How to Leash Train Your Dog: Learn How to Stop Leash Pulling

How To leash train your dog

Leash Training a Dog 

One of the most common emails I get is, “How do I leash train my dog?” This is by far the most difficult to answer – because every person who asks me that exact same question really means something completely different;

  • “How do I make my dog stop pulling me while we walk?”
  • “How do I make my dog heel?”
  • “How do I keep my dog from trying to eat the neighbor’s cat while we are out walking?”

If you’re looking for information and assistance on various stages of walking with your dog on a leash you’ve come to the right place!

If you’re that lady (you know who you are!) who asked me to help teach her yorkie how to heel – when he had never worn a collar before – you’re in the wrong place.

It’s also important to note that some people use the term “heel” for walking style and sitting style interchangeable. To make it easier, we will cover both.

Why Leash Training Is Important

With the exception of those of you who live off the grid, at some point you will have your dog out in public, even if it’s just going for yearly shots.Leash training for canines

Public spaces mean rules and ordinances – and silly fines for not following them.

So unless you are going to carry your pup in your purse – and I think I can speak for us all when I say dogs do not belong in your purse – you will need to have a leash and collar.

Leash training allows for control over your animal in case of distractions, whether in the form of a neighborhood cat or that mean pit bull at the corner.

A well trained dog is a well behaved dog – and a well behaved dog goes on outings more often, resulting in a happy dog.

Leash control is also for safety reasons – from keeping your dog close from the punks that are yelling at him to picking up your little toy dog that just fell into a 2” pothole and can’t get out.

Types of Training Collars

Every dog needs a collar – but like dogs, not all collars are created equal. And quite frankly, not all dogs wear them 24/7.

We are listing the most popular types but remember that a choice of a collar is a personal one. Don’t be surprised if you wind up with two different styles.

Choke Collars

Leash training a dog with a choke collar

Choke Collar

This is probably the second most common choice because it can hang loosely around the neck when not in use, and give the extra control when needed.

They come in a variety of lengths and weights, and even with nylon material weaved through to quiet the chain sound and for a splash of fashion.

The choke chain should be up high on the neck with your dog beside you in a ‘heel’ position. They are not recommended for long-haired dogs.

How it works: This collar gently puts pressure on the upper part of the windpipe, basically “choking” the dog. As cruel as it sounds, it’s actually gentle when used properly.

For a sample, put your hand under your chin and gently push up and back against your throat. You will lose the ability to breathe but there’s no pain involved.

  NEVER: Don’t ever use this collar as a pulling deterrent or snap the leash back – this could cause serious injury and death.  

Flat Collars

how to teach a dog to walk on a leash with a flat collar

Flat Collars

Hands down the most popular collar, this style encompasses a variety of materials and fasteners, but are all basically the same; a flat, solid collar.

The tags can be hung from the strap loop, and the excess length is often cut off. These collars should fit snug enough to keep your dog from sliding out, but loose enough to breathe if he gets hung up on something.

A good rule of thumb is to be able to fit 2 fingers between the collar and your dog’s neck.

These are a good option for shorter haired dogs, and are often available quite ‘blingy’ for the toy dogs.

How it works: These are simple and basic; they hold tags and are something for the leash to snap onto. No more, no less.

They do not put any undue stress on the animal’s neck but could potentially cause injury if the leash is jerked.

  NEVER: This collar should be checked for fit regularly. The number of owners who put one of these on their dog and leave it, then need to have it cut off because they didn’t realize their dog was growing, is staggering.   

Harnesses

These are a favorite of small dog owners, and of inexperienced husky owners.

This style comes in three distinct variations; a standard harness with the leash clip between the shoulder blades, an easy walk with the leash ring on the front of the chest, and the head halter that is just how it sounds; imagine a halter for a horse and you’re spot on.

They come standard, decked out in bling, or studded like a biker belt.

How it works:

Standard Harness

Standard Harness for leash training

Standard Harness

A standard harness is impractical for anything over 20 pounds.

For smaller dogs, you gain control by simply picking it up – the harness allows for this without harming FruFru.

For larger dogs – and especially huskies – this harness will, quite literally, harness their desire to pull.

Yeah, not really what you want to do when you are trying to get your dog to walk with you.

So unless you’ve hooked them up to a sled and are ready to take on the Iditarod, pass on this one.

Easy Walk Harness to leash train a dog

Easy Walk Harness

Easy Walk Harness

The easy walk harnesses look strange at first, but they are quite effective. And, as its name states, gentle.

