your dog’s gums. Now’s a great time to start brushing their teeth if you haven’t already, as you’ll be able to keep an eye out for any injuries.
Barking and acting aggressively
Some dogs are known to bark at other dogs while on walks, especially dogs that don’t get enough mental and physical stimulation for their age and breed. Leash-aggressive dogs aren’t necessarily bad or mean — they’re most likely just scared of unfamiliar surroundings.
If giving your dog more mental and physical exercise doesn’t calm them down, do your best to create distance between them and what they’re barking at. You can also offer treats before they bark to condition them to turn their attention to you whenever they spot another person or dog.
Exercise needs are often breed-dependent. We recommend consulting your vet to get targeted advice to meet your dog’s specific needs.
The benefits of leash training
Whether you’re walking through the park or dining at a dog-friendly restaurant, there are several situations where you might find yourself having to leash up your dog. The biggest benefit of leash training is safety. A leash-trained dog is safer from potentially fatal dangers like oncoming traffic and unwanted altercations with other dogs and people.
Since the owners of properly leash-trained dogs don’t have to worry about unwanted pulling or biting, they can take them to more public places like restaurants, dog parks, or beaches more often. That translates to more mental and physical stimulation and an overall happier pup.
Why learn how to leash train a dog?
On the other hand, puppies untrained to walk on a leash may become anxious when taken for walks — they’re unacclimated to new environments, noises, people, and other pets. They can also become overly excited on walks, leading to unwanted pulling and aggression, which makes them even more difficult to control.
When should I start leash training?
Most puppies can begin leash training as soon as you bring them home. Ideally, they’ll stay with their mother for the first 8 to 12 weeks of life, but some dogs can handle the basic principles of leash training even earlier. The earlier you begin, the more effective your training will be.
Remember to be extra patient with young puppies since they haven’t developed the focus or self-control necessary for loose-leash walking.
📚 Turns out that you CAN teach old dogs new tricks! Dogs can master leash training at any age. Feel free to mix up your training incentives and tactics to get the most engaging and helpful experience for your pet.
Tips and tricks for leash training success
Leash training is no walk in the park (literally and figuratively) — not at first at least. Refrain from punishing your dog with negative training methods when they make mistakes, and use these tips to help see them through to the end of their training:
- Patience is key. Being too harsh with your dog will only make them more anxious about leash training.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Don’t forget to always reward pups with plenty of praise to create a positive association with the leash.
- If one method isn’t working, try another. What works for one dog may not work at all for other dogs. Test the training methods outlined above and continue using the ones to which your dog best responds.
- Expect progress and regression as your pup learns. Some dogs make huge progress in the first few months of leash training but suddenly seem to regress or act out as they get older. Chances are your dog is doing the best they can with the training, but you should still rule out underlying issues.
Leash training a dog of any age can feel overwhelming—but it can be done successfully (quickly!) If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend stocking up on your leash training essentials. Then, you can follow our step-by-step, vet-approved guide to leash training.
As you go through this process, remember to be patient and calm. Your pet looks to you for direction—both on and off the leash. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your vet if you get stuck—and be sure to check out our other dog guides if you need a little extra help.
Frequently asked questions
What should I do when my puppy pulls on the leash?
Stay as still as possible when your dog pulls the leash. Plant your feet, stay very still, and do not move until your dog returns to your side. Avoid yanking or pulling the leash to get them to come back, as this can be a sign of aggression toward your dog. Plus, it’s not very effective.
Why does my puppy refuse to walk on a leash?
There are several reasons why a puppy might resist walking on a leash. Their collar or harness could be physically uncomfortable for them. Or, if they’re new to leash training, they may just be uncomfortable with the outside world. Dogs may also resist walking when they see something that scares them, including another dog.
Is a harness or collar better for puppies?
Regardless of your dog’s age, a harness is always the best choice for leash training. Attaching the leash directly to their collar causes unnecessary strain on their neck and may cause them to resist training sessions.
Is it OK to tug on my puppy’s leash?
It’s never okay to pull on your dog’s leash. Tugging, pulling, or dragging a puppy by the leash can cause injury to its neck, dislocate its knees and elbows (which are still developing), and form a negative association with you, leash training, and going on walks in general. It’s not good to do this with older dogs either, as it can cause a negative association that can last through leash training.
In what order should I teach my puppy commands?
Puppies can learn basic commands at home in conjunction with their leash training sessions. Most trainers suggest teaching your dog to heel, sit, stay, and come, in that order.