Mastering the Art of Leash Training for Older Dogs

Are you struggling to leash train your older dog? Leash training is not only essential for a well-mannered dog but also a fantastic opportunity for bonding and training. To help you with this task, we have gathered some valuable insights from experts in the field. Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven rescue in New York City, and Colby Lehew, head trainer at Dogletics in Chicago, have shared their best tips and tricks for leash training.

The Importance of Leash Training

Leash training is all about teaching your dog how to behave properly when on or around a leash. It encompasses various aspects, such as acclimating your dog to the leash and collar, impulse control and heelwork, and teaching her not to chew, tug, or pull forward on the leash. Effective leash training is crucial for your sanity and your dog’s safety during walks.

Starting Leash Training

Ideally, leash training should begin early, but it’s never too late to start, even with an older dog. While it may take a bit longer to undo any bad leash manners, patience is key. According to Semel, having the right equipment is essential for safe and comfortable walks. She recommends using a no-pull harness for all dogs. This type of harness helps manage pulling while you work on teaching your dog to walk nicely. Collars can put strain on your dog’s neck and potentially cause injury, so harnesses are generally the better option for walking. However, collars are still important for identification tags in case your dog gets lost.

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Choosing the Right Equipment

When it comes to equipment, Semel suggests using a front-attaching clasp harness. This type of harness makes it easier to control your dog by connecting the leash to the front. For larger or more dominant dogs, a gentle leader or head harness like the Halti head collar could be worth considering. It’s important to consult with your trainer before purchasing one.

As for leashes, retractable leashes are not recommended for leash training as they can encourage pulling behavior. Opting for a regular loose leash is a better choice. To help desensitize your dog to the harness or collar, Semel advises going slowly and using positive reinforcement. Avoid manhandling your dog and allow her to get used to the equipment gradually.

The Process of Leash Training

To introduce your dog to the leash, you can start by using a dragline, which is a leash without a loop at the end. This prevents your dog from getting snagged on anything indoors. Lehew suggests using a dragline of no more than 1 foot in length for indoor use.

Impulse control exercises are crucial for teaching your dog self-control and establishing good leash manners. One example is the “sitting before being leashed” exercise. The aim is to have your dog sit before you attach the leash. If she jumps or tries to get out of the sit, you should straighten up and try again. This exercise requires patience and repetition but can significantly improve your dog’s behavior.

Chewing on the leash is a common issue for many pups. To teach your dog to “drop it,” you can use a rope toy and engage in a game of tug-of-war. After a short play session, hold the toy still and say “drop it” until your dog lets go. It’s important to keep the toy still to make it less appealing. Once your dog understands “drop it” with a toy, you can use a rope leash to train her to drop the leash on command if she starts chewing on it.

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Heelwork and Common Problems

Heelwork refers to teaching your dog to walk next to you without getting distracted. This is achieved by using a treat to guide your dog’s focus and rewarding her when she stays by your side.

During walks, you may encounter some common problems such as pulling, dragging, or switching sides. Semel offers practical solutions for each issue. If your dog pulls forward, stop and wait for her to stop as well. Then, reward her and resume walking. If she’s being pulled towards a sniff spot or another dog, call her name and reward her when she focuses on you. If your dog starts dragging behind you, wait for her to walk on her own and reward her when she does. In case she keeps switching sides, choose one side and lure her back with a treat.


Leash training an older dog may require some extra patience, but with the right techniques, it can be a rewarding experience. Remember to use the proper equipment, be consistent in your training, and address any common problems you encounter. By mastering the art of leash training, you and your dog can enjoy pleasant and safe walks together. For more information, visit Karen’s Kollars.

Leash Training