The leash hooks on the ring at the chest, and as the dog pulls it causes an uncomfortable pressure on their sternum.

Head Halter

how to leash train a dog with a head halter harness

Head Halter Harness

Possible the strangest-looking of the bunch, the head halter harness is based on the same theory as horses – point his head in the direction you want him to go, and the body follows.

   NEVER: It is imperative that with all three of these types, they should never be left on for extended periods of time. Also, never jerk on the leash when using the head halter as you can seriously injure or paralyze your dog.   

Martingale Collars

Martingale Collars for training dog to not pull

Martingale Collar

This is by far my favorite.

A Martingale collar is basically a combination of a flat collar and a choke chain.

The collar remains loose on the dog, but because of the choke chain, it cannot be easily slipped.

They should slip over the head easily when you hold the chain open tight, but when cinched up should allow for the pressure to interfere with breathing.

These are excellent for long-haired or loose skin dogs, but any canine will benefit from this style.

How it works: While walking the collar remains loose, but if needed the chain will pull up like a choke, and give the walker control in the same manner.

   NEVER: Like any collar, you should never jerk the leash. Aside from that, as long as you maintain proper fit, I consider it the best style collar.   

Pinch (Prong) Collars

Train dog to heel with Pinch/Prong Collar

Pinch/Prong Collar

Okay, so here’s the thing – in order to be effective pinch collars must be used ONLY for walking, as extra control.

A dog should be first trained to walk loose-leash or heel and should be accustomed to a flat or choke collar.

How it works: As you could probably guess, as pressure is applied from the dog pulling at the leash, and the prongs begin to cause discomfort and pain in the neck and throat.

The good news is that a dog has a coat that will protect it some – but the bad news is that hair will protect only so much before the prongs begin to penetrate the skin.

A properly fitted prong collar, with spaced prongs, will potentially do less damage.

   NEVER: I’m going to say it again – NEVER use this except for extra control out in public, and do so by gently pulling to apply pressure. NEVER jerk this collar as serious and mortal injury will occur on the spot. This should NEVER be used for dogs on a lead at home.   

Training / Electronic Collars

We are putting these together because most dog owners do not realize that they are two entirely different training methods.

These can be used on long or short haired dogs but should never be worn for more than 12 hours, with a 12 hour rest period.

Training Collar

Training Collar with Tone, Vibration, and Shock to teach dog not to pull

Training Collar with Tone, Vibration, and Shock

These training collars work by getting your dog’s attention.

The collar emits a vibration or a gentle correction to get their attention, sorta like tapping someone on the shoulder.

Many of them can also be programmed to emit a tone or a small shock.

The #5 setting (out of 10) on your skin feels similar to touching your tongue on a 9v battery.

Paired with rewards, you will have a well behaved dog in an astonishingly short time.

Electronic collar

leash train with shock collar

Shock Collar

I do not like these. At all.

The theory behind these electronic shock collars is a negative feedback correction system.

Basically, they learn what not to do by a painful shock.

By way of comparison, the lower setting on these is higher than the high settings on a training collar.

   NEVER: If you are going to use one of these methods (and I highly recommend the training collar) it’s important to understand that they are NOT interchangeable. Also, studies show that the electronic (pain, fear) collar causes undesired behavioral issues with use.   
Treat: If you leave a collar on 24/7, be sure to remove it while your dog is wet to avoid chaffing.

Leashes 

Leashes attach your dog to you – or vice-versa. There are very few basic styles, so the key to remember is to pick a leash based on your dog size, and city or town ordinance.

Standard Leash

Standard Dog Leash for leash training

Standard Dog Leash

Also known as ‘boring’ these leashes are just plain leashes.

Usually available in 4’ and 6’, most decent pet shops have them stocked with the standard flat collars, and matching patterns or colors as the collars. There’s not much more to say.

Chain Leash

Use a chain leash to stop pulling

Chain Leash

Then there’s not much to these guys.

I’m not a huge fan because they’ve evolved from the light, inexpensive chain to match the choke collar, to huge, weighty linked industrial type chain meant to make intercity dogs look more vicious.

Retractable Leash

using a retractable leash to teach dog to heel

Retractable leash

These are great for giving your dog a little more length to roam in the park, but can be shortened once out on the streets.

The retractable leash can be manually or automatically retracted into the plastic frame that doubles as a handle, which generally has a loop to hold collection bags.

One caveat that most owners somehow overlook: these are usually available in the narrow sizes only so think twice before getting one of these for your 100 pound rottie that likes to chase squirrels.

Treat: Consider a gender-specific color or pattern to avoid the question “Is it a boy or girl?”

