Leash Training a Puppy: Complete Guide

Dog sits with human
Why are we staying?

Table of Contents

The puppy walking on a leash is an example of a properly trained dog. Leash training a puppy is the necessary means of control; it can be also viewed as some sort of agreement between you and the dog – the puppy behaves well and learns to walk on a leash and you will take it anywhere. Well, the theory and practice sometimes are the reflections of each other: while you portray training as something simple and done in five steps, in reality you are likely to face several problems with sheer stubbornness among them. Therefore, to clarify all this leash-walking science, we prepared a serious article on the issue.

Warning! There are many letters and much needed info on the sub-topics ahead!

Cesar’s Keys to Success

Leash training a puppy
Are you ready at last?

According to this top-notch chap, any training consists of two approaches: the mental attitude of yours and that of your dog plus pure strategy proven to help by many years of “field experiments”. So, we begin our quest with Cesar Milan’s key to success:

  • Patience. There are no hard and fast rules; some dogs get used to the leash in no time, while other resist. Take the training slowly – according to the pace and temperament of the dog.
  • Pick the right collar and leash. There are many types but, Cesar suggests beginning with a light flat collar and a light leash. Later you can move on with other forms of collar and leash.
  • Take small steps. First thing is to get the puppy familiar with the collar. Put the collar on when there are other things going on around the puppy that get it occupied. Attach the collar once and make your dog walk with it wherever it is and whatever you do.
  • Leash is best associated with the playtime. After attaching the leash, let it loose – let it drag it. While the leash is attached, do your ordinary routine – playing or training.
  • Encouraging. If the puppy is not tempted to go for a walk on a leash right now, do not pull it by force and do not punish. Everything is new to it and it may decide that his owner has gone nuts for no apparent reason as the puppy did not do anything wrong. If puppy refuses to move, walk some steps away from him and go down on knee to encourage it to come to you. When it does so, give it treats. That’s what encouragement is all about.
  • Walking is first done indoors to such an extent that the puppy learns to walk on the leash with you freely. Only after that and all vaccinations due, you may go outdoors.
  • Obedience training and understanding of simple commands like “sit”, “come”, “down” comes with the leash training side by side. If your puppy is obedient enough, it’ll learn leash walking very soon (more about Puppy obedience training).

    Dogs in family
    Family stroll

These keys by Cesar Milan are helpful in terms of understanding the behavioristic part of the rather complex leash training strategy that we are about to share with you. Now let’s move to practice that will be divided into several stages.

Walking on a Leash Taught Effectively

The puppy must be taught to walk on leash nicely – not any pull, not to rush ahead and not to be pulled as some dead weight by it. When puppy walks on a leash, it must do it naturally – walking by your side, neither keeping behind nor rushing ahead of you. Don’t forget that leash constrains his natural desire to explore the environment: some puppies would like to sniff everything around while other are determined to run around.

Whatever your dog may be inclined to doing; good manners are a must for everyone.

Walking Nicely

Walking nicely and so-called “precision heeling” are connected, but your puppy can live without prancing like a noble horse on a derby. It’s impressive but a very challenging job to do. It’s the ultimate example of nice walking but if you manage to train the puppy proper walking without this prancing, it’s already a big victory. If those dogs shown on TV need to learn walking on a leash when not heeling.

Walking child and dog
I hope you protect me

Strategy One: Red and Green lights

This method requires your puppy to follow “sit” and “come” commands. Walk in the intended direction and wait till the puppy reaches the end of the leash and begins pulling. It’s the Red light: you stop and do not move. The puppy will eventually stop to see what’s going on with you and will put slack in the leash. At this time call it back and when it comes, ask it to sit. After it does, praise it, give it a treat while you keep walking. Should it pull again, repeat the Red light step. As you walk, reward the puppy every time it stays next to you or slightly ahead and for looking up to you.

This Red light step develops two cognitive habits in the dog: the first one is that if it stays near you or looks at you, it gets a treat; the second one is that if it pulls the leash, all fun stops and it has to get back to you. If the puppy finds something interesting to sniff, perform the Red light step and when it comes back to you do not reward it. Make the object that it wanted to sniff the reward. Praise himit and release it to go closer to the object but follow it so that it doesn’t pull the leash. After several days or weeks (depending on the stubbornness of your puppy) you’ll find yourself stopping less often day by day. Don’t forget to reward the puppy every time it is walking with slack in the leash.

Strategy Two: Luring and Rewarding

This training is done with your puppy standing left to you. Hold a treat in your left hand, let it sniff it. While holding the treat, invite it to walk with you in such stance. Every few steps give it a small treat and praise for walking by your side. At the same time put another small treat in the left hand. If the puppy switched to another side, stop. Ask the puppy to sit, praise it when it sits down. Now put the treat loaded hand in front of its nose and ask it to follow you – repeat the whole process described above.

Puppy and leash
So hard day.

Repeat the same routine every day by gradually increasing the distance covered when training is on. Also, increase the gaps between rewarding: if originally you rewarded puppy every five steps, now do so every ten steps. Eventually, you should walk with your hand free and periodically offering it a treat.

Strategy Three: About Face

This strategy is best applicable, if you use any collar other than a choke, prong or pinch collar. Before we describe this strategy, read the warning.

         Warning! 73bde42b-62d1-476d-86e3-3e91bd8dede2This strategy as well as the use of the following punishment decreases unwanted behavior quickly. If there is no noticeable decrease in pulling, the punishment technique (strategies three and four) must be stopped. If your puppy yelps in pain and doesn’t want to walk with you, the strategy is not working at all and must be avoided.

