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Leash training a puppy may seem easy.
However, it is often much more complicated than it appears.
When we consider getting a dog, we often envision ourselves taking long and relaxing walks with our four-legged friend.
But, what happens when reality doesn’t meet expectations?
No one enjoys being dragged along the sidewalk with a dog that appears to be training for a marathon.
But, what can you do when your puppy pulls and pulls?
The key is to train your puppy to walk on a leash.
This guide will walk you through the basics of teaching heel cues and loose-leash walking.
An Introduction to Leash Training
Leash training is something every new dog owner should consider an essential part of basic puppy training.
Nobody wants a dog constantly pulling on the leash, especially considering the dangers it presents to both owner and dog.
A leash-trained dog is a dog that understands the purpose of walking with a loose leash and one that pays attention to your cues rather than pulling to move forward.
It is all about teamwork, where you—the owner—successfully communicate to your dog what you expect when the leash comes out.
No puppy is born leash trained.
While some may learn faster than others, you are ultimately responsible for the outcome of the training.
Achieving results can be a lengthy process.
You need to prepare yourself to be patient and consistent in your training and to set reasonable expectations.
An Opportunity to Bond with Your Dog
Teaching a young dog to walk on a leash takes time and patience.
We recommend using positive reinforcement training methods only to help strengthen the bond with your dog.
Dogs are experts at trying to please their human family members.
While it could seem like they are not listening at times, we can almost guarantee they’re trying.
Working together can be a fantastic bonding experience for puppies.
It is easy to get frustrated.
But, keep in mind that if your dog doesn’t seem to listen, chances are your training methods aren’t working or that you’ve set your expectations too high.
By using positive reinforcement training, where you reward success rather than punish failures, you keep training fun and engaging.
Punishing your dog, on the other hand, can severely damage your relationship.
The Importance of Leash Training
When you’ve just brought home a new puppy, it can be tempting to focus mostly on potty training your puppy or cute tricks like sit, own, and shake.
While these are useful in many situations, you shouldn’t ignore one of the most vital skills for a dog to have—proper leash walking manner.
This applies even if you live remotely where you rarely plan to leash your dog.
You never know if your circumstances could change or if you’ll need to leave your dog with someone else temporarily.
Keeping Your Puppy Safe
If this is your first puppy, perhaps you’ve never thought twice about leash training!
Unfortunately, most dogs won’t know how to walk on a leash automatically.
Chances are you’ll have a dog that either pulls relentlessly the first time you leash them.
Or one that won’t walk at all.
Neither is sustainable.
Proper leash walking skills are key to keeping your puppy safe when you are out and about.
The best way to keep a dog safe is to provide proper training for everyday situations.
A sudden yank on the leash could injure you or your puppy or lead to a tragic accident.
It might be cute when the puppy is young.
But what happens when your furry friend can suddenly knock you over or pull the leash from your hand?
Before you know it, you could find yourself with a dog bolting into traffic.
Even a small dog can cause these incidents if untrained.
Secure Walks and Physical Exercise
Dogs aren’t made to be cooped up inside their entire lives; they need daily outings and physical exercise.
Walking is essential for the well-being of our canine companions, as it provides both together with the opportunity to socialize.
To a dog, every tree has its own scent.
Going on walks helps a puppy familiarize itself with the world.
Worth noting is that you shouldn’t take your puppy walking in public until fully vaccinated.
But any leash training you do before that sets your fur friend up for pleasant walks to come.
When you eventually take your dog out, you are responsible for your puppy’s safety but also for the safety of other dogs, animals, and people.
A reliable leash is a must-have. Especially in areas with existing leash laws, and just like with any other tool—it needs to be used responsibly.
When to Start Leash Training Your Puppy?
Never underestimate the importance of early leash training.
Yes, it usually takes a few weeks for a puppy to be fully vaccinated and ready to take on the world.
Thankfully you can start leash training at home or out in your private yard.
According to the American Kennel Club, the first few months of a puppy’s life offer an essential training opportunity.
Puppies are more receptive to learning new things between 3-4 months of age.
