Leash training your puppy doesn't have to be a battle! This practical guide will have your pup walking nicely on his leash in no time.
Leash training puppies properly (and early) is an important part of puppy training... but if you don't do it the right way it can end up being a battle of wills instead of a fun experience.
Depending on how old your puppy is, and how much you've done in terms of leash training already, you might have a puppy who's still:
All of these are absolutely normal, but they can be hugely frustrating and leave you wondering if an enjoyable walk is EVER going to be a reality.
If you're at this point, then this page will get you back on track.... or on the road, sidewalk, path, beach or wherever it is you want to walk your puppy :)
You may not have really thought about this, but before you can start leash walking lessons your puppy needs to be comfortable wearing his collar... and then his collar and leash together.
Most puppies get used to this without too much trouble, but there are some who get upset, scared or just downright mad that you've put this 'thing' around their neck!
If your little guy is one of these then he might scratch wildly at his collar, try to bite it, run around in circles, or even stand stock still and refuse to move while he's wearing it.
Again, these are all normal reactions so don't worry. He'll soon get over whatever he's feeling and will run around happily, completely oblivious to the collar he once fought so hard.
But there are a couple of things you can do to make this easier for him, which in turn will make your leash training efforts progress more smoothly (and more quickly).
STEP 1 - Pick a lightweight, flat buckle collar as they're comfortable and not very expensive.
For small to medium breeds I'd recommend a collar made from nylon or cotton webbing (hemp is also good). For very tiny or toy breeds a cat collar works too.
If you have a large or giant breed puppy you could go for a light, soft leather collar that's fairly thin (I don't mean 'narrow' as in width).
Puppies outgrow these first collars VERY quickly (and I mean within a week or two) so don't go spending a lot of money at this point. Something inexpensive but sturdy is fine.
STEP 2 - Let your pup wear his collar for 5 - 20 minutes at a time to begin with, and build up gradually if he objects to wearing it. This is not too long for him to handle his feelings, but long enough for them to dissipate a little.
Do this several times a day and occasionally give him a treat when you put his collar on. Even if he's upset or cross, keep a calm and matter-of-fact attitude and don't get worried.
Just put it on and then go about your daily business without giving him any extra attention. He'll soon get over his objections.
Now that your little guy is happy wearing his collar, it's time to take another step forward and introduce him to wearing a collar and leash.
As with collars, I'd recommend a lightweight nylon leash or something similar.
There are lots of different sizes, materials and designs to choose from but something simple is best to start with.
Later on, when you're leash training a puppy who's bigger and stronger, a good quality leather training leash is my personal favorite. They last forever (as long as your pup doesn't get a chance to use it as a chew toy!) and get softer and more comfortable to use as they age.
Fabric, nylon, hemp or thick rope leashes are also good but avoid chain link ones as they are very heavy, difficult to hold and awkward to use.
Also, retractable leashes are not a good idea for leash training puppies - actually I don't think they're a great option for walking or training a pup or dog of any age!
That's because I've found that retractable dog leashes can be tricky to use, and they can cause injury to the dog, and/or their owner, if they 'spool out' the cord too quickly.
So I'd suggest choosing a nylon or fabric leash that's not too heavy and I'd recommend one that's at least 6 ft. long. I prefer to use a 10ft. training leash. Pick whichever you feel most comfortable with.
I have big dogs and don't use a harness because I prefer the flat buckle collar and leash for young puppies and move onto a chain or prong training collar (no, they're NOT cruel or unkind at all!) for more advanced leash work.
However, many owners like to use a harness especially for tiny, toy or small breed puppies. This is fine for now and if you prefer to do that there are lots of dog harnesses to choose from. Just make sure it's lightweight but sturdy.
Step 1 -
Again, take things slowly at
first as he'll now need to get familiar to feeling that extra weight on
his neck from the leash.
Don't try to walk him around beside you yet.
For the first few 'sessions' simply clip on his leash and let him wander around the house dragging it behind him..... but make sure YOU follow HIM so that he doesn't get decide to play with/chew his leash or get it wrapped around furniture etc. and get scared or hurt.
Repeat this for 5 minutes or so several times a day indoors (and outdoors too if you have a fenced yard) until he's completely happy about the whole thing.
