Training your puppy to walk on a loose leash, under control and not pulling, is an important part of their overall training. But how old do they need to be to start walking on a leash and how should you start training them? We’ll cover those topics plus how to curb some of the naughty leash-related behaviors.
When to Start Leash Training
Leash training your puppy can be one of the first things they learn, along with “sit,” “stay,” “come” and other useful commands. Even at just a few months of age, your puppy can be introduced to their collar, harness and leash and start learning what they’re all about.
Equipment That’s Not Too Big or Too Small
Your puppy’s collar should fit comfortably around their neck — tight enough to stay on but not too tight that it’s uncomfortable. It’s important to keep checking the collar fit as your puppy grows to know when it’s time to upgrade to a larger size. The same tips apply if you’re using a harness — make sure it’s a comfortable fit and an appropriate size. The leash should be around 4 to 6 feet long to begin with so that your puppy stays close to you during training. Once your puppy is walking well on a loose leash, they can move on to a longer leash.
If there’s one thing puppies are GREAT at, it’s using their sharp little puppy teeth to chew things they shouldn’t. So always check the condition of the leash and harness (and collar if they haven’t been wearing it) in case it has been damaged, as it could tear under pressure.
Start with Indoor Training
The inside of the house has a lot fewer distractions (i.e., no cars or moving leaves) than the outside, so start your training sessions indoors. It’s still a good idea to remove potential distractions before you start inside, though. Try a quiet room that isn’t full of their favorite chew toys.
Start by introducing the leash, collar and/or harness to get your puppy familiar with them. Let your puppy sniff and explore them while you praise and encourage the positive experience. Once your puppy is comfortable, put the collar or harness on them and let them get used to that before attaching the leash. Playing their favorite game while they’re becoming familiar with the feeling of the collar or harness can help make it a positive experience. It’s also a good idea to praise and reward your puppy each time they complete a step.
Unleashing the Leash
Once your puppy seems comfortable with their collar or harness, attach the leash and walk around the house. Have them stand by your side with a loose leash and praise and give them a treat if they stay still. Move forward one step and if they stay with you without pulling on the leash, reward them again. Repeat this process until they are walking beside you without pulling.
Puppies have short attention spans, so training sessions should only last a few minutes at a time. Aim to do a few short training sessions a day and stop if your puppy is showing signs of boredom or distraction.
Venturing into the Great Outdoors
Once your puppy has mastered leash walking inside, it’s time to add some distractions. Squirrel! Bird! Big rock! Keep using praise and rewards to encourage good leash-walking behavior. There are a lot of puppy distractions outside, so using high-value treats is a good idea. Walking faster can also help you zoom by those distractions. Remember that until your puppy is fully vaccinated, it’s best to avoid the dog park or other high-traffic areas with dogs with unknown health status.
This Way. I Want to Go This Way!
It’s inevitable that at some point during your puppy’s leash training period, they’re going to want to go one way and you’ll want to go the other way. Or they’ll be super excited about the way you are going, and enthusiastically pull ahead. When your puppy pulls on the leash, stop and stay still. Once your puppy comes back to you, give them lots of praise and rewards and start walking again. Repeat this until they know that walking beside you and not pulling is when they get the good stuff.
Unwanted Games of Tug
Biting the leash is not the way games of tug are meant to be played with your puppy, but it’s probably going to happen at some point. Breanne Long, an AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer has some great tips for preventing leash-pulling behavior. Breanne says to avoid using commands like “drop it” to get your puppy to release the leash. This can teach your puppy that they get a reward for biting then dropping the leash, and they could do it even more. Instead, give your puppy treats when they are not biting the leash and are being good.
Another tip is to remove the leash from your puppy’s field of view to help avoid the temptation in the first place. Also, consider giving them a toy to carry in their mouth during the walk. Stop and play with the toy occasionally while you’re walking, so they won’t care as much about the leash. Breanne’s last tip, training them to bite the leash, seems like the opposite thing to do, but it does make sense. If they only get a reward when you tell them to bite the leash, they’re less likely to do it without hearing the command first.
Training a puppy to walk on a leash without pulling is a lot easier than training an adult dog, especially a dog big enough to pull you over. So even though it takes some time, it’s definitely worth sticking with. If you’re having trouble leash training your puppy, try our tips for easier training. But if your puppy is still not mastering the leash, ask your veterinarian for some help.
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