How Can I Train My Dog to Walk On a Leash?

Leash pulling can take the fun out of daily walks, Siddhika offers advice on how to nip this nagging behavior in the bud.

Every month, our resident Certified Dog Trainer and Behaviorist, Siddhika Bhat, answers our community's Top 5 questions.

**Please note: Dog training advice online is merely a starting point for information. Dogs, like humans, are complex in behaviors and temperaments, please seek further advice from your veterinarian or in-person dog trainer.

1. She’s a very hard walk, I don’t know how to make it work. ~ Larissa

    Hey there! I don’t know you personally, but I feel your pain! Leash walking can be a little tricky to master as every dog is so different. However, I am going to give you some tips to try and make your walks better with your dog.

    To begin with, try and get to the root cause of your dog pulling on the leash. Is it to sniff something? Is it to get to another dog/ person? Is it because she is walking fast? Or is it because she has a ton of pent up energy that needs to be released? Once you figure out the root cause, dealing with it will become a lot easier.

    Remember that our dogs love being outside primarily because they want to sniff and explore. So whatever you do, never take that away from your dog.

    Try and strike a balance between training walks and sniffing walks by having a 50:50 ratio where 50% of the time you let your dog do her thing and the remaining 50% of the time you teach your dog to keep up with you.

    Treats may or may not work depending on what motivates your dog when they’re outside. But, if they do work, make sure to carry plenty of high value treats when you go on your walk.

    Train your dog is phases. Trying to focus on everything at once will only end up overwhelming you both.

    Phase 1 (1-2 weeks) – Only focus on eye contact. Teach your dog to “look” at you on cue and proactively reward your dog everytime she looks at you on her own. Eye contacts are the first step towards building a solid leash foundation and will give your dog a reason to keep up with you on walks

    Phase 2 (2+ weeks) – Eye contacts + learning to move forward on a loose leash. Make sure to move forward only on a loose leash. To do so, stop walking and freeze as soon as your dog pulls and you feel leash pressure. Gently guide your dog back to your side and wait till the leash is loose again, then continue walking. Practice Phase 2 in low distractions for several days.

    Phase 3 – This is a combination of Phase 1, 2 and adding tidbits of basic obedience training. It is not about how many commands your dog knows. It is about how well your dog can do that one command. Practice and perfect an easy cue like “Sit” (with duration and distractions) with your dog and use it as a redirection and calming down cue whenever your dog gets too excited. Use it whenever your dog gets excited at the sight of anything or anyone.

    Both separation anxiety and isolation distress happen when your dog lacks self-soothing techniques while alone.

    2. I’d like to know strategies for separation anxiety. I have a 4-month-old Sprointer that cannot handle being alone. We’ve tried everything to help her but she will not calm herself. ~ Tracey

      Firstly, be 100% sure that what your dog is going through is separation anxiety because we often end up mistaking isolation distress for separation anxiety.

      Isolation distress is when your dog cannot handle being alone and may end up displaying behavioral issues like whining, destructive behavior etc. Separation anxiety on the other hand is when your dog cannot bear separation from a particular person and may react adversely, to the point of their health getting affected, to the absence of the person.

      Both these behavioral problems stem from the dog’s inability to be independent even for a short period of time. Dealing with separation anxiety can take quite a bit of time, work and patience. However, at 4 months, you should be able to see the results faster as compared to an older dog.

      Start by teaching the dog to be independent in your presence.

      Your pup must be able to be on their own and not keep nudging you for attention every now and then, just because you are around them. Schedule a few minutes several times a day when you and your pup will be around each other but will not actually interact with each other. Ignore your dog if you have to.

      Next, teach your dog to be on their own for short periods of time, say a few minutes. Consider tethering your dog to a particular spot or putting them in a play pen and stepping into another room for a few minutes.

      If your pup starts crying, wait till they have calmed down before you return into the room again.

      You may want to do this exercise when your dog is tired or sleepy, so that she doesn’t retaliate too much. Try doing this several times a day and increase duration with each repetition.

      Make sure your dog is able to entertain themselves. Engaging them in activities like mental stimulation puzzles, interactive toys, slow and frozen feeders etc are good ways to keep them busy on their own.

      Lastly, avoid coddling your pup at every cry. It may seem heartbreaking at first, but by indulging them at every whine, you will only be making them helplessly dependent on you.

      Teaching an older dog to use a Porch Potty after a lifetime of going outside requires time and patience.

      3. I have a senior dog who is trained to go outside but is now taking lasix so needs an inside potty spot. I can’t seem to get her to use the porch potty. Any tips to get her to transition to the porch potty? Thanks in advance. ~ Laura Gee

        Transitioning a senior dog from peeing and pooping outdoors to relieving indoors full time can be a bit of challenge, primarily because they have been performing a certain behavior all their life. The following aspects are usually at play when a dog gets habituated to peeing/ pooping in a certain spot:

        • Surface of the area
        • Surroundings
        • Scent
        • An object like pole or fire hydrant, especially for male dogs
        • Preceding activities like walking, running around and sniffing
        • Following activities like playing, continuing sniffing, etc

        Closely observe the above factors and try to learn more about your dog’s preference in terms of relieving herself in a particular spot. Say, your dog likes to pee on mud, try dispersing some mud on the porch potty to match the surface of it to your dog’s pee spot.

