When you get a new puppy, it will quickly love you and likely follow you around everywhere! However, that’s not to say it will follow you on demand or necessarily know what to do in the big world when walking outside. Teaching a puppy to walk on a lead is an essential part of being a responsible dog owner, as it’s a lifelong skill that the dog will use over and over again.
So, when should you start lead-training a puppy, how do you stop a puppy pulling on the lead, and what exactly is loose-lead training? There is plenty to learn when it comes to lead training puppies, so we’ve written this article to provide step-by-step instructions and answers to the many queries you’ve probably already pondered about training a puppy with a leash.
What is loose-lead training, and why is it so important to teach a puppy to walk on a lead? