Help! My Puppy Won’t Walk On A Leash
Help! My Puppy Won’t Walk on its Leash!
I hear about this problem frequently.
I take for granted the knowledge that I have accumulated from over 20 years of dog training.
And I forget that something like leash walking, that seems so simple and usually doesn’t last for long can really devastate the owner of a new puppy or a small dog (big dogs don’t seem to suffer from this particular problem very often).
The new owner straps on a collar and clicks on a leash only to witness that their dog simply won’t walk and instead the dog pulls, bucks, kicks, squeals, screams, or just remains motionless waiting for the horror to pass…
Does That Sound About Right?
The puppy, who has lived his whole life being able to basically go wherever he wants, do whatever he desires, then suddenly: restraint.
Imagine if someone put a leash and collar on you… you’d probably fight it for a bit, until you realized you weren’t about to die.
I can’t imagine all my freedoms suddenly taken away.
What would you do?
Sure, some puppies never break stride with it, but others are truly horrified at the mere thought of leash walking.
We, as humans, think puppies are born with collars and leashes on, and come from the womb knowing how to act and behave on one.
The truth is THEY ARE NOT!!
And, most breeders don’t expose their puppies to leash walking (although a few put collars on them).
Do you have children?
You know how most kids go through a stage when they like to run naked, when they can figure out how to get their clothes off?
Puppies don’t have the mental facilities to know WHY you would put such things on them!
So How Do You Help?
You approach this SLOWLY!
The old school approach to fixing this issue in dogs was to simply put the collar on the dog and ignore them freaking out… until they eventually give up on the collar.
In the pet training world, this is a technique called Flooding.
Flooding is the strategy of taking an animal and putting it into a state where it is stressed and leaving it there until it realizes that no matter what it does the stress will not go away.
But here’s the problem…
While it LOOKS on the outside like this behavior works, it often doesn’t on the inside.
Let’s take this scenario for example: Let’s say you are terrified of spiders and you came to me asking for advice on how to cure your fear… and my suggestion to you was to throw you in a container full of spiders until you calmed down. And to not let you out, even if you were freaking out.
Do you think that would work?
While I suppose, in theory, it is possible for a small percentage of people to realize ‘Oh, these spiders aren’t hurting me’… a far larger percentage of people would likely become even more traumatized by spiders.
That is the danger in using flooding to try and solve life’s problems.
More often then not it actually makes the fear worse (especially in your pet’s case).
Instead, there’s a better way. It’s called desensitization.
For most people, the puppy is pretty new and fairly small… so there is not any time constraint for getting this done.
Here’s a good video that shows you a live training session of a dog trainer using positive reinforcement to teach your dog that putting a collar or harness over his head or around its neck is totally normal…
If you’d like the cliff notes version of this video, here are the steps to follow:
Step #1: Click for Interacting with A Collar
Here at TheDogTrainingSecret.com we like to use the clicker as a fantastic method for helping dogs overcome fear issues. If you’re not familiar with the clicker, it’s a simple metal box that when you click it makes a ‘click’ sound; which is paired with the giving of a treat.
Done correctly the dog learns to associate a click with a treat, and it makes it a great way to teach him when he’s doing something correctly.
That’s why in this first step, what we want to do is click and treat every time the dog engages with the collar:
It is VERY important that you do not click and treat your dog if your dog bites or paws at the collar, because whatever you reinforce will happen more often. So only click and treat good behavior. In this case, good behavior is any non-fearful touching of the collar.
Once your dog is comfortable touching the collar, stop rewarding your dog for touching the collar and instead start clicking when your dog’s head is near the collar, but not touching. This is to train the dog to position his head near the collar (in hope of this being a good position to get the dog into when we want the collar to go on his neck).
If your end goal is to get your dog comfortable on a harness and leash and not a collar, the process is very similar, and you can start here:
I do want to mention that if you are trying to get your dog used to a halter collar, like a Gentle Leader (which we love for getting dogs to not pull on the leash) then follow this process instead.
Step #2: Putting the Collar on Your Dog
In this step, hold up the collar in front of your dog’s face. Make sure the collar is not clasped, and that you’re just holding the ends together in a loop, then use your other hand to hold a treat through the collar’s opening, to lure your dog’s head through the collar.
NOTE: This is the same process you’d use for teaching your dog to get into a collar or to clip on their harness.
Once your dog sticks his head through, give him the treat and let go of the collar. We want to make sure we let go of the collar in these early stages, as that helps the dog realize we’re not trying to trick him, and instead we’re just trying to condition him to realize that the collar is nothing to be feared.
Step #3: Lengthening the Time in the Collar
Once your dog is willingly sticking his head through the collar, treat your dog then immediately clasp the collar on him.
