Love it or Hate it, Puppy Leash Training is a MUST
I absolutely LOVE leash training puppies! It’s like seeing a baby figure out a new concept or see something completely new! Puppies are like little balls of clay just waiting to be formed. Puppy leash training will be so important so that you don’t create any bad habits in your little guy when you take him out on a walk.
The first thing to consider with leash walking very young puppies, is that they have probably never been on a leash. Very few breeders spend time making sure all of their puppies are leash and crate trained so we are left with all the fun teaching that comes with having a new pup. Leash training a puppy will be very demanding, but will definitely pay off with plenty of enjoyment.
If your pup has never been on a leash, it is important to acclimate him in a positive way! I just attach a small leash and let my pups get use to the feel of pulling it around on their own. While leash training a puppy, or while on a walk, don’t yank or tug, or you might scare your new baby!
As he gets use to how it feels to have something draped from his neck you can begin picking the leash up and just applying a tiny bit of pressure then working your way up to taking the leash and letting him feel a pull. Be sure to praise and use treats!
A leash is the perfect tool for keeping a puppy near enough so you can supervise her. That way you can proactively prevent potty accidents behind your back, shredding of your shoes and slippers, and pouncing on pretend prey items—such as houseplants and your 15 year old sedentary cat. However, it can be a little tricky getting some puppies to walk on leash, because some puppies get scared as soon as they feel even a slight tug.
My other favorite part about puppy leash training is that they have not yet developed bad habits. Puppy training is all about teaching the pup how fun it is to do whatever you are teaching! Positive reinforcement will keep your pup from developing the problems behaviors like pulling, lunging and barking on leash.
Leash Training Tips
Get him used to a collar and leash: Let your pup get used to a collar and leash before attempting to walk him. Let him drag the leash around the house attached to his collar. You want him to be comfortable with the leash while on a walk, not afraid of it.
Have short training sessions in familiar places: Your puppy has a short attention span, so don’t expect to keep his interest in training for long. Start with just a walk around the house or the backyard— a place where he is already familiar with the smells. That way he won’t be as inclined to break off in a dozen directions to smell exciting new odors.
Praise good behavior: When your dog is walking alongside you on a loose leash — also called “heeling” — heap on the praise and reward him with the occasional treat. Never pull your dog along. If he resists leaving a spot, pulling on the lead can potentially injure him (or you if you’re walking a bigger dog).
Instead, focus on rewarding him for coming when you call him to keep walking along. If he is particularly persistent, you might have to intervene and redirect his attention back to the walk and away from the thing with all the smells.
Keep a short leash to resist pulling: While this is often seen as a negative to humans, keeping your dog on a short leash is integral to leash training success. The less room your dog has to stray away from your side, the easier it is for him to learn to walk next to you. As he starts to get the hang of things you can let out the lead a little bit, either with a retractable leash or by giving some slack from your hands.
Keep him at your side: Similar to a short leash, walking with your dog at your side instead of in front of you allows you to control his direction. When dogs are allowed to walk out in front or behind, they tend to wander off and smell everything. This will also help prevent the leash from becoming tangled underneath him.
Again, you can start to be more lenient with him as he becomes more trained, but it’s best to keep him close while still a puppy. Remember dogs are pack animals. If he sees you as the pack leader, he will eventually fall in line and become the perfect walking partner.
Give him time to do his business: For many dogs, a nice long walk is a chance for him to relieve himself. However, dogs naturally like to mark their territory, so they may want to sniff around to find the perfect spot. If you notice that your dog needs to relieve himself, you can stop walking and give him more leash to explore and do his business.
Once he is done, be sure to reward him with praise or treats (after all, you’re likely going through potty training at this time too). One thing to keep in mind is that dogs do not always evacuate their bladder at once, so some dogs may look for multiple spots to urinate.
It is vital that you reward him only the first time, otherwise he will start to understand positive associations with marking multiple times. This makes for a much more difficult walk. When he understands he only gets the one opportunity to relieve himself, he will start to walk better.
