How to Leash Train Your Puppy
By Caroline Golon
Going for walks together is a great way to build and nurture your relationship with your dog. Because what’s better than taking your furry best friend for a stroll on a gorgeous day? But walking on a leash isn’t a natural instinct for dogs. For an enjoyable walk for both of you, you need to first teach your new puppy how to walk nicely alongside you. Read on for instructions, plus our troubleshooting guide.
The Importance of Puppy Leash Training
Leash training is a must for your puppy’s training and development. Dogs are naturally inclined to wander, sniff, and explore.. No matter how much your pup loves you, walking on a leash beside you is no easy feat!
By incorporating leash training into other forms of puppy training, your puppy will learn to be an obedient, happy, and safe family member.
Puppy Leash Training
Puppies can begin leash training when they are teeny tiny. As surprising as it may seem, pups can begin learning leash skills at four to six weeks old. Pretty impressive, huh? It is best to start training a puppy as soon as paw-sible because they are like little sponges at this age and are able to absorb more than we may give them credit for.
Let’s get into the training steps.
- Get your puppy used to the leash
The first step? Desensitize your puppy to wearing a collar and a leash. Start with a small, lightweight collar and a light leash and let your puppy drag the leash around inside your home for a little bit while you offer treats and praise. (Sometimes treats aren’t the number one motivator for a puppy and they’d rather get love and kisses from you.) The amount of time necessary to get used to a leash depends on each individual puppy. Some puppies get accustomed to it right away, while others take a few days. The important thing is to stick to your puppy’s pace. If the leash seems bothersome after a little while, take it off and try again another day. Go as slowly as your pup needs to feel safe and comfy before moving on to the next step.
- Play “the follow game”
Once your pup is used to the leash, teach her that being beside you is the best place she can be. That way, she’ll want to be there all the time!
“The follow game” is a fun game that helps teach your puppy to stay focused on you and walk by your side. Start the game by working with your pup off the leash, either inside or outside in a safe place (such as a fenced-in yard).
Choose a training spot that is as free of distractions as possible. Take a handful of treats and let your puppy know you have them. Once she’s jazzed about the treats, move a few steps away. If she follows you, give her plenty of “good girls” and offer a treat. Next, move a few steps in another direction. Again, when she follows you, offer another treat. If your puppy gets distracted, you may need to make noises or clap your hands to bring her attention back to you. Try to maneuver yourself and your location so when your puppy catches up to you, she’s beside you, facing the same direction, rather than in front of you, facing you. You want to mimic the position the two of you would be in while on a walk. Once your puppy is by your side and receives a treat, move in another direction, all the while enticing your puppy to catch up to you to receive another treat.
Repeat this game a few times but then stop while you’re still having fun—and before your puppy gets worn out. Do this a few times a day to encourage your puppy to want to come to your side.
- Put it together
Once your pup is used to a collar and leash and does a good job of following you and staying by your side, it’s time to put things together.
First, put your puppy’s leash and collar on and practice walking around the house where there are no distractions. Gently guide your puppy on the leash so he follows and stays beside you.
If he starts pulling on the leash, stop moving. Here’s why: Going to the place they want to go is a reward. When your dog pulls toward something he wants, stop and stand still until he stops pulling and returns to your side. Then you can move forward again. Eventually your puppy will learn that all the fun stops when he pulls.
Once your pup gets the hang of walking beside you indoors, head outside and practice close to home. Finally, you two can hit the sidewalk where you will undoubtedly face plenty of distractions.
Teaching leash training takes a lot of patience, but it’s worth it! Putting the time in now means you both can have fun and exciting walks together.
After you graduate to outdoor walks, the lifeblood of leash training is repetition and positive reinforcement. Once you’re walking outside, you may want to add verbal cues to your training. While “come” may not be a good verbal cue for walking because you need to use it for other purposes, “Let’s go!” or “This way!” may be more helpful to guide your puppy to walk nicely alongside you.
Every minute you put into training your puppy to walk like a good girl or boy on a leash now will translate into happy walking for years to come!
*Special thanks to Amy Stover, an animal behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer at Columbus Humane and Patricia B. MConnell, Ph.D., author of The Puppy Primer, for their expert knowledge on this topic.
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And remember, puppyhood is fast and is gone before you know it. Make sure to savor the time when your pup is young, and take lots of pictures along the way!