How to Train Your Older Dog to Walk on a Leash

Medium
2-4 Weeks
General

Introduction

You just adopted a wonderful dog from your local shelter. He looked so sad sitting there in the cage, and was so excited friendly and affectionate when you opened the cage door. You bring him home in a carrier and all seems well, until you put a leash on your dog to take him outside for a walk. All of a sudden, your outgoing, friendly do, turns into a cowering, shaking, balking ball of nerves. He has obviously never been walked on a leash before, he is scared, confused and stressed. You want to be able to take your new friend on walks for exercise and bonding--what are you going to do? Fortunately, even an old dog can learn new tricks, or more specifically to walk on a leash. You will just need to spend some time training your new dog to accept and use a leash.

Defining Tasks

Most dogs learn to walk on a leash when they are young, it is a basic skill your dog requires so that you can keep him safe and contained when outdoors. A dog that pulls or resists the leash is not only awkward and unpleasant to walk for their owner, but can injure themselves if too much strain is placed on the neck and windpipe, or if they get loose and run into traffic or other hazards.  A dog that pulls on a leash can also injure their owner if they pull them over or drag them into hazards. This risk becomes more pronounced with an adult dog that has more strength than a puppy and may outmuscle the owner.  

Some dogs may not learn this basic skill when young because they are raised in a rural environment, where they are not introduced to the leash, or because a stray or rescue dog may not have been provided the attention and training required to master the art of walking on a leash with their previous owner. A dog that has achieved the skill of walking on a leash will not be afraid of or avoid a collar and leash, they will walk at their owner's side without pulling the leash taut or resisting their owner. An older dog may be afraid or anxious when put on a leash, depending on their prior experiences, and if this is the case, getting the older dog to feel comfortable with the leash and not resist or pull away in fright may be required before leash training can commence.

Getting Started

When training your older dog, or any dog, to walk on a leash, it is important to have the correct equipment. You should use a collar that fits your dog properly, it should not be too tight or loose. An alternative to a collar, that is often preferable when training a dog to walk on a leash, is a body harness or a head harness. A dog is apt to put more pressure on their neck and throat while working thru the learning curve of being on a leash, and may be subject to neck and windpipe injuries, so be aware and adjust equipment as needed. You should also teach your dog on a shorter leash, to allow the dog to walk at your side, and not become entangled or put too much distance between you and him, which may encourage him to pull. Also, the leash should be the appropriate weight for the dog. For example, a large or giant breed dog will need a thicker leash than a toy or miniature breed. Retractable leashes are not recommended for training. Bring along treats to reward your dog for responding to your cues and walking well on the leash.  The following methods can be useful in teaching an older dog to walk on a leash.

The Acclimatize Method

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Introduce leash at meal time
While your dog is eating, place the collar on him and let the leash hang while he is eating so that he associates the collar and leash with a positive experience. Repeat several times.
Step
2
Drag leash in the house
After your dog finishes eating, follow him with the leash around the house. Gradually increase the length of time you follow your dog around with the leash so he gets used to walking beside you.
Step
3
Drag leash in the yard
Next let your dog go outside with the leash and drag it behind him around an enclosed area, occasionally pick up the leash and follow your dog.
Step
4
Hold leash
Offer your dog a treat with one hand while holding the leash in the other hand. Coax your dog forward with the treat and leash.
Step
5
Pressure from the side
If the dog pulls or avoids moving forward, turn so that the leash pulls him to the side and the dog has to follow or lose his balance, praise him for following the leash and offer a treat. Repeat this until the dog begins following light pressure on the leash. Never punish your dog for not following the leash, as this will create a negative association.
Recommend training method?

The Encouraging Forward Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
1 Vote
Step
1
Acclimatize to leash
If you have an older dog that resists the leash by sitting or lying down or pulling away from you while on the leash, practice letting him get used to the leash by leaving it on him while outside in an enclosed area.
Step
2
Teach off leash command
Teach your dog off leash to respond to a command such as 'come', or a hand signal. When your dog comes, give him a treat.
Step
3
Give command while on lead
With the leash on but not holding it, give the dog the signal for 'come' and provide a treat. Reward for coming forward dragging the leash.
Step
4
Combine command and hold leash
Pick up the end of the leash, give the signal for 'come' and a light tug on the leash. Reward the dog when he comes and give a treat.
Step
5
Continue moving forward
Gradually start encouraging the dog forward while holding the leash with 'come' and provide a treat. A few steps at first, then several steps, then farther and farther until the dog is walking comfortably moving forward on the leash.
Recommend training method?