Find a pace: Dogs are naturally curious so dogs tend to want to rush to certain spots on your walk, or linger in their favorite spots. It’s important to pick a pace that is comfortable for both of you. You never want him to pull or lag behind as this is where injuries can occur. If you notice your dog struggling to keep a certain pace, stop and wait for him to come back to you and then reestablish the comfortable pace.
How to Be Successful When Leash Training Your Puppy
Pups need to learn from a young age that doing what you want them to (i.e. training) is actually what THEY want, they should be learning to manipulate you to get what they want. The fun part is, that with thoughtful training they aren’t really manipulating you, they only think that they are, YOU are in charge of what you reinforce and what you ignore and what you correct about their behavior which means you are both happy!
No one wants to work without getting paid in some fashion. Even when we volunteer to do something there is always some type of pay off, typically it is the feeling of well-being for doing something good, sometimes it is the opportunity to network or get to know other people. You need to figure out what it is that motivates your puppy to learn and continue showing behaviors you want to see.
Motivators are usually praise and affection, toys and the opportunity to play, and of course great food treats. I recommend using all of these things to get your puppy to enjoy training! Who doesn’t want to be praised, played with and fed yummy treats as a way to say “I like what you just did”.
Make Leash Training Fun
I also thrive on playing games with my puppies! Their lives should be full of fun things that they enjoy doing this helps them to bond to you and to continue to do the things you want them to do. Whenever I work on leash manners with my pups I use great motivators while my pup is showing appropriate leash manners and when they are not paying attention or tugging, I play keep away with them.
This teaches them to always have an eye on me and what I am doing and gives them great leash manners. I ALWAYS praise and jackpot for eye contact while my dogs are on leash. Think about it, if your dog is looking into your eyes he can’t be too far in front of you or behind you, and that also means he is not looking at anything else!
Here’s one of our FAVORITES for teaching puppies how to be less reactive and over-excited to others while out on a walk:
Begin by introducing your puppy to the leash and collar, letting him wear it for short periods of time while in the house. During these short periods, it’s important to play with the puppy and give him treats. Wearing a leash and collar is new and sometimes uncomfortable, so you must ensure that collar/leash time becomes synonymous with play/treat time.
Next, teach your puppy a command to come to you. Practice this command inside, for short periods of time, with minimal distraction so that the puppy understands that coming to you means that he will be rewarded with a treat. Continue as needed until it really sinks in.
Once your puppy has mastered walking on the leash inside, then you can start practicing outside with short walks and many rewards. If your puppy gets distracted by something while outside, then utilize your “come” command and reward him for coming to you and staying by your side. Avoid using force (yanking or pulling on the leash) so that your puppy does not get discouraged.
Continue to use positive reinforcement so he associates calm, loose-leashed walking with getting a reward. Before we begin, it is important to put an emphasis on positive reinforcement, rather than punishment, so that you can establish trust with your dog.
Breaking a learned behavior can be hard for an adult dog, so both patience and consistent rewards are key. Properly dealing with excitement is crucial. As time goes on, your puppy will likely get very excited when they know that they are going on a walk, and as they age their excitement will generally be harder to handle than that of a little puppy. When your dog pulls, don’t let them command the walk.
You’re walking them, not the other way around. Simply don’t move when your dog pulls, and teach them that being calm before/during the walk means that they will be rewarded. A good way to help prevent pre-walk excitement is to play with your dog beforehand.
Getting some of their initial energy out can make all the difference when getting ready to go for a walk. Try our Toy Finder for a variety of interactive play options to get your dog good and exercised before walk time. If pulling and lunging are problems, then teach that pulling you will not help them get to their destination sooner.
You can do this by stopping dead in your tracks and not moving, walking in the opposite direction, stepping backwards, and offering treats to your dog to entice them not to wander off. Be sure to always offer rewards and praise when they stop pulling. Just like with a puppy, always use that positive reinforcement so your dog knows that remaining calm and obedient will result in a better walk.
Leash Training Tips
Teach your puppy while he is young and don’t let him develop bad habits: The first two to six months of a puppy’s life are the most important for training in order to keep from developing long-lasting bad habits. Find a great motivator: Motivation is used in all of the training you do with your dog. Unless your dog has a reason to do something, it’s hard to get him or her to actually do what you are asking him to do.