Leash Training: How to Get Your Dog to Stop Pulling

Sit … Stay … Wait – get back here!

We’ve got our dog, collar, and leash. Now what?

By now, with the choice of collar you’ve decided on your point of reference for training – reward or punishment.

Personally, I suggest the reward system. I mean – would you learn well if you were always being yelled at?leash training your pup

As you go on, you can certainly add “punishment” to the mix – but punishment doesn’t necessarily have to be mean or cruel. For a dog, having to stop mid-walk can be agonizing!

Stop, go back … I assumed (and we all know what happens when one assumes) that you had already worked out what you want to train.

If you haven’t then you need to put down the leash, go back into the house, and consider it.

For this post we are going to teach our dog how to properly walk on a leash, but the fundamental steps can be used across the board;

  1. What do I want to teach?
  2. What exactly do I expect the result to be?
  3. What specific keywords will I be using?
  4. What will the reward be?

Once you have a full grasp of these points, then grab Fido and rejoin us…

They say you really need only one lesson for what you want to train.

After that lesson – where Buster has completed the task correctly and has been rewarded – it’s just practice, practice, practice.

I’m not sure if I buy that, but it’s certainly true that even the most well trained dog will revert quickly if not kept in practice.

The length of the lesson will be determined by your dog. So a puppy with a short attention span would be less than 20 minutes while an adult dog might be up to an hour.

Always choose a place with as few distractions as possible, but a place that is not too familiar so they will be more apt to focus their attention on you.

Treat: An excited or distracted dog won’t learn anything – and will serve to frustrate you. Before engaging in any training, always make sure you got their ‘wiggles’ out.

Loose Leash Walking

Loose Leash Dog Walking TrainingAh, loose leash walking; the bane of every dog owners existence.

The owner wants their dog to wander about freely but they want the dog to keep up with their pace but they do not want the dog to pull. Hence, the infernal black hole of walking.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Remember, your dog loves you and wants to please you, but your responsibility is to be as clear as possible in conveying what you want.

Know how you feel when you ask your spouse what’s bothering them and you get the “nothing” in response?

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Well, that’s how your dog feels when you’re inconsistent.

No matter the collar style, loose leash walking is actually pretty easy to teach and reinforce. But you must understand that loose leash walking is just that, loose leash walking.

You are giving your dog the freedom to do what he wants as long as the leash remains loose – ahead, behind, sniffing, watering, whatever. If that’s not exactly what’s on your mind, we will catch you for the heeling lesson.

Now let’s get down to business … The most important thing to keep in mind as that you can NOT let your dog go where he is pulling.

Much like a toddler having a hissy fit because he wants candy, if you give in you’re one step closer to creating a monster.

Loose Leash Training Steps

  1. This does not need a specialized environment. Distractions are good!
  2. Start walking down the street. The minute Fido pulls, stop. Seriously, STOP.
  3. Wait for your dog to stop pulling and look at you. If he ignores you and keeps pulling, reel him in with the leash.
  4. Tell your dog to come to you. If he doesn’t, then reel him in with the leash.
  5. Tell him to sit.
  6. Once he sits, start walking again.
  7. Repeat steps 1-6. A lot.

I know what you’re thinking – you’ve just been scammed.

But it really is that simple. No, it’s not easy – but it’s simple.

There’s nothing that drives a dog crazy more than stopping when he doesn’t want to.

For a dog who stops while you continue, do the same thing – first making sure he’s not ‘conducting business’.

Without getting involved in crazy techniques and other nonsense, this is the most straightforward method that will work with all the collar options. Remember – practice makes perfect!

Treat: If you use the verbal command “with me” while teaching your dog not to pull, you can work this into a completely off leash control command.

Oh, and an 8lb Chihuahua on a 25’ lead really isn’t considered loose leash walking. As my brother says, “That’s trolling bait.”

Walking Heel

How to train your canine to stop pulling on leashThe other half of leash walking is heeling. This is when your dog walks in a designated position for the entire walk, unless you intentionally give him his head to explore or make a deposit.

I use the verbal command “sniff” to let him explore for a few moments.

Heeling is in the top 5 most common skills taught to dogs. Oddly enough, it’s also one of the most incorrectly taught because the owners are inconsistent with their expectations.

Contrary to some of the stick-in-the-muds, there’s really no right or wrong position for heel.

The traditional position is for the dog’s head to align with the side of your body, but you may prefer your dog further forward or on the opposite side.

