How to leash train a dog

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Veterinarian reviewed by Dr. Nelva J. Bryant, DVM, MPH - Author: Steph Coelho

Last Updated: March 8, 2023

There are no leashes in the wild. And while some dog owners would love to see all dogs roam free, off-leash, keeping your dog leashed while going for a walk helps keep your furry friend safe. Good leash manners means hours of exercise, enrichment, and bonding time for you both.

So how do you leash train a dog? The key is to start early.

How to leash train a dog

As a pet parent, you can start leash training as soon as your new puppy comes home. You’ll be happy you started training early on. Calm dog walks on a leash will benefit your dog for years to come.

Successful leash training requires the right equipment. The Animal Humane Society recommends using:

  • A collar or harness
  • A 4 or 6-foot leash
  • A handful of bite-sized treats

The proper leash and collar or harness combo are crucial for adequate control, safety, and your dog’s comfort.

Remember that your first few dog walk sessions may not be perfect, especially when training a puppy. The dog might be nervous and even scared of the leash and harness. It may be helpful to practice indoors before heading outside into the big scary world.

When walking with your pup, avoid scolding them when they lunge or become distracted. Instead, try redirecting their attention to you and rewarding them with praise and a dog treat.

Here are three popular dog leash training techniques to consider.


This technique involves responding to “major” errors on your dog’s part, like lunging or pulling, by turning in the opposite direction to redirect them. The owner then responds to minor errors, like veering off to the side, by gently tugging on the leash. Generally, the goal is to control the dog on a loose leash.

According to a small study, this technique is the most effective of the three mentioned here.

Make Like a Tree

With this technique, the goal is to avoid reacting to your dog’s pulling by pulling back on the leash.

If your pooch is yanking on the leash for whatever reason — it spotted a squirrel, maybe — you may be tempted to yank back. Don’t do this. Instead, plant yourself firmly in place, stop walking, and praise your dog and/or provide a treat when they return to you.

Penalty Yard

This technique involves setting a goal, such as a treat or a toy, and when your dog pulls to get closer, gently pull back on the leash, moving them farther away from the reward. This is intended to show them that pulling won’t get them closer to what they want. Again, the goal is to walk calmly on a loose leash.

5 training tips for leash training your dog

Here are a few quick tips on how to leash train your dog:

  • Be one step ahead at all times. Spot potential issues before your dog. Keep an eye out for other dogs or anything that might set your dog off, and arm yourself with a treat so you can distract before your dog gets any wiser.
  • Short and sweet, at first. When starting leash training, avoid making sessions too long, which may end up frustrating you both. Your dog doesn’t have an infinite attention span.
  • Practice makes perfect. Continual training will help your pup remember training basics. The more you take your dog out for daily walk training, the more successful outings you’ll have. The first time you stop walking, your dog may not understand what you want them to do. Good behavior takes time. Practice walking together, and eventually, they’ll get the hint.
  • Be patient. Your dog won’t become a perfect leash walker overnight. Some dogs are also better at following commands and behaving on a leash than others. Different techniques may work better for different dogs. But positive reinforcement is crucial.
  • Use a harness. If your dog pulls a lot, consider using a harness or head halter instead of a collar to prevent hurting your dog.

Keeping your dog from pulling on the leash

Some dogs are what experts call leash reactive. This means that when they see other dogs, they tend to pull very hard, bark, and sometimes lunge. This bad habit can turn easy breezy walks into a nightmare.

Dogs may be leash reactive because they are afraid of or upset by the sight of other pets. Or they may get overly excited when they spot potential play pals.

Basic training

Teaching basic commands like sit, stay, and heel can help make going for a walk more enjoyable. If you’re dealing with an adult dog or older dog who may be excitable or leash reactive, heading back to training classes or getting the help of a dog trainer may be beneficial. A professional trainer can help you in troubleshooting areas where you may be lacking.

If your pup listens to and understands commands, you’re more likely to have a smoother time with dog training.

Distracting from other dogs

If your dog loses it whenever they see another dog, consider using the following distraction techniques to prevent chaos:

  • Pick up your dog, if possible, and direct its attention elsewhere.
  • Turn right around or go in another direction.
  • Use treats to redirect your dog’s attention.

Bite-sized treats are also useful for training dogs who aren’t reactive but need a bit of an incentive to follow commands while on a leash.

Schedule your walks carefully

Not everyone will have success with eliminating leash reactivity. Additionally, you may not have time for lengthy training sessions but still want to give Fido some valuable exercise. If other dogs are a problem, consider going for walks at non-busy times, like late at night.


How long does it take for a dog to be leash trained?

Puppies may need at least a month or two to learn the basics, including leash training. But ultimately, it depends on the individual dog. Consistency is key.

How do you stop a dog pulling when it sees another dog?

That depends on why it’s pulling. If the issue is fear-based aggression, socialization may be necessary. If your dog is just really excited to see other dogs, it may help to practice redirecting their attention when you spot a dog up ahead — or turning around altogether.

What kind of leash is best for a dog that pulls?

A dog harness and leash system is a good choice for dogs that tend to pull. Because they go around the dog’s torso and not the neck, they won’t hurt your pup’s neck should they decide to yank on the leash.