        Similarly, if your dog is used to sniffing and playing around before peeing or pooping, consider having some plants and other novel objects around the Porch Potty to provide a sniffing ground for your dog.

        Play with her in the area where the Porch Potty is placed. As soon as she has relieved herself, get her away from the Porch Potty.

        If nothing works, consider carrying the grass patch of the Porch Potty outside for a few days and placing it in your dog’s potty spot. Once your dog starts relieving herself on it outside, it may become easier for her to replicate the behavior inside the house.

        If you want to move your Porch Potty to a different location, but your dog is resistant, rather than trying to move it all at once, try moving it little by little until it's where you want it.

        4. My dog will happily use it outside and will even use it as his preferred pee spot. However, If I move it into the bathroom (where I want his pee spot to be) he won't use it. He is almost too well house trained. Any tips? ~ Kazzie

          The environment and surroundings of the pee area is as important for your dog as the surface and the scent of the place. Furthermore, several dogs like to keep things moving before they decide to relieve themselves, meaning, they like to move, play and sniff around before they pee. A bathroom may not give your dog that liberty due to space constraints.

          The association your dog has with the bathroom is also largely at play here.

          Dogs are at their most vulnerable when they are relieving themselves. Hence, it is mandatory that they feel safe and positively about the spot they choose.

          Your dog may or may not have the same association with the bathroom, depending on his past experiences in there. If, at any point, your dog has felt, or still feels cornered or somewhat nervous in the bathroom, he may not be able to pee or poop in there.

          Focus on changing the association your dog has with the bathroom. Take your dog repeatedly in the bathroom and try to replicate the experience for him in there. Make the space ultra positive by engaging in his favorite games.

          Play helps in accelerating the process of making a dog comfortable in an area. Take your dog into the bathroom everyday and engage in fun activities, regardless of your dog peeing in there.

          No matter what, never yell at your dog or punish him in the bathroom. This will only further intimidate your dog and make it all the more difficult for him to relieve himself in there.

          Consider slowing down the transition process by moving your Porch Potty one step closer to the bathroom every single day. Dogs may not take to a sudden change very well. Try and slow it down to make the change easier on your dog. Involve high value treats and loads of positive reinforcement.

          When transitioning a senior dog to a dog toilet, try recreating their pre-potty habits near their new potty spot.

          5. Just received mine! Any suggestions on training a senior dog whose used to going outside in a big yard? ~ Cosmic Wellness

            Transitioning a senior dog will be a little more time consuming as compared to training a younger pup, for obvious reasons. However, understanding the dynamics of what makes your dog go in a particular area is the first step towards this transition. The following aspects are usually at play when a dog gets habituated to peeing/ pooping in a certain spot –

            • Surface of the area (grass, concrete, mud, etc)
            • Surroundings
            • Scent
            • An object like pole or fire hydrant, especially for male dogs
            • Preceding activities like walking, running around and sniffing
            • Following activities like playing, continuing sniffing, etc

            If your senior dog is habituated to peeing in a bigger yard, try and replicate the scenario at home to the best of your ability. You may have to stick to a fixed, consistent routine and be vigilant for the first few weeks. Stock up on his favorite treats and make a note of his preceding and following behaviors.

            Start by keeping your dog on a leash (even inside the house) and lead your dog to the Porch Potty several times a day. Increase your dog’s water intake and increase the gap between walks. Try to keep your dog physically active and moving at home. This will work up that bladder.

            Add a command like “Go pee” every time your dog pees. This will help him associate the word with peeing and enable him to pee on command in a few weeks. A dog that can pee on command is fairly easier to transition.

            Do not try to rush your dog during the transition process. It may make your dog anxious and further delay the transition. Be jolly and upbeat while taking your dog to pee on the Porch Potty to make him feel safe and at ease.

            Consider providing a familiar surface and scent indoors for your dog. In the yard, your dog may have access to a variety of surfaces like mud, grass, concrete, etc. combined with a plethora of smells and area to keep it moving. Suddenly switching to an indoor spot devoid of all the above may be challenging for your dog. You can make the transition smoother by taking the Porch Potty out in the yard and slowly moving it back to the house gradually.

            Have questions for Siddhika? Reach out to us at Subject: Dog Trainer Siddhika Bhat or contact us on any of our social channels
            For more information on dog training, check out these articles:
            Dog Walking Isn't Just For Your Dog
            There's More to Walking Your Dog Than Exercise
            Is Your Dog Experiencing Separation Anxiety?

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