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Having a new puppy is so much fun! You want to take him out and show him off to all of your friends.
So he needs to learn how to walk on a loose leash.
Today we’re going to cover how to train a puppy to walk on a leash. Puppies don’t naturally know how to walk well on a leash. In fact, just the opposite is true.
Most puppies don’t like the feeling of a collar or harness. And, when a leash is attached, many will buck against the constraint and even try to chew on the restrictive leash.
My Aussie mix puppy Millie, who’s always full of energy, didn’t adapt well to a collar or leash at first.
She rolled around trying to remove the collar and harness. And she bucked against the leash.
So I worked with her and taught her to love not just tolerate her walking equipment. I showed her that great things happen when she has them on.
How To Train A Puppy To Walk On Leash
When working with your puppy, keep the training sessions short–no more than five or 10 minutes. Some may even be just a few minutes.
You literally want to take “puppy steps” in your training. Always end on a successful note.
Also, learning each step individually may take at least days to be successful. Don’t rush the process.
Patience is important. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.
Why Teach Your Puppy To Walk on a Loose Leash?
I’m sure that you’ve seen someone being walked by their dog. Some dogs literally drag their owners down the street.
It’s not a pretty picture. And it’s not fun to walk a dog this way.
Dogs who aren’t trained to walk on a loose leash often aren’t walked enough because it’s so unpleasant.
This lack of exercise and socialization can result in many problem behaviors such as reactivity and aggression.
Even though a dog can be physically exercised in other ways such as playing fetch, there are many reasons to walk your dog.
Walking him will help him become acquainted with the world and its sights, sounds, and smells.
This socialization will help him during his entire life.
Also, walking will help him not be bored and will stimulate his body and mind. It will even help him maintain a healthy weight.
And, of course, the old adage that “a tired dog’s a good dog” still rings true.
Basic Training 101: Teaching a Marker Word
In all of your training, you should teach your puppy what behavior is correct. You can teach this by using a word that means “You did a great job!”
A good word to use is “YES!” It’s short and happy sounding.
When your puppy performs a behavior that you like, such as sitting, use your cue and immediately give him a treat.
By doing this, you’ll teach him that performing desired behaviors is very rewarding.
PRO-TRAINER TIP: Always have your yummy treats ready before you give a command/cue to your puppy. You don’t want to be fishing for it or you won’t reward the desired behavior at the right time. Use treats that your puppy finds rewarding and that doesn’t upset his tummy. Treats should be very small no matter what your dog’s size is. They should be no larger than a pea. A small size ensures that the puppy isn’t getting too much. Also, if given larger treats, he’d have to take a lot of time chewing them and he may forget what he was rewarded for–and the training session would be too long.
Beginner 101: Collar, Harness, and Leash Training
Before you even contemplate taking your furbaby for a real walk, it’s important to get him accustomed to the equipment that will keep him safe.
After all, he’ll be wearing them for life.
And you want him to have a great attitude towards his collar, harness, and leash. So make it fun to wear them.
First, get him used to wearing his collar. This is important not only so that he can’t run away, but it also usually contains identification should he accidentally get lost.
I get collars embroidered with my dog’s name and my telephone number for safety.
Practice inside first. After you put the collar on your puppy, give him a few great treats.
Play with him. Squeak and toss his favorite toy. Play fetch.
Show him a treat and take a few steps away from him, praising him (Yes!) and give him a great treat when he reaches you.
Even praise as he starts to move towards you. This will help his recall and also teach him that having the collar on is a blast!
The lessons that he learns now will remain with him for a lifetime.
Do the same type of training exercise you did for his collar when teaching him how to love wearing his harness.
After he’s used to his collar and harness, you can teach him to become accustomed to his leash.
While he’s first learning, take the harness and collar off him at the end of his training, so that he realizes he has a lot of fun–especially while wearing them.
Be patient. It may take him at least a few days to get used to wearing a collar or harness.
Each dog’s an individual. Some take longer than others to adjust.
It took my sheltie Murphy only a few days to just wear them with no problems. But it took my Lhasa apso Ralphie over a week to adjust to wearing his harness.
The first couple of times he had it on, he would freeze and not want to move. So I brought out especially yummy treats.
I lured him forward. I tempted him with it while moving a step away. When he got to me, I gave him a jackpot–a few treats in a row.
I also made it a party coming to me. I praised him in a happy voice and petted him, since he enjoys being petted.
I lured him with the treats too by playing a “find it” game. I tossed a few treats a couple of feet away from him, telling him “find it.”
