Leash Training for Puppies

The Collar — What is this thing on my neck?

The first step in leash training is to get the pup used to a collar. Expect the pup to scratch at it. Put the collar on when the pup is eating and playing under your supervision. Distract him from thinking about it. Just like wearing a watch or a ring feels strange to you at first, the strange sensation of a collar can annoy a dog or cause him to play with the new item. But, after a little time, he will become accustomed to its presence. In fact, many of them actually seem to like their collars and associate them with going out for a walk or other “adventure” if handled properly.

  • Make sure that the collar fits and is comfortable — I personally prefer nylon collars with a snap.
  • Only remove the collar if the puppy is not fussing over it. Do not reward unwanted behavior.
  • Collars can be a hazard as well as a asset. The risks must be remembered.

Some breeds are especially prone to the collar catching on something and strangling the dog so you must be careful when leaving collars on dogs unattended. Dogs that like to dig under the fence, for example, are more likely to get hung on something. On the other hand, a dog left outside unsupervised is at risk of being lost. Remember, collar identification saves dogs’ lives.

I have personally seen and treated both dogs and cats that have gotten hung on a fence that they were either trying to climb, jump, or even dig under. I have friends who have lost their dogs because of the very same collars that were meant to protect them. On the other hand, I also have many clients whose dogs have been lost without collars. They now wish with all of their hearts, that their dogs had been wearing a collar with some form of identification to bring them back home. You must know your dog and consider his habits and tendencies. Decide which is better for your situation and remember when using a collar, to make sure it fits properly. Keep these things in mind with your pet and weigh the risks with each individual dog.

Adding the Leash .. Is This a Toy?

The next step is to add a leash. Some pups seem overwhelmed by an entire leash all at once. In these cases you can start with a shorter leash or string. Add length as the puppy gets used to it. Experienced dog people learn that chewed leashes can be useful later, and this is one of those times. Find you a old leash or one that your dog has previously “shortened” for you.

Attach the regular leash (or a shortened one) to the collar when the puppy is eating or playing, and let the pup get used to it being there.

As with the collar, don’t remove it when the pup is making a fuss about it. Remove it at a time the pup has forgotten it’s there.

Do not leave a leash on an unattended dog. It can catch on things and trap the dog in dangerous and traumatic situations. Leashes are only safe during supervised times. Remember this fact for those of you who think that “run lines or cables” are completely safe. By “run lines” I am referring to the line created by stringing a tight rope or cable between 2 trees and attaching a short leash to it so that it can slide back and forth along the cable. I know of several clients that have lost their dogs to these “contraptions”. (I will say that I think that “runs” are safer than just tying a dog out to a stake or tree, but they still have their hazards. Okay, I am off my soap box……).

Distract your puppy whenever he seems bothered by the leash or starts to chew it. It’s fine to apply Bitter Apple to the leash, but realize this substance does not last long as a chewing deterrent, and will need to be reapplied for every session. Doing this can keep leash-chewing from ever becoming a habit, and save you money, work and the worry of a loose dog.

Training Techniques

Before you pick up the other end of the leash with it attached to the puppy, you need to first start teaching the puppy to come to you when you call him. Clap your hands and reward him for coming with a small piece of food or toy. (Treats are my preferred reward for THIS type of training.) Don’t be afraid the puppy will always need treats to walk on a leash. Leash walking has its own rewards, but a young puppy doesn’t know that yet. The treats just help you get started.

At all times, be prepared to reward your puppy with little treats, toy games and other things the puppy likes, for moving with you, coming to you, and looking at you. Each puppy is different. Pups have different things they like best, and different things they respond to in different ways. You can build your puppy’s desires to interact with you by how you use your praise, treats, petting, and the games you and your puppy play together. All of this factors into your leash training as well as all other training, both in puppyhood and later.

Now, you are ready to pick up the free end of the leash.

