Dog Training: How to Leash Train an Older Dog

Updated: 3/19/20242-4 minutes

Learning to walk on a leash opens the whole world up to your dog. Going on walks together helps you bond with your dog and brings joy to both of your lives. Leash training an older dog takes patience. Here are some tips for helping your older dog learn how to walk on a leash.

Why Won’t Your Older Dog Walk on a Leash?

Can you leash train an older dog? Yes, you can – it just takes perseverance and practice.

If your dog won’t walk on a leash, or pulls on a leash, it makes walking together difficult. People expect a certain lack of leash discipline from a puppy. But once they are grown, dogs should be able to go for walks without pulling or tripping their human companions. With a little training, an older dog that pulls on the leash, or gets tangled up in it, can become a well-trained dog.

Why does your dog pull on his leash? It’s probably because your dog is excited about being outside and he doesn’t want his movements restricted. Plus, he doesn’t really think about who is on the other end of the leash. Your job as dog parent is to teach him how to calmly walk on a leash so he can experience all the thrills of being outdoors in a less frenzied way.

Training your older dog to walk on a leash is crucial for you and your dog. Pulling can be dangerous for both of you. If your dog pulls on the leash too hard, he can knock you down to the ground. If he pulls so hard that the leash comes out of your hand, your dog can end up running into traffic and getting hurt.

Once your dog gets leash trained and stops pulling, you’ll be able to go on more relaxed walks with a looser leash. That way he can enjoy himself, sniffing and exploring at whim, but you remain the one in control.

How to Leash Train an Older Dog

The key to leash training an older, adult dog is patience. Your dog has a lifetime of bad habits to overcome. The good news is that those bad habits can be undone with repetition and treats.

If your senior dog has a health condition that makes exercise difficult, like heart trouble, breathing issues, or arthritis, check with your vet first and keep your training sessions short. 

Below you’ll find five steps from the pros at Purina for the best way to leash train an older dog. You can view the tips in action with this handy video.

Before you begin, be prepared! You’ll need your dog’s collar, a short leash, and lots of your dog’s favorite treats.

Step 1: Get your dog used to the collar and the leash 

  • Use a non-tightening collar, or a halter/harness, and a shorter leash 
  • Calmly attach the leash to the collar or the harness 
  • Keep your voice slow and steady – your dog feeds off your energy 
  • Pro tips:  
    • If your dog gets so excited when you bring out the leash that a calm walk becomes impossible, he needs to become desensitized to the leash 
    • Try clipping and unclipping the leash several times within 10-15 minutes to desensitize him to the clipping sound  
    • Or put the leash on, but don’t go outside 
    • Let your dog walk around the house with the leash attached so he stops associating the leash with going outside

Step 2: Walk together calmly 

  • Start walking together in a calm manner 
  • Keep your voice and movements steady 
  • Pro tips: 
    • Walking around the house or yard where there are fewer distractions can help as you start training 
    • If your dog starts to pull as soon as he’s out the door, pause and reenter the house 
    • Repeat until he gets bored and calms down when you’re outside

Step 3: Gently guide your dog  

  • Encourage him with treats in your hand on the side you want him to walk  
  • If he starts pulling, don’t pull back, just stand still 
  • Pro tips: 
    • If your dog continues to pull, make him sit with the sit command, pause, then give him the walk command 
    • Repeat until he learns pulling gets him nowhere, literally 
    • Teaching your dog how to heel can help with pulling

Step 4: Keep practicing 

  • Start your training with short walks 
  • Be patient, it might take one month or more for your dog to get the hang of it 
  • Pro tips: 
    • Be consistent with your training so your dog absorbs the lesson 
    • Repetition is key 
    • Reward him when he gets it right 

Step 5: Praise your dog when he does well on the leash 

  • Heap on the praise when he does what you’ve asked 
  • Give treats when he walks calmly by your side without pulling 
  • Pro tips: 
    • Don’t get frustrated or yank on your dog’s leash when he gets something wrong 
    • Just keep reinforcing the positive 
    • As your dog gets better at walking calmly by your side, you can offer the treats less often or give him treats more variably to keep him guessing 
    • Or reward specific behaviors, like when he looks up to check in with you

It takes patience and commitment to teach your dog good manners. But once you’ve trained your older dog to walk on a leash, you’ll both enjoy your time together.

For more expert tips on training your dog, explore our dog training page.

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