Some puppies do not understand that pulling is wrong and won’t be rewarded despite all the efforts taken according to strategies one and two. This is the very moment for incorporating verbal warnings. When the puppy reaches the end of the leash, command “easy”. Should it slow down, praise it and call it back to give it the treat. However,it may fail to listen to your commands and will continue pulling. Don’t say anything to the dog – turn abruptly and let the leash check your dog. The puppy will turn and run to catch up with you. After it does, praise it and give it the treat. After that, turn back and continue walking in a chosen direction. Every time it pulls you, turn around. Thus, it learns that pulling is unwanted behavior and unpleasant as it gets checked every time. Follow the same routine “pulling-turning-praising-turning back”.

Leash traing a puppy
What’s the tasty thing

Here comes the question: where is the punishment moment in this strategy? Well, that depends solely on you and your patience. When the leash checks the puppy’s neck, you may cause him serious damage. Please, control yourself and let the hand absorb the leash’s tension – do not harm your puppy. You can avoid any damage and unwanted mistreating if you keep your cool. You see now that, the punishment component of this strategy is based on your level of patience only.

Remember, that not every dog understands punishment as the tool of total subordination; they may get offended easily.

Strategy Four: Collar Correction

This strategy is best applicable if you use any collar other than a choke, prong or pinch collar.

Some dogs respond to a jerk on the collar when they pull. When walking on the leash, keep the leash’s end on your left with an elbow bent – do not let the puppy pull the arm straight out in front of you as it won’t have the slack for collar correction. Before the puppy reaches the end of the leash, incorporate a verbal warning like, easy, for instance. When it slows down, praise it and call it back to give it a treat while still moving. If it does not slow down and reaches the end of the leash, jerk it promptly by the leash. Make sure you perform a jerk, but not a pull! Jerk is brusque action while the pull is more punishing. If the puppy is small, do not use an excessive force – you want to teach it a lesson, not to punish for the reason it still doesn’t understand. Reward the puppy every time it is not pulling the leash and walking by your side instead.

Walk timeIf this strategy or the one mentioned before are helpful, the puppy will learn proper walking in a matter of days.

This is what specialists suggest doing. But as for me (I’m just a nameless dog fancier), I would not try these two strategies. I believe that puppy is not a working horse or some sort of expendable sidekick, but rather a true friend who is always there for me. This is why I think that training must be based on a carrot approach instead of the stick: the dog depends on you more that you do on them and by mistreating it; you’ll let it understand that you are a master only with nothing human left in you. Cut your puppy much slack – it is doing its best for you only, just to make sure you like it and what it’s doing.

Choosing the Walking Equipment

Before starting the leash walking training, you should choose the most suitable walking equipment. Use a four- or six-foot leash. Extendable leashes are not suitable as your puppy will have more space for pulling you. Here’s what experts suggests:

  • A snap collar or a regular buckle one.
  • A martingale collar otherwise known as the slip or greyhound collar.
  • A head halter or a head collar is also used but not so often, as using strategies three and four, you risk hurting your puppy. Me personally, I suggest not to use it at all.
  • No-pull harness is another great walk leash choice.

Such equipment as the head halter and the no-pull harness can decrease pulling without even any additional training. But keep in mind that when used without training, these collars and harnesses have no effect on pulling when the puppy is not wearing them.

Such things like the regular body harness and fabric choke/check collar and the pinch/prong collar actually encourage pulling.

Puppy Resists Walking on Leash

Happy puppy
Gonna walk!

Some puppies are more reluctant to walk on leash that other are. Instead of pulling, they freeze and stand still or pull back. What you can do about them is:

  • To lead the puppy while holding a tasty treats in front of it. Sometimes it’s more than enough to incline it to walking with you.
  • Another way is to make several steps, leaving some slack in the leash and ask the puppy to come to you. When it does, you should praise and reward it. Now walk again a few feet, ask the puppy to come near and reward it. Do it every day by gradually increasing the distance it has to walk before rewarding it.
  • Another technique works with small dogs wearing a regular body harness only. When the puppy stops walking, pick it up by the back of the harness and move a few feet. This may start your puppy to move. When it does, reward with a treat and verbal praise.

Before beginning the training, try choosing less frightening unknown surroundings. After your puppy develops confidence in your dining room, switch to the backyard; after the backyard, opt for a walk down the street (hope you live in the green and calm suburbs) and finally you can move to the closest park where there will be other dogs and humans. IF your puppy is not certain what to do while training is on, ask it to do something that it can do easily or likes doing – let it be some command, followed with a treat.

Another possible way to make it get used to noisy public places is by sitting at the bench in park with you. Believe me – your puppy will be feeling like it is completely free as something is constantly going on around it: some strangers walking some creatures at leashes, birds flying around, and children playing. If you notice that the puppy is feeling rather comfortable or even wiggling its tail, praise it – it’s doing very good (indeed it is!) and offer it a small treat all the times when it behaves and reacts positively.

Cutie puppy
Let’s walk!

The last and the most powerful means of training is…the special training classes for puppies! It was evident, right? If you have enough funds you may sign your puppy for several training sessions in group or with the specialist eye-to-eye.

Now that you have several strategies at your disposal, you can try several proven techniques to train your puppy walking on leash. Try strategies one and two first, before proceeding to number three and four (optional but not recommended by me) and eventually switching to special classes, if you fail with the first two approaches. Of course, you may prefer signing up your puppy for special classes  in the very beginning instead of doing it yourself, but it’s just the matter of your own preferences (more about Abotc.com). As for me, the nameless dog fancier, I’d prefer teaching the puppy by my own means. If I do not succeed with training, at least we could learn to know each other better (see also Puppy training).


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