So you want to know how to leash train an adult dog. Is it any different than leash training a younger dog? Can older dogs learn at all?
We’ve all heard the expression “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Fortunately, whoever came up with that saying wasn’t a dog trainer! Older dogs are often just as capable of learning as younger dogs. Depending on the breed, your older dog might be more capable.
Leash training an adult dog
In most cases, leash training an adult dog is going to run the exact same way as younger animals. You’ll use the very same techniques! The hardest thing about training a dog to walk nicely on a lead is the time and patience it requires.
You’ll need a pouch full of small training rewards/treats. Make sure these are low-calorie treats because you’ll be giving out several of them. Remember, nutrition is especially important with older dogs! You’ll also need:
- 6-foot lead/leash (make sure it isn’t too long!)
- Collar or harness, harness preferable
If you are right-handed, you’ll be holding the lead with your left hand. The treats will be either in a fanny-pack type pouch or your left pocket. You’ll be reaching across your body and handing out rewards with your right hand.
Begin with your dog leashed by your side. Take one step forward. Your dog should step forward with you. After one step, stop, reach into your pocket and hand a treat.
Repeat this a few times, offering a treat after each step. Your dog’s attention should be squarely focused on you!
Gradually increase the number of steps in between treats. Soon you’ll be taking three strides before offering a treat, then four, etc.
This will ensure your dog is right beside you, constantly keeping up with your strides!
What if Your Dog Begins to Pull?
Our dogs love their outside environment, especially with so many things to catch their interest! Their natural instincts will tell them to pull ahead toward whatever catches their eye (or nose). As handlers, we have to teach our dogs not to pull on the lead, but rather to walk at our pace.
If your dog is no longer interested in the treats in your hand and begins to pull, simply stop walking altogether. Freeze in place.
You want your dog to eventually learn that pulling on the lead won’t get him anywhere! Walking nicely, however, allows the walk to continue. This will take time and patients, but eventually your dog will make the connection.
If your older dog loses focus on you and becomes distracted, try to redirect his attention back to you. Step in between your pup and the distraction. Become the most interesting, entertaining thing around!
You can also use your treats/food to redirect your dog’s attention.
Redirection is a strategy trainers will employ with leash reactive dogs. This can be useful if your dog is very animal-aggressive, and sees another animal in his path (for example).
If your dog is aggressive with other dogs, the best play would be to avoid encounters with other dogs on your walks if you can. Training an aggressive older dog isn’t like training a puppy in this respect because you have a fully grown, stronger animal capable of causing harm.
You also can’t control what the other owner and his/her dog does.
Older dogs are unfortunately prone to increased anxiety as a simple fact of ageing. If your older dog is extremely anxious or aggressive around others, you might also consider speaking to your veterinarian about mood-stabilizing medications.
Socialization is such an important concept, it even has a place when you’re trying to leash train an older dog! You always want to promote relationships with your dog and other animals/strangers, so he never feels the need to become aggressive or insecure around them.
It’s important you begin socializing your dog during puppyhood.
Imagine two dogs approaching each other, off-leash, at a park. They won’t approach directly, but rather one will approach the other in a sort of arc. They will then sniff each other before progressing to play or other behaviors.
When walking leashed beside their owners, on the other hand, this sort of indirect approach isn’t possible. Dogs can’t walk up to each other naturally, but are instead forced to encounter each other head-on.
This can cause some dogs to become reactive, which is why strong socialization beforehand is so important. You want your older dog to feel secure around other animals!
The Basket Muzzle
A muzzle is something we would want an aggressive dog prone to biting to wear so he isn’t able to bite. With some dogs, this is, unfortunately, the only way they can safely interact with others.
Imagine the traumatized animal. He may have been attacked by other dogs, or he was used as a ‘bait dog’ for illegal dogfighting before you rescued him. His aggression is out of trauma, and these animals can become terrified of other dogs.
Your dog still needs to be able to pant, so any muzzle that prevents your dog from opening his mouth won’t do! A basket muzzle is a basket/cage your dog will wear over his face so he can’t bite other people or animals.
They may not be pretty, but they won’t hurt your dog at all while allowing him to breathe freely so he doesn’t overheat.
Zak George’s Leash Training Tutorial
Begin Leash Training Inside the Home
Dogs are easily distracted, especially outside! We want to limit those distractions as much as possible when we are training our dogs new things. We want to hold their interest.
It is much easier to control our home environment than it will be at a park or in the city. There won’t be nearly as much going on inside. Training leash walking inside the house might sound odd, but consider what you’re doing.
At the beginning of your training, you’ll only be taking a few short strides anyway. This early stage is meant to hold your dog’s focus and keep him at your side while you walk.
Commands to Teach
These are mushing commands (besides heel) we like to teach our dogs when walking! Your walks/hikes will become much easier if you can direct your dogs.
Heel: Begin walking by my side.
Gee: Turn to the right.
Haw: Turn to the left.
On By: Allow another walker to pass by
Head-Halters or Halter Harnesses
Head halters look a bit like horse halters, and will fit around your dog’s head and face. At first glance, they look like inhumane torture devices! The truth is the exact opposite, and they make fantastic tools for leash training an older dog!
These aren’t painful, and shouldn’t constrict or tighten around your dog’s body. They shouldn’t be harmful in the least! You will want to ensure your older dog is able to open his mouth and pant because he won’t be able to perspire otherwise.
Head halters simply force a dog’s head to turn in a certain direction if he or she pulls. The same is true for halter harnesses. Your dog will quickly learn his pulling behavior is controlling whether he’s able to move forward, or can only move to the side.
In summary – leash training an adult dog
You’re out on a pleasant walk through the countryside, the sun is out and life is good, but every 5 seconds you’re pulled in every which direction by your old, but surprisingly strong dog. The problem is even worse if he sees a dog on the horizon, or a stranger approaching. Are you finally ready to concede it’s time to get a handle on his pulling? After all, it’s better late than never!
Walking with a dog who can’t control themselves on a leash is simply exhausting. You simply can’t relax on a walk when it’s really him walking you. Plus, you may have aged along with him, and your shoulder sockets and arms simply aren’t as resilient as they once were. You don’t want to be pulled to the ground just because a dog crossed the road 100 meters away. Solving this issue will give you the calm and relaxing walks you deserve!