May 15, 2020 4 min read

While some owners like to train their dogs to simply walk alongside them whenever they go outside, it is important for all owners to be able to walk their dogs on leashes when necessary.

Even the most well-trained pup can become frightened with loud sounds and fast traffic or can get too excited when seeing other animals. If you’re not in control of your dog during these scenarios, you could lose him!

There are also instances where he may need to be exclusively leash-walked for a short period of time, such as following major surgery or while undergoing treatment for heartwormdisease.

For these and other reasons, leash training is important for all dogs. But what if your dog has never had to use a leash? What if he becomes anxious and tries to chew on it? Training is necessary, but where do you start?  

Introducing the harness/leash

Most dog owners are already somewhat familiar with dog leashes, a long rope-like cord that attaches to your dog via a collar around his neck or a harness around his torso. Collars and harnesses should fit snugly, leaving enough space underneath for you to be able to slip two fingers under them. 

Leashes should be sturdy and no more than six or seven feet long so that you can be in control of your pup at all times. Retractable leashes are dangerous and have been known to cause serious injury to both pet and owner!

When introducing leashes and harnesses or collars, it is best to first practice at home and for no more than a few minutes. Young puppies are the easiest to train, and you can start training them around three to six months of age. 

Start by keeping the leash nearby and let your pup begin sniffing it. Use treats for positive reinforcement by giving him a bite if he appears calm in the presence of the leash. Clicker training can guide easily distracted puppies by holding their attention and getting them to focus.

Once your pup is comfortable around the leash, use a similar acclimating approach when it comes to having him wear it. Remember to be patient because some dogs can get a little nervous around novel items. Once he is used to wearing it, teach him to come to you as this will make it easier when walking him outdoors. You never know when there is something exciting or distracting him, and having him under control is critical in dangerous situations.


Initial practice should be kept indoors so that your pup is in a familiar environment and is less likely to be distracted by various sights and sounds. Remember to use treats and plenty of praise when your dog is calm and when he is walking (not pulling) or when he comes to you when you call him. If he frequently pulls on his collar or harness, make sure to adjust the size so that he can’t accidentally slip out of it!

Once your dog is comfortable with his leash, you can move outside. If you have a fenced-in yard, this is a great place to get started. Keep the initial outdoor walks very short because many dogs can be easily distracted with new smells and sights. Reward your pup with a treat every few steps where he is calmly walking and use your clicker to associate the sound with positive experiences.

Pulling and jumping should not be rewarded, and you may need to turn your dog around to avoid whatever is making him excited. You can also stop walking altogether and remain perfectly still until your dog comes back to where you are standing. In some cases, particularly if you cannot regain your pup’s attention, it may be best to go home and try again another day.

Once your dog has become comfortable walking with his leash and is more attentive to your instructions, you can reduce the number of treats he receives. Over time, you might condition him to walk or even run alongside you on a loose leash.

If your pup still seems to be having trouble, you can switch to a different collar or harness type. Dogs who are too anxious for training may need supplements or medications to help calm them, and professional dog trainers are available to help with teaching dogs of all shapes and sizes. Trainers and veterinary professionals can also help ensure that your dog’s harness or collar is applied correctly.


Leash training is important for your dog’s protection and for a number of conditions where running needs to be intensely restricted. Training older dogs can seem daunting but with patience and plenty of positive reinforcement, dogs can learn to walk on a leash very quickly. If you are having trouble at any time, be sure to reach out to a dog trainer or a veterinary professional for more information.    


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Meet The Author

Dr. Erica Irish author of how to train your dog to walk on a leash

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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