This was another way of making wearing the harness fun. He isn’t the most toy-oriented dog, so toys weren’t as big of an incentive as treats were.
An added bonus to giving him treats when he reached me? His recall became better!
I think that Murphy accepted his collar and harness more quickly because of his breed.
Shetland sheepdogs were bred to herd. So moving towards me was fun in and of itself–with the added bonus of treats.
Murphy also loves toys, so that provided an additional incentive.
So if your dog’s toy-motivated, playing with a toy can really serve as an incentive to wear a collar and harness. And use high-value treats.
Keep sessions short. Five to 10 minutes at most. Remove the collar and harness after the training session.
At any time, it’s best for a puppy not to wear a collar when he can’t be observed. It can catch on things and the pup can be accidentally injured.
Pro-Trainer Tip: Don’t forget to teach your puppy his name and to pay attention to you. And basic commands like sit and come. Learning to respond to his name and pay attention to you will pay dividends for the rest of his life!
After your puppy’s learned to enjoy wearing a collar or harness, it’s crucial to teach him to wear a leash attached to them.
Many dogs don’t like the feeling. Of course, you should never yank on the leash or drag the dog by the leash.
At first, though, when getting your puppy used to the leash, you won’t even hold it.
After he’s used to the collar and harness, attach the leash to the collar and let him drag it around.
Of course, the leash should be in proportionate to the puppy. A large golden puppy would wear a wider leash than a Shih Tzu would. Use a four or six-foot leash to practice with.
You can use a lighter leash than you would when you walk him just for him to get used to it.
Keep him near you in an open area in your home. You don’t want the leash to catch on to anything.
Otherwise, he could be injured. And the leash will become a very negative experience.
When a few feet away from you, lure him towards you and call him. When he reaches you, praise and reward him with a few yummy treats.
You can even play a game with a toy. It should be a “party” when he reaches you.
If you make it so much fun, he’ll want to come to you next time.
And your puppy will think that great things occur when the leash is attached. Also, he won’t be hyper-focused on the leash.
After he’s used to wearing the collar with the leash attached, do the same training exercise with the leash attached to his harness.
Hold On: You’re Ready To Walk
After your puppy is used to the collar/harness and leash attached to one of them, it’s time to hold the leash.
Make sure that your puppy has had some exercise before attempting this.
If he has too much energy, he will probably focus too much on the leash and try to buck against it or even chew on it.
So, play a game with him to take the edge off. You always should set your puppy up to succeed when working with him.
Do your beginning training sessions inside, without distractions. Train in different rooms and areas of your house, so that your puppy generalizes that he has to perform wherever he is.
Keep the leash loose and lure him towards you with a treat. Praise and reward when he reaches you.
Just do this a few times and end on a successful note. Puppies have very short attention spans.
After your pup is used to coming towards you with you holding a loose leash, start to teach him to move with you.
Hold a treat next to him and take a step. Praise and reward when he moves with you.
If he’s jumping for the treat, hold it lower. Add steps gradually, rewarding only after more steps moving with you. This may take many sessions.
Eventually, fade the lure (don’t show him the treat first) and just give him the reward.
After he’s able to walk for at least 20 steps next to you, start getting him used to walking outside.
Taking It on the Road
When you first start training him outside, start without many distractions.
Start in your backyard if it’s free of distractions. Or start in front if there are no distractions. Of course, the goal is to get him used to walking on a loose leash wherever he is.
So, just as you did inside, hold the leash so that it’s not tight on the puppy.
Start by calling him to you while taking a couple of steps away from him. Praise and reward when he reaches you. You may need to do this for a few days or longer.
After he’s successful coming towards you on a loose leash, start with a few steps next to him, praising and rewarding him when he walks with you just as you did while inside.
Eventually, add more steps as long as he moves along with you. Use a treat and lure him if you need to. Praise and reward each success.
Eventually, fade the lure (don’t show him the treat first) and just give him the reward.
After he’s able to walk well around your property, start walking him other places.
Always start without distractions. Add distractions as your puppy’s able to handle them.
Where you can take him will depend on what vaccinations he’s had. Before going places where other animals may have been, make sure that he’s been sufficiently vaccinated. Your vet can help you with this decision.
Of course, some problems may occur along the way. But don’t despair. There are ways of managing them or eliminating them.
After all, your puppy’s just learning and he’s going to need help understanding what behavior you want.
Many puppies want to sniff as they walk along. They have a “nose brain.” It’s natural for them to sniff and explore their environment.