The first thing that I work on when beginning my leash training is to teach my puppy not to pull. I want to be able to walk with a LOOSE leash. So, from the first time you pick up the leash, keep it loose. I usually begin by giving just the slightest pull or tug on the leash and IMMEDIATELY release the pressure, all the while calling for him to come to me. As soon as he does, I give him both a treat and lavish praise. I will then pat my leg and move away from him, inducing him to follow. When he does, praise some more. Resist the impulse to pull the dog around on leash, or even to guide the dog with the leash. If you keep steady pressure on the leash, he may begin to panic about his inability to escape. This will cause him to learn to avoid the leash. If, however, you give just enough of a tug to cause him to step toward you and just as quickly release the pressure, he learns that the pressure goes away when he moves toward you. He begins to then, comes when called because he knows pressure will follow if he doesn’t and praise and food follow if he does.

Work hard at remembering to communicate through your voice, body language, and various other motivators. Keep your attention on your mental communication with the dog, rather than trying to communicate through the leash. The leash serves to merely get his attention but should not be used to “reel him in”.

If your puppy makes an attempt to pull you, your job is to stand still (or even give a little tug back, and just as quickly release). The message to the puppy is simply that pulling on the leash is fruitless. It doesn’t work. When things don’t work, people and dogs eventually quit doing those things! As soon as the puppy notices that trying to pull you didn’t work because you stopped, switch into your attention-getting, puppy-follow-me mode, and get that puppy coming back to you! This is the game. And to a puppy, it really does need to be a game. Make it fun for the puppy and you.

Leash Training for Adult Dogs

Leashes are wonderful things for dogs. Leashes mean getting to go out of the house and yard to all sorts of interesting places. Leashes mean enjoying the outside world. With a little training, your dog will happily greet the sight of the leash, (just as he does his collar) and walk along on it easily without pulling.

Does this sound too good to be true? It’s not. As with training a puppy, start with treats or toys in the early stages, to develop the ability to bring the dog to your side with a minimum of effort.

If you are training your dog for dog sports, you’ll need a different word cue for recreational walking (such as “Let’s go for a walk”) versus actual “heeling”. The heel or other competition cue word means precision, and certain other things, depending on the sport involved. It also means full attention. Walking down the street to exercise and socialize, you’ll take your attention off your dog and allow the dog’s attention to wander, too. So you need a cue for this walking that doesn’t require full attention. It can be any word or phrase you like.

When the dog pulls on the leash, the constant pressure reduces the dog’s ability to feel your motions with the leash, resulting in the need for excessive pressure to restrain the dog. This excessive pressure can cause physical problems such as throat irritation, coughing, and skin irritation. It can also cause temperament problems in some dogs.

Keeping a loose leash is really simple. All you have to do is react every time the leash goes tight. Don’t try to determine when the dog is pulling. Instead, make it black and white by reacting whenever there is tension on the leash.

So here’s what you do. Start out for your walk. Make sure your arm holding the leash is comfortable (bent with your elbow in to your side is most common). Walking along with your arm extended is not a good control position for working a dog nor is it comfortable for you. The instant the leash goes tight use one of three options.

Stop — works well for sensitive dogs and young puppies.
Pull backwards on the leash firmly and quickly (causing the dog to have to pause or step back as well) and just a quickly release the tension on the leash. Do not let your dog get accustom to having pressure on his neck.
And my personal favorite — Quickly straighten your arm to create momentary slack in the leash, and step off abruptly in a new direction. I usually turn right or do a right-about turn. This creates an immediate pull on the leash in a new direction and makes your dog start paying better attention to where you are and where you are going. It is after all, your walk too. This move will apply enough pressure to his leash that he has to move to catch up. This results in 2 things —

  • He will be reminded not to pull
  • He realizes he is not the leader in this relationship.

When the dog turns attention to you and moves to get back close to you, praise, praise, praise! And keep moving — make yourself and your actions unpredictable enough and interesting enough that the dog has to make an effort to keep with you. Continue to generously praise the dog for this effort. Soon, you will find that leash training really isn’t all that intimidating after all.