Personally, I like my German Shepherd to be dead center on my left side. It’s much further ahead than most, but it’s what I prefer.

It’s helpful to have the loose leash walking down, but it’s certainly not required.

Teaching Your Dog to Heel

We’re going to go with the easiest and most straightforward training method for heel – stinky treat reward method.

  1. Like regular walking, distractions are good.
  2. Have a pouch full of training-size stinky treats. Not their regular treats – you want something special for this.
  3. You must have decided where you want your dog’s head to be, and on which side you want him to walk.
  4. Put a dozen or so treats in the fist of the hand on the dog side.
  5. Drop one treat down between your index and middle finger.
  6. Hold the treat while your dog takes it, and say “heel” at the same time.
  7. Dispense only one treat at a time, and not in conveyor-belt fashion.
  8. Repeat the command and drop another treat into your fingers to lure your dog back.

Voilà – teaching the walking heel command in a few simple steps!

The key to this method is to not be stingy on the rewards to start with.

It will also take practice by you to drop the treats into your fingers and not onto the ground. You can keep them in a treat pouch, but it might be more difficult as your dog may start following your hand motion.

Holding them the extra couple seconds before letting your dog have it makes sure you can have Fido in position as well as say the command at the right timing.

Also, contact with your dog with the hand on the side you want heel on is helpful.

As he heels more regularly, back off the treats.

This method works with your choice of collars and is suggested with a 4’ or 6’ leash.

Sitting Heel

Sitting Heel Training for CaninesIf you are going to train your dog to stop and sit at the command “heel”, you need to make sure you’re consistent.

Also, you need to make sure anyone else who has contact with your dog fully understands this lesser used form of the verbal command.

A sitting heel is just that – to sit at your feet when you stop while walking.

This should be taught after your dog fully understands the standard “sit” command but you need to be careful on its use.

Again, make sure you are clear on the command before you begin teaching it.

Training this command is pretty straight forward, and if used regularly can be taught or used without even using the verbal command – which is how I have trained my girl.

Like with any other training, stinky treats work well for this method.

Train Your Dog to “Sit Heel”

  1. While walking, stop and bring your dog in close.
    • This can be done from the standard walking heel.
    • If on loose leash walk, ask your dog to come.
  2. Tell your dog to sit.
  3. Praise your dog “Good heel!” while giving a treat. Chances are, your dog will stand up right away, but ask him to sit again.
  4. Quickly start walking again. The key is for your dog to associate stopping with sitting and walking with, well, walking.
  5. Repeat.

Again, this is a common skill to train dogs but is generally not associated with a verbal command.

Once taught, this can be a good control routine from stopping in crosswalks on a busy street to greeting other people with dogs in the neighborhood.

I’ve also noticed that I can take my girl into non-grocery stores with no problem because she is assumed well behaved because of this simple talent.

Stop And Smell The … Roses

At the end of the day, dogs are dogs.

An important part of walking, for our dog, is sniffing.

In a wild environment that’s how they know what’s happening in their territory.

In a domesticated situation where multiple dogs share the same territory yet may never actually meet each other, it’s doubly important to reduce stress as well as to avoid conflict with another dog when walking.

Look at it this way – if you worked in an office and saw someone every day but never talked to them, would you be more or less friendly if you passed them in a store? Or on a dark street?

You should never let your dog sniff deposits left by other dogs.

If you’re not convinced by the idea of your dog’s nose in a steaming pile of poo that it’s a bad idea, then check out our post on tapeworms. That should make a believer out of you.

Walking Off Into the Sunset

How to leash train a dog easily

Your turn!

We covered a lot today. But before it overwhelms you, try it.

Make sure you understand the steps and have a go at it – you just might surprise yourself.

Above all remember that it’s all in the repetition.

If an illness causes you to be indoors for an extended period of time, consider having a trusted friend walk your dog.

If the weather has you housebound, then practice heeling off leash around an obstacle course in the living room or down a hallway.

There are a lot of little trainings easily add to mix it up, that provide a major result.

To get your dog’s attention every time you call them, say their name. When they acknowledge you, give them a stinky treat. A little while later, do it again.

You will be amazed how fast your dog links hearing their name with a treat.

Then, slowly start weaning them off the treats, but not completely.

This simple skill will ensure that whenever you say their name they turn their attention to you, which makes any other trick or skill easier to teach.

One final thought, when choosing a collar and leash for your dog, don’t opt for one that holds the ‘used’ clean-up baggies down by your dog’s head. Just bite the bullet and carry them.

Final Treat: Remember – there isn’t much your dog won’t do for a stinky treat!