Make sure that once the clasp is on you dole out lots and lots of food treats so that your dog positively associates getting the collar put around his neck with getting lots of yummy treats. Feel free to pet, belly rub and ear scratch excessively too! Over time, this makes your dog get excited to have the collar on! Basically, just turn the whole exercise into a play session.
At first leave it on while your dog eats up your extra tasty treats, then take the collar off.
Repeat the process, each time lengthening the time the collar stays on from between a minute or two, to at least an hour. By slowly training your dog to calmly have the collar around his neck for longer and longer periods of time you’ll find success much quicker.
Feel free to include play during this time, like by letting him pull on his favorite tug toy, or the throwing of a ball, or the feeding of a meal. Do everything you can to make sure your dog gets EXTRA levels of happiness during those days where you’re trying to get him comfortable with leaving the collar on.
Don’t just play for two minutes and think your dog is fine. Instead, play and observe your dog as you’re building up the length of time he’s willing to wear the collar. And if you start to notice that after a certain amount of time he wants the collar off, and starts pawing or reaching for it, then take it off, and try again later that day or the next.
Over time, this positive association is a much better way to get him to accept the collar.
So that’s the collar, now let’s talk about accepting the leash…
Before we even talk about getting your dog on a leash, did you know
…Until your puppy is fully vaccinated (about 16 weeks) it isn’t safe to walk him around your neighborhood or anywhere that you can’t control sanitation. Puppies have weaker immune systems and can pick up disease easily.
So, don’t be in a rush to get him out in public or take him for a walk in the neighborhood!
MYTH: You Must Take Your Puppy Outside to Leash Train
What we recommend here at TheDogTrainingSecret.com is to start getting your dog used to the leash, by first following the above example of getting your dog used to a regular old flat collar, followed by next hooking your dog’s leash to his collar and allowing him to run around without you holding onto it.
Dog owners who make the mistake of walking their dog for a nice hour-long stroll right off the bat are actually INCREASING the time it will take to train their dog to walk on a loose leash. When dog owners let their dogs pull on a leash right off the bat by going on walks before practicing some leash manner exercises, their dog starts to think he can get away with pulling. Resist the urge to take your puppy on a long walk for now.
Instead, click that leash on your puppy and let him drag it around.
I recommend starting in a safe environment (not near stairs or sharp objects) in case he bucks or tries to run from the leash.
Now click and reward with a treat.
Let him drag it around for a few days, which means click it on and then watch him as he drags it for several minutes. Do this at least 5 times a day.
Next, pick up the handle end and apply the slightest of pressure against your dog and his collar. Think “barely notice”, not “decapitate”, as you pick up the leash.Now click and use a JACKPOT reward.
Practice this at least a dozen time a day. This starts to teach your dog how to accept the leash and doesn’t teach him that the leash is associated with being confined and restricted.
Once your dog is ok dragging the leash around your house, we recommend taking what we call… “The Week on a Leash” challenge.
In the Week on a Leash challenge our goal is to condition your dog to being on a leash by attaching him to us via a waist leash. It is the first step in the process we teach in our Calm Dog Bootcamp for loose leash training.
Waist leashes leave our hands free, as we have our dog follow us around our house for a week. This works especially well with new dogs as it helps us make sure they aren’t getting into trouble by chewing up our valuables, while also allowing us to catch them before they have any potty accidents.
Lastly, it has the added benefit of starting to teach your dog to pay attention to you (which makes the training that comes next SOOO much easier). After a week, you’ll realize that when you get up, your dog will start to follow while his leash is still slack, instead of you having to pull him everywhere.This skill of paying attention to you and realizing that he can’t just go wherever he wants on a leash is the CORE skill that dogs need to learn how to walk on a leash without pulling.
Leash training isn’t so much about teaching dogs not to pull as it is about teaching dogs the space they are supposed to be in, and the Week on a Leash challenge does JUST that!
Leash training by acclimating to the leash and the beginning of eye contact and focus, and heel, should start INSIDE where distractions are less and the environment is most familiar. Plus, because you change directions in your house so much, your dog has to pay a lot of attention to your non-verbal cues about which direction you’re about to go, and actually start to anticipate your moves.
After this, your pup/dog should be ready to go outside on his leash.
Let him wander (basically) wherever he wants provided it is not dangerous and let him know that the leash is nothing to fear.
Do this a half dozen or more times per day until he is excitedly awaiting his leash and wandering around normally outside.
BONUS TIP: If your dog LOVES to chase a ball, make sure that you only throw the ball right after you click his leash.
Want to learn more about “Leash Manners” Training your Dog?
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.