The sooner you start, the more likely you are to see desired results.
Getting Your Puppy Used to the Leash
Start slowly by letting your puppy get used to the collar or harness.
Give them plenty of praise whenever the dog ignores their gear (no scratching or biting)
It can take some time, but be patient and make it part of your daily routine.
(you’d be surprised how often puppies refuse to walk once a harness comes on for the first time)
The next step is to attach the leash and just let your puppy drag it around for a couple of minutes per day.
Be careful not to leave your puppy unsupervised when wearing a harness or leash. They could easily get tangled or stuck somewhere.
Puppies also tend to bite and chew while teething. It would be a shame to have your new puppy gear destroyed before you even get a chance to use it.
Can Adult Dogs Be Taught?
Reading that dogs are the most trainable at a young age might feel discouraging if you own an adult dog, but don’t worry!
Adult dogs can learn to walk on a leash, too. It can take more time and require additional patience, but few things are as satisfying as seeing the light in a dog’s eyes once it finally figures out what you expect.
The saying that you can’t teach an old dog is a myth.
Every method mentioned in this guide can be applied when teaching leash walking skills to an adult dog.
Checklist to Start Leash Training Your Puppy
So, what do you need to leash train a puppy?
Let’s look at what you need before you can start.
We recommend getting these items before your puppy moves in, if possible, but you might need to wait if you are unsure of the puppy’s size.
- Training Treats
The easiest way to leash train a dog is with rewards.
You can use your voice and treats to let your puppy know when it is doing something right, and it is a good idea to get special treats you only use for training.
High-value treats will help keep your puppy motivated and make sure its focus is on you throughout the training session.
Don’t forget that puppies and adult dogs should be fed treats in moderation.
A good rule of thumb is that a maximum of 10% of the dog’s daily food intake should be treated, and the rest needs to be high-quality puppy food.
- Dog Collar/Harness
The tools you use to leash train your puppy isn’t as important as the training itself, but you should still pick out a collar or a harness that fits right and sits comfortably on your puppy.
Using a collar over a harness is a personal choice, but remember that collars can cause injuries to the neck and trachea if used incorrectly.
A properly fitted harness tends to be a safer choice.
Avoid using choke chains and choke collars when leash training your dog, as these are not helpful or recommended when building a strong bond.
Punishment-based training is based on the idea that you are the boss of your dog when in reality, the two of you are a team that needs to learn to work together.
Head Collars and Anti-Pull Harnesses—Good or Bad?
Harnesses with a front clip and head collars that go around the snout have become popular anti-pulling tools and work well for many dogs.
However, these are tools and not solutions, and it is common for dogs to start pulling the second you put them in a regular collar or harness.
Using one might temporarily mask the problem but won’t resolve it, and your best option is to focus on leash training before resorting to these types of tools.
You can’t leash train your dog without a leash.
Invest in a sturdy leash you can hold onto without hurting yourself, and avoid any type of Flexi or other retractable leashes.
Retractable leashes seem fun, but they do nothing to help dogs learn appropriate leash behavior.
They are considered highly unsafe by dog trainers worldwide.
If your puppy is very small in size, you might need to start with a thinner leash than what you’ll be using once it grows up.
- Dog I.D Tag
Any dog training to walk properly on a leash needs an I.D tag.
What happens if you drop the leash and your puppy runs off? Invest in an I.D tag with your contact information and home address.
You can also write your phone number on your dog’s collar or leash with a waterproof marker, but verify before each outing that it’s still readable.
Different Leash Training Methods
Every dog learns in its own unique way, and what works for another dog might not work for yours.
We will look at a couple of methods of teaching dogs to walk on a leash, but you should feel free to adapt the methods to what works for you and your four-legged family member.
Training a puppy to heel is not the same as training a puppy to walk on a loose leash.
We will have a look at both versions below.
The best way to sum it up is that heeling is a temporary cue and not something your dog should be expected to do throughout the walk.
That’s where loose leash training comes in.
Teaching Your Puppy to Heel
We’ll start with the heel cue, which can be useful when training your dog to walk on a loose leash.
