Your dog was walking fine on a leash, but now he won’t go two feet without crouching or stopping dead in his tracks. Sound familiar?
There are different reasons (and solutions) for this kind of behavior.
It’s frustrating, especially when your dog stops in the middle of the road and refuses to walk. It’s easy to pick up a small dog and carry him/her the rest of the way, but you’re probably not going to be able to do that with a larger breed.
Determining and fixing the problem is vital, and we can help with that.
Consider this post a total refresh. It’s perfect for people just learning how to leash train a dog, but it’s also a great resource for pet owners who need to do a little troubleshooting.
We’re going to start from the beginning and work our way down to the 3 most common reasons why a dog refuses to leash walk.
We’ll even cover some of the best leashes and collars on the market. Ideally, you’ll want a good quality combo that feels good in your hand, properly fits your dog, and offers some light-reflection for safety.
If you’re looking for a quick fix, you might find answers in the FAQ’s at the bottom of the post.
When Should I Start Leash Training My Dog?
The best time to start training your dog is when he or she is still a puppy. In fact, there’s no reason not to start from as young as 8 weeks of age.
That’s assuming, of course, that you have a puppy. If you’ve rescued or adopted an adult dog that needs a little retraining, don’t worry! It can be done, but you’ll probably need some patience.
Leash training your dog is important, no matter what its age, size, or breed. This means ensuring your dog will walk next to you comfortably, won’t pull on the leash, and will listen to your commands.
Understanding how to leash train a dog should be at the top of your priority list as a pet parent because there are so many situations where dogs must be restrained.
A dog with proper leash training will be better equipped to follow you anywhere there are dog-friendly areas.
Important Information Before Beginning the Leash Training Process
This post focuses on training a new puppy to walk with a leash, but the principles applied will work no matter what age your dog is. Some dogs will learn quicker than others, too. That’s normal. If you read up on any of the hundreds of breeds available, you’ll quickly see that some are a lot more stubborn than others!
- Don’t expect your dog to learn the concepts within the first walk.
- Be prepared with treats and a positive attitude.
- Check your mood before you get started.
Dogs can easily detect impatience, anxiety, anger, frustration, and all of the other emotions we can feel on any given day. It’s vital to be calm and confident during the entire training process. The good news is that you only need to set aside 15 minutes a day, every day.
Once your pup has the hang of it you can bring him/her for longer walks.
The Risks of Not Leash Training Your Dog
The primary goal of leash work is to be able to comfortably walk your dog anywhere without him pulling, yanking, barking, jumping, or lunging.
There are distinct risks of a dog suddenly lunging or pulling on a leash. If you have a small dog with a collar and leash (not a harness), you can hurt his neck if you have to make a sudden pull.
If your dog is large, there’s a chance the dog will knock you off your feet, resulting in injury.
Once the leash is out of your grasp, your dog is in danger of running into the street where he can get hit by a car. If you have an anxious dog, or a dog with aggression issues, it leaves other people and animals at risk as well.
Talking your pet out in public is a huge responsibility. You want to keep your dog safe while ensuring the safety of the environment you’re in.
Steps to Leash Train Your Dog to Walk
The following tips can help you get on track to effectively leash train your dog. This is a great place to start if you’re training a new puppy, but it’s also useful for pet owners who need to take a pause and revisit the leash training process.
Consider the Big Picture
- Before you even start leash training your dog, think about all the learning about to take place. You’re not just teaching your dog to walk calmly on a leash, you’ll also be reinforcing other types of training, including:
- Basic commands like “sit” and “stay”
- Confidence building (for you and your dog!)
Walking your dog on a leash is a bonding experience. Your dog quickly learns to trust your commands and you gain confidence in your dog’s ability to do so.
Getting Used to the Collar and Leash
Leash training can seem overwhelming to a new pet parent. It’s even worse for dog owners who thought they were already there.
Assuming there’s no medical reason for the dog refusing to walk on a leash (more on that later), it may be time to take a breath and renew the training process with a fresh outlook.
Let your dog get used to the feel of the collar, leash, or harness before venturing outside. Small steps are the name of the game at this point. A curious puppy may want to smell or even taste the new equipment. That’s fine! The key here is to make the whole process as positive as possible.
Have a pocket of healthy treats available and get ready to praise your dog for a job well done.
Make Sure You Have The “Right” Collar, Leash, or Harness
Your puppy might find the collar itchy and a little uncomfortable at first. That’s normal. Give him or her time to get used to it in short intervals.
If you’re training a small puppy, make sure the leash or collar is light-weight and fits well. Save the heavy-weight leashes for large or older dogs.
