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Puppy leash training

The essentials

  • Walking on a leash is a learned behavior — Contrary to popular belief, puppies don’t just instinctively know how to walk beside their owner.
  • Don’t yank, drag, or pull if your dog misbehaves — Successful training means teaching your pup to walk calmly by your side within the length of their leash.
  • All dogs should know how to walk on a leash — Leash training helps strengthen the bond between a new puppy and its owner and boost their overall confidence.

Many people think walking on a leash is second nature to dogs. But just like any other trick, this skill needs to be taught. The good news is that dogs of all ages can be leash trained — it just might take a little longer to undo an older dog’s poor leash manners. It requires some time and patience on the owner’s end, but you’ll find the effort is well worth it when you can comfortably explore the outside world with your best friend by your side.

The benefits of leash training

Whether you’re walking through the park or dining at a dog-friendly restaurant, there are several situations where you might find yourself having to leash up your dog. The biggest benefit of leash training is safety. A leash-trained dog is safer from potentially fatal dangers like oncoming traffic and unwanted altercations with other dogs and people.

Since the owners of leash-trained dogs don’t have to worry about unwanted pulling or biting, they can take them to more places more often. That translates to more mental and physical stimulation and an overall happier pup.

Dangers of not leash training a puppy

On the other hand, puppies untrained to walk on a leash may become anxious when taken for walks — they’re unacclimated to new environments, noises, people, and other pets. They can also become overly excited on walks, leading to unwanted pulling and aggression, which makes them even more difficult to control.

When should I start teaching my puppy to walk on a leash?

Most puppies can begin leash training as soon as you bring them home. Ideally, they’ll stay with their mother for the first 8 to 12 weeks of life, but some dogs can handle the basic principles of leash training even earlier. The earlier you begin, the more effective your training will be. Remember to be extra patient with young puppies since they haven’t developed the focus or self-control necessary for loose-leash walking.

Leash training essentials

Before you start teaching your puppy to walk on a leash, gather these essentials. Using the right equipment (and, of course, the right attitude!) will help your dog get more comfortable learning a new skill and even speed up the learning process.

Leash. We recommend a 6-foot-long leash, like nylon or leather, that’s sturdy but comfortable in your hand. If you want to give your dog more range, try using a long-line leash once they’ve mastered the basics of leash training. Avoid this type of leash on dogs just beginning the leash training process, as they can easily get tangled up in it and become confused.

Collar/harness. Most dog owners buy their puppies a collar right when they get them. However, we advise against attaching a leash to your dog’s collar to avoid unnecessary roughness on their neck. A well-fitting harness is a gentler, better option. If your dog struggles with leash pulling, consider a front-attach harness. This prevents them from pulling with their full force and makes your job as a dog walker a lot easier.

Treats. High-quality dog treats are one of the best rewards a dog can get for correctly obeying a command. Treats are great indoors for making dogs more comfortable with their leashes and outside to incentivize against unwanted behaviors.

Barriers. Crates, pet pens, and playpens can discourage unwanted behaviors while leash-training your dog. Some owners like using barriers to give their puppies limited free space when they first start using a leash.

Poop bags and holder. Leash training or not, never take your dog on a walk without these.

How to teach a puppy to walk on a leash, step by step

Keep sessions between 10 and 15 minutes long when you start leash training your dog, as most dogs have a relatively short attention span. If you’re leash training a puppy, keep training sessions even shorter. Remember to take things slow and give your pooch plenty of positive reinforcement through praise, play, and treats.

1. Introduce the puppy to the harness or leash

Regardless of age, you should always start the training process by letting your dog wear their leash and harness inside the house before taking them outside. Start with short periods and gradually increase each session’s duration as they become more comfortable. Play with them and give treats during these sessions to teach your dog to associate leash time with their two favorite things: food and fun!

2. Teach them a marker

Once your dog seems comfortable wearing their harness, try teaching them a cue in the form of a sound or hand signal that lets them know they’ve successfully performed the desired behavior and earned a reward in the form of a treat. Some owners use a clicker to “mark” behaviors, while others consistently use the same word like “yes” or “good,” or a hand signal like a thumbs up. Whatever you opt for, pick one marker and stick with it. Then, use it each time your dog correctly performs the behavior.

