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5 ways to train your dog to walk on a leash

Daily walks are essential for your dog’s health and wellbeing – walking will help keep them fit and in the healthy weight range as well as help meet their behavioural needs, including the need to socialise with other dogs. We also know that dog walking has similar benefits for owners and is a fun way to strengthen that special bond with our furry friends. To ensure that walking your dog is the positive experience it should be, start off on the right track by successfully training them to walk on the leash.

Choose a designated area

Firstly, you will need the right equipment. Using a leash to walk your dog is essential for safety reasons. Choose a leash that is in good condition, robust, comfortable and of the correct size – it should not be too thick or thin for your dog’s build and the best length is approximately 2 metres to allow your dog some range to explore.

The training part

The next step is training. Nobody wants to be that owner whose dog pulls ahead, chews on the leash or spends the walk trying to gulp down rubbish. It’s best to train your dog early on to prevent these problems, but it’s never too late. The key to success is reward-based dog training, which is the most effective and humane way to teach your dog. This involves rewarding your dog (with treats, praise or a toy) when they perform positive behaviours and ignoring unwanted behaviours.

Reward-based training improves the quality of our relationship with our dogs because training sessions are enjoyable. Any training that involves aversive techniques, or verbal or physical punishment must be avoided, as not only does this fail to teach dogs how to behave, it can also create anxiety and defensive aggression.

Make sure you have fun!

Training should be fun for you both! Start by training your dog or puppy to walk on the leash by using a technique called ‘loose-leash walking’, which the RSPCA recommends. To do this, whenever your dog walks on the leash without pulling, reward them every few paces with tasty treats and continue walking. If your dog starts to pull, stand still temporarily so they learn this behaviour means no walkies, and don’t continue until they return to your side! You can also use this technique to stop your dog from chewing on the leash. When you hold your dog’s leash, it should feel loose, which means they are walking in the correct position rather than pulling you ahead. If your dog continues to pull despite this training, switch to training your dog to walk on a leash using a front-attach harness rather than a collar and leash.

A front-attach harness is a gentle training aid but must be correctly fitted with a double ended leash that attaches at the front and back of the harness so you can leash your dog from the back and use the front end of the leash to turn them if they pull. Be sure to avoid any equipment that causes pain, discomfort or distress, such as choke (or ‘check’) chains, prong collars or head collars, and also avoid extendable leashes because these can encourage pulling and may cause neck injuries.

Reward-based training

You can also use reward-based training to teach your dog to leave something alone, which is useful to prevent them from picking up rubbish or something potentially dangerous like a toxic plant on walks. This involves teaching your dog a verbal cue such as ‘leave it’ or ‘drop it’. Different trainers may use various techniques to teach this, but essentially it involves holding a treat in your closed hand, ignoring your dog’s attempts to nudge your hand to get the treat and then allowing them to take the treat when they move away from it slightly. Once your dog does this consistently, add the verbal cue, which you can then use as needed when out walking, but make sure you carry tasty treats as rewards!

Call your dog’s name

Another important part of training is to teach your dog to come when called, known as ‘recall’. This helps to keep them safe and will allow you to enjoy the option of off-leash walking where this is safe and allowed. Starting initially in a secure area such as your backyard, use the following steps:

  • Walk your dog on a long leash, call their name and run a few steps ahead
  • When your dog runs to you, use the command ‘come’ and offer a reward
  • Increase the distance between you and your dog before you give the command
  • Gradually move towards practising without the leash at home, and then in public areas where your dog may be distracted, using the leash
  • When your dog’s recall is 80% reliable on a long leash with lots of distractions, progress to off-leash work in a quiet and secure public area away from dangers such as roads and where dogs are allowed off-leash

Training your dog to walk with you will set you both up for years of enjoyment and also helps to keep your precious pet safe when out and about. If you have any concerns about your dog’s behaviour, seek the advice of your veterinarian who can refer you to an accredited dog trainer (or animal behaviourist) and rule out any underlying medical problems.To give you the peace of mind of knowing you can give your dog the best chance at staying happy and healthy, consider taking out an RSPCA Pet Insurance policy.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.