Leash Training for Better Fitness


Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 15, 2018 From the WebMD Archives photo of dogs on leashes

You’re in the mall. The plan is to go to just one store. But you hear a voice that says: “Go ahead. Walk over there. Look at that shiny thing in the window. Oh, and that one, too! And what’s that over there?” 

This is your dog on a walk. Their nature is to smell and explore everything around them. Want to know what’s unnatural to them? Walking on a leash.

Why Walk?

But your dog needs to walk, and you need to use a leash to control them. The exercise is good for both of you. And a well-walked pooch is a happy and healthy one.

“Taking a dog on a walk helps them explore their environment, which is key to their well-being,” says James Barr, DVM, with Texas A&M’s Veterinary School. A walk shouldn’t only be a chance for your pet to go to the bathroom. A good stroll is like a spa for them.

Daily walks can also aid your dog’s digestion and help them sleep better at night. 

On the other hand, idle paws can lead to bad habits. Chewing, digging, and tons of barking often mean one thing — boredom. Walking helps hounds burn off the jitters.

It also gives the two of you time to bond — and build trust. 

Practice Makes Perfect

So how do you get to a nice, smooth walk with a dog who doesn’t dash here and there or pull against the leash?

Steven Marrujo, manager of PawFection doggy day care in Pasadena, CA, says patience and consistency are key. Even little things matter, like using the same leash and walking on the same side of the road every time.

He also suggests tiring your dog out a bit before a walk. “Play a quick game of fetch or wrestle with them.” This can help young pups focus during a stroll.  

You could also give your pal tasty treats while you’re on the go to help them link the walk with a good time, says Sharon Wirant, manager of the Anti-Cruelty Behavior team for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). 

Put an End to Pulling

A dog that pulls spells trouble for both of you. It can hurt your arms, back, and legs or cause a fall. And your pooch could hurt themselves. “In rare cases, a dog may damage their airway if they pull too strongly on their leash,” Barr says. “They can also have nerve damage in their necks.”

And if your pal slips free of their collar and leash, watch out! This could be bad news for them, other canines, and even human bystanders.

It may take more work for a dog to stop pulling — especially an older one who’s done it for a while, Wirant says — but don’t give up. She suggests a canine version of “red light, green light” to teach your dog not to pull.

  • Carry treats with you on the walk. When your dog pulls, stop in your tracks. (Red light!)
  • Call them back to you, ask themto sit, and give them a treat. Start to walk again. (Green light!)
  • Repeat inside the house and then outside. Soon they’ll learn that pulling means the fun stops.


Products for the Pooch

Gadgets like collars that poke, pinch, or shock should be used in extreme cases and for a short amount of time, says Shawn Baxendale, a professional dog trainer and owner of It’s Just a Dog Thing in Los Angeles.

These items aren’t a cure-all. “Some collars can be helpful in training a dog not to pull. However, this should not be used in place of patience and time when working with your pet.”

Many professional dog trainers are OK with harnesses — a wrap that goes around your pooch’s chest above and below their shoulders. The leash attaches to the top, so you don’t injure your pal’s neck. But some pros say a dog is as likely to pull in a harness as with a traditional leash and collar. You could also try a leader, a collar with a strap that goes across the top of your dog’s nose.

Wirant suggests you ask these questions before shelling out cash. Does this product:

  • Reduce or increase pulling?
  • Make it easier to handle my dog?
  • Cause them distress or discomfort?
  • Give me confidence to help train my dog?

For most products, the fit is key. Too loose, and it may not work. Too tight, and it can cause your dog serious pain. “I tell people: Put the collar on your wrist and see how it feels when you tug,” Marrujo says. When in doubt, seek help from a professional trainer or a veterinarian.

Show Sources


James Barr,DVM,clinical assistant professor, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, Texas A&M University, College Station.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA): “Exercise for Dogs.” 

Animal Foundation: “The Importance of Walking Your Dog.” 

Steven Marrujo,manager, PawFection, Pasadena, CA.

Sharon Wirant, vice president, Anti-Cruelty-Behavior team, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Shawn Baxendale,professional dog trainer, owner, It’s Just a Dog Thing, Los Angeles.

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