When you bring home a new puppy, you probably want to train it to walk on a leash as soon as possible so that you can go on lots of neighborhood walks and park outings. Unfortunately, puppies don’t come with a training manual and won’t know how to walk on a leash until you teach them.
As a proud new puppy parent, you might want to get your pup excited every time you take it for a walk, but this can actually work against you by creating poor leash-walking behaviors.
Let’s dig into how proper leash training can get your puppy to walk at your heel, calmly beside you, with no anxiety, pulling, or tugging, anytime you go out for a walk.
Understanding a bit about dog psychology will help you be a better dog owner and explain why the following process works to leash train. This method uses positive reinforcement based on the science behind how dogs learn new information. According to research, dogs pick up what you want them to do quicker and more effectively when you reward them for their good behavior, rather than punishing them for bad behavior.
The important thing is to understand why dogs act the way they do and use it to your advantage. Training with treats works in reverse, too; when your puppy does not obey your command and you withhold a treat, your pup learns that this is undesirable behavior.
It’s key to remember that enticing treats and loads of patience make all the difference. If you stay the course and remain consistent with your training, your puppy will learn what you want. Taking your puppy on lots of regular walks can build a deeper relationship and lead to better behavior over time.
Beware of overusing treats while training your puppy. There is a thin line between bribing your dog into sitting just because it wants the treat and teaching it to sit on command, even when you have no treats available. Dogs also respond to the rewards of toys, affection, and verbal praise. If you rotate the rewards, your dog will learn to always follow your command on the chance that you will offer a treat or other reward.
Getting Started: The Indoor Training Process
If you prefer to watch, I’ve included my YouTube video on leash training below. I dive into more detail in the paragraphs that follow.
To begin the process of leash-training your puppy, make sure that you start inside where your pet feels safe, happy, and relaxed. The basic ingredients for training success include a dog collar and leash, patience, and treats.
Starting your training inside makes it easier for both you and your dog because of the quiet, calm environment. It’s essential to have success inside before you venture out on walks. If your puppy does not listen to you in the house, there is very little chance of it listening to you outside.
This simple way to leash train your puppy involves four stages, as follows, with each working up to more challenging walks.
Pick up your puppy’s leash and make sure that it sees you doing so. If your puppy starts to get overexcited, such as jumping, barking, orbiting the leash, put the leash back down. Why? Because if you can’t begin a walk with a calm dog, you don’t want to continue. New puppy owners often don’t understand that putting a leash on an excited dog and immediately going outside can set up a bad dynamic. The dog is already wound up and ready to pull because of poor behaviors taking place earlier when getting the dog ready for its walk.
If you put on your puppy’s leash and it starts to pull to the door, your pup is telling you that it’s taking you out for a walk! Your puppy will overtime think that it is making the decisions, which will lead to pulling and straining while out on the walk.
For this reason, take the leash off, and wait until your dog calms down. Repeat the process of leashing up your puppy but continue to take the leash back off each time the dog gets excited. The initial training will require patience, but your dog will eventually stay calm and listen as you use kindness and perseverance. Once you can hook up the leash with your dog consistently staying calm, your puppy is ready to graduate to stage two.
The second stage involves a process where you employ a method called stop, start, and change direction. Do this inside the house, where your puppy feels safe, and you can control the environment. Before starting, understand that leash training’s ultimate goal is to get your puppy to walk alongside you with the leash hanging loose. If the leash is taut, your dog is pulling.
Start your puppy walking on a leash right next to you, moving through the room. The minute it starts to pull, stop, turn and start walking in the opposite direction.
Bring your dog around with you, and wait until it stops pulling, then turn again and resume walking in your original direction. You are creating a kind of pattern-interrupt for your dog that will stop the pulling. When you resume walking forward, if your dog walks with a slack leash, give it a treat! Stop and start several times, continuing to stop and change direction as needed and rewarding when your dog walks without pulling. Make your way through the house without any slip-ups, and you’re ready for stage three.
For this stage, repeat the same process, but add in just a bit of distraction. Take your dog outside to your yard. You’ll have the most success if your dog feels safe in your yard and you don’t have any distractions like leaves and long grass or interference from road noise or loud neighbors. The calm environment is vital because when your dog gets stressed because of distractions, you won’t get any training information into your puppy’s brain. Puppies have a notoriously short attention span.
Keep walking, stopping, and changing direction as needed. Reward with treats and praise, and you will build a foundation of good behavior and comfort for your dog. Every time your dog gets it wrong, stop, bring the dog back to you and start again or change direction until it stops pulling. This action will remind your dog of how good behavior looks. Each time your pup gets it right, reinforce it with praise and a treat. Once your dog can walk all around the yard without pulling, move to stage four.
Now you and your puppy are ready for the big time. Choose a quiet street in your neighborhood with little activity and distraction, and take your pup for a walk. Make sure that your dog has been calm and not pulling the entire time from when you attached the leash to when you walked out the door and arrived on the sidewalk.
Start moving down the sidewalk, and as soon as your dog pulls, stop, start, and change direction. Once your dog stops pulling, resume walking on your original course. Don’t expect your dog to pick this up in one or two tries. When you train your puppy, moving cars, other dogs, urine smells, cats, and many other favorites will be tugging at your dog’s attention.
Stay the course, and keep repeating the walk-around as many times as needed until your dog understands and walks beside you with a slack leash. Since the outside environment’s likely more distracting than inside your own house or yard, you might want to bring some high-value dog treats that your dog finds especially irresistible.
If your dog seems anxious, go back to your yard or someplace where you and your pup both feel more comfortable and build it out again. Just remain calm and repeat the process consistently, and your dog will eventually catch on. Over time, as your dog improves, you can progress to busier streets with more distractions.
If you have two dogs, train one first to the point that it doesn’t respond to distractions. Introduce the second dog and start from the beginning with both dogs together. You might find that your second dog learns faster because it will watch and follow your first dog’s behavior.
Working through this process will reward you and your dog by making walks much more fun and stress-free. You won’t need any shock collars or choke chains to get your dog to follow you everywhere you want to go. Be patient and stick with it, your hard work as an owner will pay off. If you have specific questions about training your dog, I can be available for 1-to-1 consultations to help work through the challenges.
At what age should you start leash training a puppy?
You can generally start training your puppy as soon as you bring it into your home, which is usually at about eight weeks old.
To train your new pup to walk on a leash, The AKC recommends slowly introducing the puppy to its new collar/harness and leash. Start by letting it get used to wearing the collar or harness around the house for short periods while playing and giving treats.
Next, hook on the leash, and call the puppy to come to you. While it’s on the way to you, wearing the leash and collar, back up a few paces and then reward your puppy when it gets to you. After practicing inside, practice outside in a safe, quiet place such as your backyard.
How do you train a puppy to walk on a leash without pulling?
You can read through the stages above, but to summarize, you need to start with a calm dog to train your puppy. If your dog gets excited about walks, wait until it calms down. Only clip on the leash once your dog stays calm and obedient.
Start leash training your puppy by walking in the house, and each time it pulls, stop walking. Turn in the opposite direction, then reverse again and walk. If your dog walks without pulling, give a treat.
Repeat in successively more distracting places, including your backyard, a quiet street, and noisier streets. If your dog seems anxious, always go back to a place where your dog feels safe and comfortable, or it will have trouble learning to walk without pulling. Keep practicing, and with a calm attitude and persistence, your dog will be able to walk safely and happily on a leash without pulling.
By Nigel Reed