The Correct Pulling Method

ribbon-method-2
Least Recommended
3 Votes
Step
1
Stand still
Stand with your dog in a regular or choke collar, with a leash. Do not move forward. If the dog moves forward, give a sharp quick pull up on the collar with the leash and then release.
Step
2
Reward relax
When the dog has relaxed and is not pulling, start walking forward.
Step
3
Stop when pulling
When the dog tightens up the leash and pulls forward, give the leash a sharp pull upwards, stop moving forward, then release pressure. Do not continuously pull or put excessive pressure on the collar or choke collar.
Step
4
Continue when relaxed
When the dog is relaxed, start moving forward again.
Step
5
Repeat
Repeat as required, stopping and pulling your dog up quickly and then releasing, waiting for the dog to let the leash slack and then proceeding. Eventually, your dog will learn that only when the leash is slack does he get to proceed.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Laurie Haggart

Published: 11/05/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Chevy
Cane Corso
3 Years
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Question
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Chevy
Cane Corso
3 Years

Very anxious on leash. Use gentle leader (large), but seems too tight at vocal cords. Sense of being trapped with noise, people, cars, etc. Coughs/ honks a lot. When leash free very little honking/coughing. Should we try a harness?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sherri, It does sound like his neck might be too muscular for that tool. Some dogs are also very bothered by the gentle leader's way of turning the head if the dog is very visually dependent. I don't recommend a back clip harness because it can encourage pulling and be dangerous with a large dog who isn't off-leash trained, but I would look for a good front clip harness or consider a properly fitted prong collar. I would also avoid a choke chain because of the damage they can do to the trachea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS1z2cPwJMg Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Flint
Alaskan Shepherd
2 Years
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Flint
Alaskan Shepherd
2 Years

He is aggressive towards strangers and is very territorial. Though when strangers get close to him, he doesn't bite he just jumps at them.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Magavin, I highly recommend working with a trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression in person for this issue. Look for a trainer who works with a team of trainers, so that there are multiple people to practice the training around who are "strangers" to pup and know how to interact safely with aggressive dogs. This process typically involves things like gently building pup's overall respect, trust, and listening with you to that pup doesn't think they own you and so that their behavior is easier to manage and so that they feel more secure and can defer to your leadership when in situations that make them uncomfortable. It also tends to involve gradually desensitizing pup to people, one at a time, with safety measures like a back tie leash or basket muzzle in place (introduced gradually ahead of time using treats so it's not just associated with the training and stressful), starting with people being further away at first, and working on pup's obedience with you around the people in the background to help pup remain calm and not get overly aroused and fixated on the other person. This can sometimes also involve interrupting pup's aroused state, but that should only be done under the guidance of the trainer and with proper safety measures in place, because with any aggression there is always the risk of the dog redirecting their aggression to whoever is closest when stressed. Some examples of aggression being addressed. How aggression is addressed depends a lot on the temperament of the dog, the types of aggression, and pup's threshold for certain triggers and pressure, as well as other factors like fear being present also, pup lacking respect for you, or a bite history. Because of the various factors involved, the need for certain resources and setting up specific training scenarios to work on this safely and effectively, the need for safety measures, and how much pup's language determines how you train, I still recommend working in person with a trainer qualified in this type of training and behavior modification. Avoid trainers who depend on things like alpha rolls, and look for ones who build respect through consistent follow through, structured obedience, and giving daily boundaries. When corrections are needed, they should be done in combination with pup being taught commands, rewarded for the appropriate behavior, and implemented safely for all involved. https://www.youtube.com/user/AmericasCanineED/playlists Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Tipsy
Belgian Malinois mixed with Great Pyrenees
5 Years
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Question
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Tipsy
Belgian Malinois mixed with Great Pyrenees
5 Years

When I try to walk her on leash she pushes against me, try’s to block me by moving in front of me and laying down, she also try’s to ‘hide’ between my legs. When I’m not trying to walk her, we have other dogs and she bosses them around, often by what looks like trying to chase them away from me and trying to make them submit to her. Every time someone sits down she paws at them, nudges them, or hits them with her paw, trying to get us to pet her. She has gotten worse with the other dogs as she ages. I don’t know where this behavior came from, she has been with us since she was little. Please help.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Malya, It sounds like pup is trying to control you and the other dogs. With pup's breed combination, pup may have both a high guarding/herding type instinct of the Great Pyrenees combined with the intelligence, protectiveness and intensity of the Belgian Malinios. A dog with those instincts is likely naturally going to attempt to control your actions and environment. That doesn't mean that you should allow it, but it does mean that pup likely needs a lot more structure, respect and trust for you, obedience skills, and mental stimulation than the average dog. You didn't necessarily do anything wrong raising pup, but pup might need more than average to keep that controlling tendency in check. Intelligent dogs often use not only their bodies but also their brains to try to control what they view as their own, so you might find pup trying to be one step ahead of you to get around the rules, get their way, and keep their environment the way they think it should be. Check out this article - Especially pay attention to the Working and Obedience methods: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you If pup ever uses aggression or even mouthing, like nipping or holding, to try to get their way with you or the other dogs, I would desensitize pup to wearing a basket muzzle because pup is likely to try doing so when told to do things they have different ideas about at first. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Heel- Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Come - Reel in method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Off- section on The Off command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-train-dog-stay-off-couch/ Drop It – Exchange method: https://wagwalking.com/training/drop-it Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Sophie
Cocker Spaniel
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Sophie
Cocker Spaniel
4 Years

