Trainer Tips: 3 Ways to Get Your Dog to Walk Better on a Leash

Trainer Tips: 3 Ways to Get Your Dog to Walk Better on a Leash

If walking your dog requires you to shift into a whole new headspace - maybe something like “no pain, no gain” - first of all, we applaud your grit and fortitude. But also, your dog could probably use a little help with those leash skills. Corinne Fritzell, a certified behavior consultant (CBCC-KA) and senior trainer at Shelby Semel Dog Training in New York City, loves helping dogs and their humans improve their leash skills.

“Dogs who are pleasant to walk tend to be walked more by their owners,” Corinne explains. “This often leads to increased positive welfare for the dogs because they're getting more mental stimulation and enrichment, and are included more in their owners' lives.”

We couldn’t agree more. So, we asked Corinne, who has a master’s degree in animal behavior, to explain what the deal is with dogs and leashes, and give us a few tips on how to make on-leash adventures more fun for you and your dog.

Can you please describe ideal on-leash behavior?

I love seeing a dog maintain a loose leash, walking by other dogs and humans without pulling or lunging toward them or barking at them, greeting politely if given the opportunity to do so, not picking up garbage, not chasing squirrels, etc.

What are some reasons that dogs have trouble walking on-leash?

Walking on leash is not a normal behavior for dogs - they don’t spend a lot of time walking perfectly next to each other! Their natural gait is also faster than humans’, and it can be challenging (and probably frustrating) for them to walk at our speed. Some dogs are more impulsive than others - they see something, and they just react and pull toward it. Some dogs find the outside overstimulating, or scary, and pull because they're scared or anxious. Some dogs pull more when they're excited, so walking to places like the park, trails, pet store, or doggy day care can be a struggle.

What can this mean for the humans walking them?

Teaching loose-leash walking requires patience, consistency, setting realistic expectations, and creating situations where the dog can succeed at learning the task. For dogs that tend to be easily excited or overstimulated, exercises that seem unrelated (focus, relaxation protocols) can be invaluable. For fearful dogs, addressing the fear is important before you can work on a loose leash, and that can be its own challenge. For all dogs, this can mean relaxing expectations and meeting the dog where they're at - discontinuing walking multiple dogs together, no longer bringing your dog on errands, avoiding areas that are too challenging for the dog, all of which can be disappointing, frustrating, and difficult to maintain. But for owners that stick with it, the reward is worth it!

What are your top three tricks for getting dogs to walk better when on-leash?

  1. Exercise! Run your dog around before walks - the hallway, backyard - wherever you have space!
  2. Spend 5 minutes or so on training exercises (touch, leave it, etc.) before walks.
  3. Bring a variety of treats out on your walk - and reward generously! 

BONUS TIP: Corinne says that front-clip harnesses can be super helpful when walking dogs who struggle on-leash.

Time to grab your gear, gather your patience, and get back on that proverbial horse! Stick to Corinne’s advice and before you know it, it’ll feel less like you’re riding into battle and more like a leisurely trot with your BFF.