The heel cue is when your dog is walking right next to you while giving you its full attention.
For those who have plans of taking dog training courses in the future, or perhaps even compete in Obedience or dog sports like agility—this cue is a must.
– Which Side to Walk On?
The dog always heels on your left when you compete in Rally Obedience or classic Obedience.
If you have no intention of competing, you can choose which side you prefer. You do need a preferred side to help your dog know what to do.
– Pick a Heel Cue
Using “heel” is by far the most common in the dog training world, but it doesn’t mean you can’t choose something else.
Dogs learn words by association, and whatever word you want to use, just make sure to use it consistently, and that’s what’ll tell your dog which action to perform.
– A Steady Leash Grip
In the beginning, you might find it helpful to hold onto the leash with both hands.
If you want your dog to walk on your left, hold the leash in your right hand and use your left hand to hold it steady.
– Reward After Each Step
Using treats is an easy way to show your dog what you want it to do.
Hold the treat in the hand the closest to your dog (your left hand if your dog is to walk on the left), and make sure the dog knows there is a treat in your hand.
The goal is to encourage our pup to stay next to you and to advance whenever you do. Take a step, and if your dog moves with you—reward.
– Is Your Dog Pulling? Stop!
The moment your puppy loses focus or starts pulling—stop.
Don’t reward, but don’t scold or punish. Just quietly start over and repeat.
– Take More Steps Before Rewarding
Don’t forget that this isn’t taught overnight. Take your time repeating that one step followed by a treat.
When your dog is starting to get the hang of it, take two steps before giving out the reward, then three steps, and so on.
– Introduce Your Verbal Cue
Remember your chosen verbal cue?
This is where you introduce it.
Whenever your dog is heeling properly, say the cue and reward with treats and vocal praise. With time, the dog will make the connection and start associating the cue with the desired action.
– Introduce a Release Cue
As mentioned previously, ‘heel’ is only meant to be used temporarily. You need a cue that releases your dog and lets it know it’s okay to sniff around.
Some use “go play,” but you can use anything you feel comfortable with.
Training Puppies Loose Leash Walking in Three Steps
Teaching ‘heel’ first is useful in distracting situations.
Young dogs are easily distracted and get stressed in busy environments.
To have the heel cue to fall back on allows you to call your dog back to you and start over.
However, a dog doesn’t need to know ‘heel’ before learning to walk on a loose leash, but it is helpful.
The biggest difference between heeling and walking on a loose leash is that the latter gives the dog the freedom to sniff.
The only rule is that it cannot pull or tug on the least, but other than that, it is up to you how much freedom you allow.
Here are three steps to teaching your dog to walk on a leash:
1. Keep treats in your pocket so that you can reward them as needed. Let your dog sniff around as long as they are not pulling the leash.
2. If your dog pulls, stop, call your dog back, and place it in a heeling position if you have already taught this cue.
This is where teaching ‘heel’ first becomes convenient.
When the dog stops pulling, you can release it from the heel position and start moving again. If you still haven’t worked on this cue, just make it a habit to stop moving as soon as your dog pulls.
The goal is for the dog to understand that if there is pulling—you stop.
3. For leash-reactive dogs or dogs that get too excited, you can also try to turn around and walk away from the trigger as soon as the dog starts pulling.
Dogs are highly intelligent, and by stopping or turning around when a dog pulls, they will soon realize that the only way to move forward is to walk with a slack leash.
Being Patient is Essential
Take it slow in the beginning and limit training to a few minutes per day. It is a process, and the hardest part for many dog owners is to be patient.
When you feel yourself or your dog getting frustrated—take a break and revisit training later on.
Teaching a puppy to walk on a leash can be challenging. But, it can also be fun if you approach it with the right attitude!
Use this guide to get started once your puppy moves in, and adapt the methods to work for you and your dog.
Positive reinforcement training will help strengthen your bond and initiate the process of making you a team.
The work and effort you put in now will pay off by the time your dog is an adult.
You hopefully have many long walks and exciting outdoor adventures with your best fur friend ahead of you.
Leash training is key to making it safe and enjoyable for everyone.