Two weeks ago I adopted a puppy mill mama rescue. Sophie was rescued from the puppy mill four months ago. She is the sweetest little dog however knows nothing about being a dog. As you see I have pads on the floor for potty training. I have been taking Sophie outside every two hours and she doesn’t go no matter how long we are outside. She sits down when we are outside. When we come back in, within 10-15 minutes she goes on the potty pad. I am afraid she is learning that the trip outside is just a trip and that it means come back in and use the potty pad. I always have treats on hand to celebrate if she goes outside (which she hasn’t yet) however I do not scold her when she uses the potty pad. I know she is a very special little dog and I want to do right by her! I am open to any suggestions! Also, I have to carry her in and out of my apartment because she knows nothing about walking with me, leashes, no commands, etc.

Thank you for listening and I hope to hear from you.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Marilyn, Check out this article on helping her get used to the leash. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash Since she likely learned due to her past to go potty in a small cage, I would go a unique route with potty training. Check out the Tethering method from the article linked below. Whenever you are home use the Tethering method. Also, set up an exercise pen in a room that you can close off access to later on (pup will learn it's okay to potty in this room so choose accordingly). A guest bathroom, laundry room, or enclosed balcony - once weather is a safe temperature are a few options. Don't set the exercise pen up in a main area of the house like the den or kitchen. Tethering method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside Use the Exercise Pen method from the article linked below, and instead of a litter box like the article mentions, use a real grass pad to stay consistent with teaching pup to potty on grass outside and get rid of the pee pads - the grass should be less confusing than pee pads in the long run. Since your goal is pottying outside only use the Exercise Pen at night and when you are not home. When pup will hold her bladder while in the rest of the house consistently after practicing the tethering method and can hold it for as long as you are gone for during the day and overnight, then remove the exercise pen and grass pad completely, close off access to the room that the pen was in so she won't go into there looking to pee, and take her potty outside only. Since she may still chew longer even after potty training, when you leave her alone, be sure to leave her in a safe area that's been puppy proofed, like a cordoned off area of the kitchen with chew toys - until you are confident she isn't destructive when left alone and has learned house manners. Exercise Pen method: https://wagwalking.com/training/litter-box-train-a-chihuahua-puppy Real grass pad brands - Also found on Amazon www.freshpatch.com www.doggielawn.com You can also make your own out of a piece of grass sod cut up and a large, shallow plastic storage container. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Rosie
Pit bull
7 Years
-1 found helpful
Question
-1 found helpful
Rosie
Pit bull
7 Years

Rosie is a 7 Yr old rescue from MS we got in Dec 2020:

At our house Rosie does not like other dogs coming over and has growled and attempted to fight others. She also does this to new men that come to the house. We have tried introducing her to our friends dog by going down the block and walking across the street, etc. but once we got back to the house she changed. It seems she tries to resource guard me and /or the house

Away from the house (and me) she’s a lot better. Sometimes on the leash walking she might bark at another dog. But at doggie boarding she is in large play groups and fine. They say she doesn’t play a whole lot, but she can be around other dogs and isn’t being aggressive. How do I fix it at home? I’d like my friends to bring their dogs over without having to worry about her

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Margie, It does sound like pup is probably possessive of you and your home. Addressing possessiveness often involves both building trust and respect for you, and counter conditioning pup around other dogs being near their "possessions" so that pup associates other dogs coming near with good things. Sometimes before you can reward good responses you also have to interrupt pup's unwanted behavior too. This process needs to be done really carefully. You will also need access to a lot of other well mannered dogs, to practice the counter conditioning process with, one at a time, to help pup generalize the training to all dogs who come to your home and not just some dogs. Because of the difficulty level, resources needed (other dogs), and safety concerns involved, I do recommend working in person with a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression, comes well recommended by their previous clients for behavior issues like aggression, and has access to multiple other dogs, like a training group with several trainers who utilize the trainers' dogs for training sessions. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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