But in teaching your puppy to walk on a loose leash, it’s best to teach him to not sniff. Sniffing can lead to pulling and a lack of attention to you.
After you teach him to walk nicely on a loose leash, you can teach him a “sniff” cue so that he can have fun and sniff for a short portion of his walk.
To help manage sniffing, teach your puppy an attention command. If he’s looking up at you, he won’t be looking down and sniff. You can also have a toy to distract him. Sometimes a “leave it” cue can be used.
To help our pup’s satisfy the urge for sniffing we enroll them in K9 Nosework classes. It’s a great way to get energy out and to teach your puppy to use his nose.
Some dogs naturally bark on a walk. Some bark out of fear and others because they’re excited and want to reach the object they’re barking at.
Dogs with herding drive are likely to bark at moving things like a jogger, someone on a bike, or even a car going by. And some terriers will bark at what they perceive as prey, such as a squirrel or rabbit.
Barking often occurs because the dog isn’t getting enough exercise.
So make sure that your puppy gets a sufficient amount of exercise. This includes physical exercise and mental stimulation, such as puzzle toys.
Managing the barking includes getting your puppy’s attention before he starts barking.
Watch the environment. If you see something that your puppy may bark at when he’s closer to it, get his attention with a treat first.
Have him look at you. Have him perform a behavior such as a sit. Praise and reward when he listens.
Bring out a toy he loves and redirect him to it. And make sure that he remains far enough away from the person, animal, or object that he doesn’t become over-stimulated and bark.
Distance manners when deterring a puppy from barking and lunging on a leash. You want to be far enough from the desired object that he’s not over-stimulated.
Barking and lunging (discussed below) are also more likely to occur if the puppy hasn’t yet been socialized to new environments.
As is true with barking, some dogs are more likely to lunge than others.
Herding breeds like Aussies and shelties often want to herd anything that moves. But any dog can lunge if excited or startled.
Be aware of your environment and anticipate things that your puppy may lunge at. Once again, as you did with barking, redirect your puppy’s attention to you.
Be a tree and stand still. Don’t move ahead until your puppy calms down and isn’t pulling. This process is slow, but can be very effective.
Or you can make an about-turn and walk a few feet in the other direction. Only do this if your puppy turns with you and you aren’t dragging him on a tight leash.
Always praise and reward when your puppy’s successful.
Chewing on the Leash
Some puppies try to chew on their leash. The best way to handle this is to redirect him to something else.
This can be looking at you, performing a command like sit, or redirecting him to a toy.
Making sure that he has enough mental and physical,exercise otherwise can help.
If all else fails, you can put a chew deterrent like Bitter Apple on the leash before putting it on him.
Chewing on a leash can become not only a bad habit–it can also be unsafe. He may chew through the leash and get free. And it can be very expensive to keep replacing leashes.
To Treat or Not To Treat: That Is the Question
When teaching a new behavior to a new adult dog or puppy, reinforce desired behaviors as discussed above with praise and treats.
Once a behavior is reliable in a setting, you can SLOWLY wean treats down, giving them most of the time. Remember you also have other reinforcements: your praise, petting, and toys.
Only give fewer treats after the puppy understands what’s wanted and performs it reliably. Always have treats on you to reward good behavior.
What NOT To Do: Don’t Try This at Home
Training should be positive. Your loose leash training shouldn’t be harsh. Don’t yank on the leash or “drag” your puppy. Doing so would harm your training–and potentially your puppy. Yanking on a dog’s neck can harm his trachea and his spine.
When should I begin teaching my puppy to walk on a loose leash?
Generally, a puppy shouldn’t leave his mother and littermates until he’s eight weeks old. After he settles into his new home, you can start teaching him. Teach him his name. Get him used to a collar, harness, and leash. Then, you can begin to teach him how to walk on a loose leash.
What should I do if my puppy barks and pulls on the leash?
Make sure that he’s getting a sufficient amount of physical and mental exercise otherwise. You can also make sure that he’s far enough from the stimuli that he’s not likely to engage in those behaviors. Also, watch your environment and get his attention before he starts to bark or lunge.
Should I put the leash on the puppy’s collar and then take him on a walk the day I get him?
NO! First get him used to a collar. Give him treats when putting it on and play with him. After he’s used to a collar, get him used to a leash too before actually taking him on a walk.
Training your puppy to walk on a loose leash has many benefits. It exercises his body and mind. It helps socialize him. And it furthers the bond between you and your puppy. He can also be taken to great places and adventures during his life–and you’ll both have FUN!
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