If you’ve adopted a furry family member who’s beyond the puppy stage, you may be wondering: How do I go about leash training an older dog?
First, you should know that you’re not alone: This is a common challenge encountered by owners who adopt or inherit an older dog that is not accustomed to walking on a leash.
You should also know that the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” doesn’t hold any water.
Dogs of any age can be taught how to walk calmly on a leash, without pulling, regardless of any bad habits they may have picked up through previous owners. All that is required is the right training.
Training or retraining your dog to walk properly on a leash may seem daunting, but trust me, the extra time you put in will pay off in the end.
Being able to take your dog on a walk without any leash pulling on his part will be less stressful for you, more comfortable for your pup, and also less dangerous for both of you, especially if your dog is powerful enough to lead you both into the road or other undesired locations.
Plus, making your walks a more pleasant experience will help you to better bond with your pet.
What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial
A Good Leash
Keep in mind that your dog may benefit from the use of a short training lead, which allows you to keep him close to your side during walks. This type of leash is especially helpful because it allows you to quickly correct bad behavior and direct your dog away from potential distractions.
Pro Tip: You may consider the Slip Lead Dog Leash by Rover on Main, which doubles as a collar and leash and can be used with all dog types.
The use of a choke chain, prong collar, or shock collar is not recommended since they could harm the dog and work by using fear to train him rather than helping him to learn in a positive way.
Just as you should avoid punishing behaviors while lead-training your dog, you should work to reinforce good behaviors with positive affirmations. In addition to verbally praising your dog when he exhibits a good behavior, it’s a good idea to have canine treats on hand, since dogs generally respond well to edible offerings.
Pro Tip: I often reward my dogs with Greenies Dental Chews Dog Treats. These treats are a win-win in my mind since my dogs love them and they also help to clean their teeth and freshen their breath.
Keep in mind that this training process will take time. You and your dog will need to work together to achieve a positive end result, and that starts with a positive and patient mindset on your end.
You will need to learn, through trial and error, what motivates your dog to learn and follow commands.
1. Calm Your Dog’s Excitement About the Leash.
For many dog owners, leash challenges begin even before the walk has started. Your dog may associate putting on the leash with going outside, which may, in turn, cause him to become very excited and less responsive to your commands.
As a first step, then, you’ll want to train your pup to remain calm when you bring out his lead. One way to do this is by clipping your dog into and out of the leash while you remain in the house.
The goal here is to break his assumption that putting on the leash means he’ll be going for a walk. Clipping him into and out of the leash while you go about your daily routine inside the house will eventually desensitize him to the process.
This video from Expert Village offers helpful tips on how to correctly fasten a leash onto your dog.
2. Tame His Eagerness to Walk Out the Door
Once your dog is able to remain calm when you clip on his leash, you can practice calmly walking out the door. This process is similar to desensitizing your dog to the leash.
First, set aside some extra time for your walk. Practice walking out the door with your dog, pausing, then re-entering the house.
You should continue this until your dog’s excitement has died down and he’s lost interest. Then, once he’s calm, you can begin your walk.
WikiHow offers an ideal image here of what your pup should look like when you open the door to bring him outside.
Pro Tip: If your dog has a lot of energy, you may want to let him run and play off that energy before you go for a walk. If you’re able to, play fetch with him in a safe area outdoors first, then clip him to the leash and take him for a walk. He may be more responsive to your commands if he isn’t distracted by his pent-up need to run.
3. Stand Your Ground
The most common problem owners typically have to overcome during walks with their pup is leash pulling. Dogs pull on the leash because they’re excited to be outside and instinct tells them to explore their surroundings. If you reward your dog’s pulling by moving in the direction he pulls you, he’ll continue this potentially dangerous behavior.
To break him of this habit, stand firmly in place when he begins to pull on the leash, and don’t move again until he stops pulling and gives you his attention. You may need to repeat this many times until your pup realizes that pulling on the leash will do him no good.
Watch Cesar Millan explain why pulling happens and how to remedy it.
Pro Tip: When your dog stops pulling and turns to give you his attention, reinforce this positive behavior verbally and with treats. This will further drive home the point for him that pulling is bad and that he should follow your lead.
4. Try the Reverse Direction Technique
If you’re standing your ground consistently and your dog is taking no heed, you may want to try the reserve direction technique. Instead of planting your feet when your dog pulls and waiting for his attention, try issuing a “let’s go” cue, turn away from him, and walk in the opposite direction he is pulling. Instead of jerking or yanking the leash, speak in an excited voice to get his attention.
Once he is following you and the leash is relaxed, then you can turn around and continue in your original direction. This achieves the same purpose as the stand-your-ground technique, in that it drives home to your dog that pulling on the leash will not reward him with what he wants.
You can see this technique in action in this video by Victoria Stilwell.
Pro Tip: Reinforce your dog’s decision to walk close to you by offering him treats when he exhibits this behavior. Encouraging him to stay by your side during walks will ultimately be more comfortable and safer for both of you.
Remember: The better you make him feel for walking close to you, the more he will choose to do so.
5. Be Consistent
The most important thing you can do when leash training or retraining your dog is to be consistent in your efforts. Staying patient and sticking to these training guidelines day in and day out will teach your dog what kind of behavior is expected of him and allow him to ingrain good behaviors.
If you become frustrated one day and allow your pup to pull you to the park, for example, you will essentially erase the good work you’ve done previously to teach him that pulling will not reward him with what he wants, and you’ll have to start your training again from scratch.
Every dog will be different in terms of how long it will take him to be fully leash-trained, but all dogs are capable of this good behavior so long as you stay patient, consistent, and focused during the training process.
This video from Zak George’s rEvolution offers more insight on a patient and humane approach to leash training your dog.
With These Tips in Mind, Are You Ready to Leash Train Your Older Dog?
As a dog owner, I hope that every other owner has the opportunity to take enjoyable walks with their furry friends on a daily basis, and I hope that this tutorial will help you work toward that goal. Walking side by side with your pet is one of the many joys of owning a dog, and I hope that you feel it’s achievable for you.
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We also welcome you to share what you think about this advice in the comments section and be sure to let us know how it works for you and your dog.