TIP: Make sure you can slip a finger beneath the leash to ensure it isn’t too tight.
Simple Start: Wearing a Collar
There’s no need to start leash training on the sidewalk or in public right away. If you’re starting with a puppy who hasn’t been vaccinated yet, you’re going to want to keep your dog away from other dogs anyway.
Start the training process by simply letting your dog get used to wearing a collar. Praise your dog as you put the collar on , offer treats, and take some time to engage your dog in play. The whole process doesn’t have to last more than 10 or 15 minutes.
The key is consistency. Do this everyday, gradually keeping the collar on your dog for longer periods of time.
Once your puppy has had some time to get used to wearing a collar, start practicing in the house with the leash. Don’t expect too much in the beginning! Your canine companion won’t understand what you’re asking of him at first.
TIP: Don’t set your dog up for failure. Start leash training in a calm environment, after your dog has eaten and gone to the bathroom.
Practice Leash Walking Inside
The minute you clip the leash on the collar or harness and take a step, your puppy is going to pull. Expect it. It’s natural for your dog to want to do that. The trick, of course, is preventing that from happening.
These early stages may test your patience, but it’s worth the time investment. Walking your dog on a loose leash is a beautiful, bonding experience. You’ll get there!
Take a deep breath and casually walk a few steps forward. The second your dog tries to pull the leash, stop. Call your dog’s name and wait for eye contact. As soon as he or she turns to look at you, offer a treat and praise.
Then start again.
Take a few steps until your dog pulls forward. Stop, say the dog’s name, and offer a treat/praise the minute your dog looks at you.
TIP: It doesn’t matter what verbal cue you use. The primary goal is to be consistent so that your dog can quickly learn the rules.
Practice in one direction. once dog has mastered that, try another direction. Keep adding on to that. Give your dog a treat and praise every time he/she follows your lead.
The hallway is a good place because it’s easier to keep your dog by your side. Then move to a larger room, and finally, outside.
Practice for only 10 or 15 minutes a day. You’re dog will quickly get bored so it will soon be time to find new places to train.
Keep the Leash Short
It’s important that your dog understands what’s expected of him/her. Keeping the leash short tells your dog that you want him/her to walk next to you, not way in front of you. Letting your dog walk ahead of you is telling him/her that they are in charge.
You definitely don’t want that. Don’t let your dog do the leading.
Leash Training Your Dog Outside
Once your dog has mastered walking with you inside the home, it’s time to step out into the world. In the beginning, it might feel as if your dog has forgotten everything he/she just learned!
Thee are lots of new sights, sounds, and smells outside. Leash training is important, but it’s equally important to let your dog take in the world around him. The trick is to not let your dog decide when this will happen.
Exercise Your Dog First
If possible, let your dog run around the backyard or in any safely enclosed outdoor space before leash training outside. The idea is to give your dog time to absorb the sights, sounds and smells while burning off excess energy.
This should help eliminate environmental overload when it’s time to leash train outside.
Revisit the Same Rules of Indoor Training
Everything you did to train your dog indoors will come into play now. When your dog pulls on the leash, stop. Don’t yank the leash, shout, or try to pull your dog in a different direction.
The first thing you should do is say your dog’s name and then follow with your verbal cue. For example, “Lola, heel.”
You may have to say it a few times before your dog gets the message. Try to get your dog to look at you as quickly as possible. The minute your dog shows any interest in what you’re saying, offer praise and a treat.
It’s going to be a bit of trial and error in the beginning. Just remember that consistency will bring rewards for both of you. The world is full of new sights, sounds, and smells and it’s healthy and natural for your dog to want to engage.
The trick is to find a balance in when you allow your dog to sniff and explore, and when you insist he/she remain in step with you.
Watch for Approaching People and Dogs
How your dog reacts to approaching people and other dogs depends on the dog’s personality, prior experiences, and how well he/she has been trained.
A confident dog walker has their head up and is aware of what might be coming around the next corner.
Your confidence tells your dog that you’re in control. Ideally, you can practice walking past other people and their pets with friends. Unfortunately, not everyone has a well-behaved dog.
Try it out in a park or parking lot where there aren’t a lot of pedestrians.
Have your friend walk past you with their dog while leash training. As the other dog approaches, say your dog’s name. Get his/her attention right away.
The minute your dog looks at you, give praise and a treat. Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work the first time. Consistency, confidence, and positive reinforcement will eventually bring you the results you want.
Practice Practice Practice
There’s no magic trick here. It takes consistency and practice to leash-train a dog. Some will learn quicker than others.