Step 2 - The next step in leash training your puppy is to pick up the leash and follow him around while you hold it. Don't try to tug or pull him or 'tell' him where to go - this is just to make sure that's he's totally familiar with the feeling of wearing his collar/leash and with you being close by.
Step 3 - This is where leash training a puppy often starts to get interesting (read 'challenging'). Your puppy probably won't take kindly to you trying to control which direction he goes in, or how fast/slowly you go. If you're prepared for that it won't be so worrying.
You're not trying to get him to walk in the perfect 'heel' position yet either, so don't set your sights too high. Your aim is to have him walk WITH you - not rushing too far in front, and not being dragged on his little bottom behind you either!
So, starting indoors where your puppy's most comfortable, pick up the leash and walk forward while encouraging him to follow you by talking to him in a happy, upbeat voice.Occasionally give him a treat when he's walking close beside you.
Puppies of 8 - 10 weeks have a very strong and deep-seated desire to stay right beside their pack leader (that's YOU), and this helps a lot.
It's also one of the reasons why it's so important to start leash training a puppy early - that way you can benefit from his natural inclinations and he'll have already started to develop a habit of walking close to you by the time his more independent streak hits (usually somewhere between 10 and 12 weeks).
Step 4 - At some point every puppy is going to decide that this game isn't fun anymore and he's going to want to pull you in a different direction or too fast, or plonk himself down and refuse to move at all.
Don't panic, this is okay and as I mentioned earlier - perfectly normal puppy behavior.
Here's how to handle this:
If your pup's pulling and straining to get out ahead of you, you need to ..... DO NOTHING!
Well, actually that's not quite true. You do need to do something and it's....... stop walking and stand still.
This might surprise you and it's probably going against what you want to do which is to pull or tug your puppy back towards you. But please resist that urge!
If you put pressure on your pup's collar his natural
reaction is going to be to pull against that pressure... so it's
actually going to have the opposite effect to the one you're hoping for.
The point of standing still is to show your puppy that when he starts to pull on the leash his forward momentum disappears!
You're aiming to have him walk beside you with the leash hanging loosely and with some 'slack' in it, so this is an important lesson that he needs to learn.
Every single time your little guy tries to take off like the leader of an Alaskan sled dog team, plant your feet firmly and stand still. When he looks back to see what is going on call him back to you in a happy voice, then once he's by your side and the leash is loose, move forward again.
Repeat the whole process every time your pup pulls out ahead.
is probably the closest you'll ever be to that old saying 'one step
forward and two steps back' but it's a necessary, if frustrating, part
of the 'lesson'.
If you're trying to leash train a puppy who's decided that this game isn't for him and sits (or lies) down and plays dead, you'll need a slightly different approach otherwise you'll never get anywhere :)
When your pup decides to stage a 'sit in' to protest against his leash training exercises, you need to find a way to encourage him to follow you.
Be very upbeat and cheerful, use a happy voice, lots of hand movements and excited body language... plus a few tasty treats or a favorite toy to use as a reward when he IS doing what you want him to do.
If your puppy absolutely refuses to follow you in spite of all your calling and encouragement, there's one trick that rarely fails..
Walk back towards your puppy without making eye contact, and keep walking past him until you're several paces behind him (but keep the leash in your hand of course).
Then call turn around and jog forward, calling his name in a happy voice as you pass him. Most puppies simply can't resist the urge to follow :)
You may find your progress down the street is pretty erratic with lots of stops and starts, but the more often you practice the easier it will get for you and the more comfortable your puppy will feel with the whole thing.
Don't expect your pup to 'get' this leash training thing right away, or to totally accept it even if he understands it.
Successful puppy training is built on consistent repetition and leash work is no exception.
Leash training a puppy shouldn't be a chore, but some pups are just a little more difficult than others, or a touch more stubborn about resisting your efforts to get them walking nicely.
BUT, if you keep doing the same thing day after day, walk after walk, he will eventually figure it out.
Remember to keep your expectations realistic too - your puppy is just a baby and if you can get him to walk nicely for a few minutes then you're both doing great.
Thirty minute walks or obedience-style 'heel' work are still in the future, for now aim for a short stroll that's enjoyable and don't expect perfection.
Here's a really great little video that I really like and think you'll enjoy too.
It's about leash training puppies and covers everything I've discussed above - with a few 'extra' pointers and tips thrown in for good measure.....