3. Make them come to you

At this point, you can begin teaching your puppy to come to you while they’re wearing their harness. Take a few steps back as they approach you, and reward them with a treat when they make it to you. Mark the behavior each time they successfully come and reinforce it with a treat. Continue this until they automatically walk a few paces with you upon hearing the cue word.

4. Practice inside

Once your puppy understands how to come to you, you can attach the leash to their harness and practice walking them a few steps inside the house. Just feeling or seeing a leash can be challenging for a dog, so remember to go slow and keep giving them positive reinforcement. Puppies commonly pull away when first introduced to the leash, but don’t stop them. Let them drag the lead around the room until they seem comfortable with the feeling of a loose leash.

5. Take it outside

Once you’re happy with your dog’s progress inside the house, you can gradually begin to take your leash training sessions outside. This is another challenging hurdle, as puppies will often feel overwhelmed with all the sights, sounds, and smells of the outside world.

6. Increase distance over time

Be patient and limit your walks to a few minutes at first. If you notice your dog getting distracted and it seems like they’re about to pull or lunge, make your cue noise and take a few steps back. As always, reinforce their good behavior with a treat every time they follow you. You can continue to walk them progressively farther from the house as they get used to their new surroundings.

The 3 most common struggles with leash training

Every dog is bound to run into the occasional leash training hiccup, particularly when they’re exploring new areas for the first time or exposed to new people and pets. Common behaviors include:

Pulling and lunging. Pulling is the most common leash-training problem among dogs. Distractions like squirrels and other dogs may excite a dog and cause them to pull or lunge in its direction. When this happens, the best advice is to plant your feet firmly on the ground, standing still or refusing to move until they come back to your side. Do not yank or pull on the leash to bring them back.

If the distraction is especially intense, try gently turning them around and walking in the opposite direction. It also helps to reward your pup with a treat each time they do come back to you.

Biting. If your puppy is teething during leash training, you may notice them biting their leash. The most effective way to stop this is to redirect their attention from the leash to a treat or chew toy. Do not pull on the leash if your dog is biting on it — this makes it seem like you’re playing a game with them and reinforces the unwanted behavior.

Barking and acting aggressively. Some dogs are known to bark at other dogs while on walks, especially dogs that don’t get enough mental and physical stimulation for their age and breed. Leash-aggressive dogs aren’t bad or mean — they’re most likely just scared of unfamiliar surroundings. If giving your dog more mental and physical exercise doesn’t calm them down, do your best to create distance between them and what they’re barking at. You can also offer treats before they bark to condition them to turn their attention to you whenever they spot another person or dog.

Other things to keep in mind while leash training a puppy

Leash training is no walk in the park (literally and figuratively) — not at first at least. Refrain from punishing your dog when they make mistakes, and use these tips to help see them through to the end of their training:

  • Patience is key. Being too harsh with your dog will only make them more anxious about leash training. Maintain a positive attitude and reward them with plenty of praise.
  • If one method isn’t working, try another. What works for one dog may not work at all for other dogs. Test the training methods outlined above and continue using the ones to which your dog best responds.
  • Expect progress and regression as your pup learns. Some dogs make huge progress in the first few months of leash training but suddenly seem to regress or act out as they get older. Chances are your dog is doing the best they can with the training, but you should still rule out underlying issues.

Frequently asked questions

What should I do when my puppy pulls on the leash?

Turn yourself into a tree when your dog pulls the leash. Plant your feet, stay very still, and do not move until your dog returns to your side. Whatever you do, do not yank or pull the leash to get them to come back.

Why does my puppy refuse to walk on a leash?

There are several reasons why a puppy might resist walking on a leash. Their collar or harness could be physically uncomfortable for them. If they’re new to leash training, they may just be uncomfortable with the outside world. Dogs may also resist walking when they see something that scares them, including another dog.

Is a harness or collar better for puppies?

Regardless of your dog’s age, a harness is always the best choice for leash training. Attaching the leash directly to their collar causes unnecessary strain on their neck and may cause them to resist training sessions.

Is it OK to tug on my puppy’s leash?

Never. Tugging, pulling, or dragging a puppy by the leash can cause injury to its neck, dislocate its knees and elbows (which are still developing), and form a negative association with you, leash training, and going on walks in general.

In what order should I teach my puppy commands?

Puppies can learn basic commands at home in conjunction with their leash training sessions. Most trainers suggest teaching your dog to heel, sit, stay, and come, in that order.