5 Common Reasons Why Your Dog Won’t Walk on The Leash
Dogs thrive in packs. They need to be actively engaged in the world to be healthy and well-adjusted. So, if your dog suddenly doesn’t want to walk or decides to stop dead in his tracks, there’s probably something wrong.
The following are the most common reasons why a previously trained dog suddenly refuses to walk.
One reason why your dog may suddenly refuse to walk is pain. It could be something as simple as something stuck between his/her toes, or it could be pain from a deeper, more systemic issue.
If you can’t visibly see signs of pain, pay attention to your dog’s gait. Limping, stumbling, walking on the front of the paw, and other problems with gait could be a sign of a serious medical condition.
You might also be dealing with an anxious dog, which is something entirely different. Things like loud noises, other dogs, busy streets, bad experiences with other pets or people, and the weather can all play a role in how well your dog walks on a leash.
If anxiety is the cause, you may need to talk to your vet
3. Environmental Causes
Not many dogs love the rain. They hate it when it’s too hot, or when it’s too cold (depending on the breed!). Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that a dog’s sensitive paws have to withstand hot asphalt or icy cold sidewalks/roads.
That said, most dogs want to please you. They will follow you to the ends of earth and back, so it’s important to be aware of cues that they might be suffering. Gently lift their paws one-by-one to see if there is an injury. Don’t forget to check between their toes! A dog can easily get pebbles or other debris stuck there.
4. Reluctance to Leave Home
Some dogs just don’t want to leave the house, or don’t want to walk with anyone who isn’t you.
Dogs can’t read a clock, but they certainly know what time it is. In some cases, just stepping outside of the normal routine can make a dog hesitant to walk.
In some cases, a dog will GO for a walk, but he/she will suddenly stop at random places along the route. Dogs sometimes sense danger or feel the need to protect you. Your dog may be stopping as a way of trying to say, “Don’t go there.”
The problem with this is that your dog feels like he/she has to be in charge. If this is happening regularly, try a different route or revisit some of the early stages of leash training.
Dogs have a remarkable way of hiding pain and sickness. Unfortunately, you may not realize your dog isn’t feeling well until there are obvious signs. The signs and symptoms will depend on the illness; however, fatigue, lethargy, and weakness can be warning signs.
Any signs of illness including gastrointestinal upset (diarrhea, vomiting, bloating), fatigue, or depression should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian.
Tips for Keeping Your Dog Walking
If your dog continually stops dead in his/her tracks while you’re out on a walk, take note of what’s happening.
- Does it happen at the same spot every time?
- Does it only happen when there is another dog coming towards you?
- Does it only happen on busy, noisy streets?
I often see people with dogs who get flat on their stomachs when they see me coming with my two big dogs. The owner’s usually say something like, “He always does this.” The problem is that it isn’t normal.
Dogs that lay down when another dog approaches are trying to tell you that they’re not confident, they don’t feel safe, or they don’t know how to socialize with other dogs.
Dogs like this could benefit from professional trainers. Other things you could try include:
- Practice walking your dog with a friend who also has a dog.
- Keep the leash close to you but don’t drag or pull the leash.
- As soon as you see another dog approaching, say your dog’s name. The minute he/she looks at you, give him or her a treat and praise. Ask your dog to sit and don’t give the treat until he/she does that.
- The idea is to keep your dog alert, confident, and able to follow your commands without collapsing on the street.
Best Leashes and Collars for Training
Finding the best dog leash and collar isn’t about finding the best one on the market, it’s about finding the best one for your dog. Most collars are adjustable, but if you have a growing puppy, you’re eventually going to have to buy a larger one.
Obviously, you have to get the one that you can afford. Try to find soft but well-made materials that will withstand the elements. If it’s already starting to fray in the store, it’s probably going to fall apart completely when you get it home.
Luckily, a lot of pet stores will allow you to bring your dog inside with you. This gives you a great opportunity to try a leash or harness on before you make a purchase. Of course, if you’re shopping online, check the return policy in case you need to make a change.
The following items are from Amazon. You’ll find a variety of price points, quality, sizes, colors, and styles (including some with reflective material). Just click on “go” to find the best dog leashes and collars for your pup.
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Leash training isn’t difficult. The key is consistency. You’ll need to be confident in order for your dog to feel confident. Dogs are designed to be in packs with a clear leader in charge. Many dogs will gladly take over that job if they don’t sense you are up to it.
If you’re a little overwhelmed with the process, considering hiring a professional dog trainer. You might be able to book private lessons or join a group class.
At the end of the day, it’s about keeping your dog safe from traffic, other dogs, etc. Leash training is just one step in the process of grooming a well behaved dog. Is it worth it? You bet it is.