What will your dog work for? What motivates him or her? That’s one of the first things to figure out after a new dog joins the family. Motivation can vary greatly and you can use it in all sorts of ways, good and bad.
Your dog could be motivated by food (it’s tasty and he’s hungry), could be motivated to have fun (chase a ball), wants to get close to you because you’re fun (emotion and relationship), wants to get to safety/you (fear of something else), motivated to experience excitement (get to that park he knows is at the other end of that walk!), chase that squirrel (prey, fun, instinct, hunger!), or could be motivated to avoid pain (not get yanked on the leash, hear your yell).
If you want your dog to do something, you need to work with motivation – positive forms of it. Praise for good behaviors: Puppies respond to praise. One of the most difficult hurdles for many new dog owners to get over is the fact that positive reinforcement works a hundred times better than negative reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement in dog training can go by many names, most of which are valid and worthy: reward-based training, science-based training, force-free or pain-free training, etc. Regardless of the terminology, the general theory behind this line of thinking remains the same.
Make it a game: If your dog isn’t play motivated try using some different food rewards. A piece of meat or some cheese will probably be a lot more enticing to your dog if they’re used to the same old training treats. Offer jackpots for doing things very well.
Encourage eye contact: Stand in front of your dog. If your dog ducks his head or darts his eyes back and forth, you are applying what’s called “social pressure” and it is making him nervous. Try sitting in a chair or leaning back slightly to see if your dog relaxes.
Say nothing, at all. When he looks at your eyes, not your hands, say “yes” and give him a treat from behind your back. Repeat two times.
If he trembles or frets when you do this, stop immediately and practice easier skills like “touch” and “find”. The goal with training is to build the bond and connection so he wants to listen to you. Over time, your puppy will naturally develop an affinity for paying attention to you and making eye contact.
Types of Leashes:
There are many types of leashes and collars. I suggest you do your research to find out which ones are the best for you and your situation with your dog. Here are a few collars and their overviews:
Standard flat collar: This type of collar is generally what you’ll see at most stores and on most dogs, most commonly made of nylon or leather. One issue with standard collars is that some dogs can slip out of them, especially breeds with thicker necks than heads like greyhounds.
Back-clip harness: Another common design, this harness fits on the dog’s chest and clips on the back. It’s beneficial for short-nosed dogs, such as Pugs or Boston Terriers, small breeds, and dogs prone to tracheal collapse (when the dog’s trachea becomes damaged, restricting the airway and sometimes requiring surgery). The con to a back-clip harness is that it can encourage pulling in dogs who haven’t mastered the loose-leash walk.
Front-clip harness: This harness design clips over the dog’s chest area, which helps prevent minor pulling and allows the owner to steer the dog. It’s recommended for pets who need a little work on their loose-leash walking, but who don’t demonstrate aggression issues or other behavior problems while on the leash.
Here’s a great video on the proper fitting of a dog harness:
Head halter: In this design, a piece of nylon loops around the dog’s muzzle, which prevents the dog from keeping his nose close to the ground and makes it easier for the owner to keep the dog’s attention. It shouldn’t be mistaken for a restrictive muzzle device.
The most common brand of this type of harness is the Gentle Leader by PetSafe—and a version called SnootLoop is available for short-nosed dogs. According to the late training expert Sophia Yin, head halters work for speeding the leash-training process because, she explains, “Dogs can best pay attention to their owners if they are actually focusing on their owners, which they can do best if they are looking at their owners.” This type of collar may take time (and treats) for your dog to get used to it.
Once your dog is trained to walk politely on a leash, you can switch to a standard collar and leash. Study collars and leashes and figure out which one is best for you and your situation. A great leash is super important for your puppy’s comfort and success in training.
The Bottom Line:
Leash training puppies is essential! Get out there and learn to work effectively together, utilize good doggy psychology and enjoy the time you spend together, you are laying the foundation for a lifetime of good behavior and fun!