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The Ultimate Dog Leash Training Tips for Beginners

Puppy on leash

So you got yourself a new puppy. You already know that puppy is going to require exercise, and you're all psyched up to start walking with your new best friend.

Or maybe you've just adopted a shelter dog, and are looking forward to your new exercise partner on your morning walks together.


Your new puppy is a total asshole on the leash, or your rescue dog is an absolute dick going for walks. There - I said it. It feels good to say it out loud, rather than pretending that your dog is fine and you're fine and the walk is fine.

So let's untangle this mess of a walk you've found yourself in with your dog, and actually get down to the do's and don'ts of leash training your dog or puppy.

DO Set Yourself Up For Success with Your Dog

Set your goals appropriately. If your first walk was a total shit-show, there is no reason why your second walk will be a breeze. Leash walking your new dog or puppy can be a frustrating experience for everyone involved. Make sure you set yourself up for success by learning to Pilot your dog in the house before you start to take your dog for a walk.

Never heard of Piloting? Learn more about Piloting your dog here, but essentially, imagine separating your dog's life into behavior vs. training.

Dog training chart

Obviously, you can't train a dog to walk on a leash until you have their behavior under control. For example, if your dog's behavior in the house is a complete mess, why would walking them on a leash outside where there is a myriad of new stimuli be anything other than a complete disaster?

If a kid is prone to tantrums in the house, do you really think that they're immune to them while overstimulated at the grocery store? No.

Start by working on your dog's behavior (and impulse control), and then gradually working through their training.

DON'T Confuse Going for a Walk with Leash Training

Dog and owner bonding

I still haven't gone for a walk with my new Aussie puppy, Hazel, even though I've had her almost 2 months, yet we leash train every day.

Our mindset when we take our dog for a "walk" is so much different than when we "leash train". For example:

  • I decided to take my pit bull, Ellis, for a walk this evening. We went for about 1 mile through the Cleveland Metroparks before turning around and heading home. That is our usual walk, and unless the mosquitos are particularly bad, we do it just about every evening.

  • I next decided to take my Arwen, my Border Collie around our cul-de-sac a few times. We did our usual loop, but had to toggle between our usual walk and leash training as we get close to heavy traffic (Arwen hates cars).

  • Finally I did Hazel's usual leash training, which, for this evening, consisted of walking up and down our driveway a few times and then taking it into the house to work on leash training indoors (too many mosquitos).

Ellis and I didn't need to do leash training because he's a breeze to walk. Yes, he may have a few questions during the walk that I need to answer, but he's an easy dog to work with, and his questions are few and far between.

Arwen had a little bit of a rough start in life, and as a result, had to work on some trust issues, which included feeling safe around cars. I'm so proud of the work she's done, as she started off lunging and snarling at any car that went by (seriously, it was ridiculous) to merely giving the stink eye to cars as they go by. So whenever we hit heavy traffic areas, I need to make sure I'm leash training rather than just going for a walk.

Hazel has no idea WTF is going on right now, as she's only 4 months old and is like a coked up hummingbird.

A puppy at that age only has control of 3 limbs at a time, maximum, so at her age, everything we do is leash training, not a walk.

By calling our goals by the correct term, we are getting into the correct mind frame. I don't leash train Ellis because he's already there. I can pick a destination and merely walk there with him, the same way I can get into my reliable old truck and drive somewhere, confident I will reach my destination with ease.

Arwen is mostly in good working order, but she's like that Mitsubishi Eclipse I had right out of school: mostly reliable and secure, but would leak a bit of oil, so I needed to keep and eye on it. So usually Arwen and I can go for a walk, but sometimes I would need to stop focusing on our destination and take measures to make sure we'd actually reach our destination.

Then there's Hazel.

If you focus too much on the destination, you'll fail to see it's all falling apart from under you, and then you're left stranded. Right now, Hazel is a Ford Pinto: you're not going anywhere easily, so it's better to focus on maintenance and repair before going anywhere.

The good news is that the more I repair/train with Hazel, the faster this goes. And the best part is that by managing my expectations (focus on the next step, not the destination) as well as her abilities (not adding more stimuli than she can handle), leash training is pleasant.

Arwen started off the same way Hazel did: leash walking in our basement, and then throughout our house. We graduated to the driveway, and then swinging left and right in front of our house, gradually adding more distance as we toggled between leash training and going for a walk.

DO Introduce Your Dog to a Leash Early, But With Intent

Even though I'm not going for a walk with Hazel yet, she wears a leash at least a few times a day. Initially, when she was 10-12 weeks old, I just put the leash on her and let her walk around with it, and even mouth it a bit to get used to the weird object. She wore it when I would take her outside to focus on housebreaking. In other words, while leash training is still a thing with us, she is completely desensitized to wearing a leash.

We were not so fortunate with our Arwen, as she had never been on a leash prior to us getting her at about 5-6 months old. Learn how we had to build up trust in this link.

DON'T Try to Exercise Your Dog with a Walk

If you're trying to exercise your dog by taking them for a walk, you're fighting a losing battle, but especially if your dog is young and full of energy already. They will not be able to control their impulses enough as it is, let alone when they haven't had exercise yet. The walk is a bonding experience, and a way to add new stimuli and sensory input, without your dog going bananas.

It's always a good idea to exercise your dog and wear them out before the walk. For some good ways to do that, check out this link.

DO Pilot Your Dog on a Walk

There's that word again: Pilot. Well, that's probably one of the most important of having a happy walk with your dog, and the beginnings of leash training.

To learn how to Pilot your dog on a walk, check out this video of the first walk I ever took with Ellis.

More of a reader? Give this article on leash walking a read.

Leash Training Your Dog: Conclusion

Dog on leash

The mantra here at Darwin Dogs is always:

  1. Control yourself: keep calm (at least outwardly), and watch your body language..

  2. Control the current situation. If your dog is already acting like a maniac while still in your driveway, do you think they'll do better when you hit the park? Pilot the situation you find yourself currently in, and once that's under control, only then can you add more stimuli.

By applying this mantra to all facets of dog training and puppy behavior, you can work through any situation you find yourself in.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.

But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog staying

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio

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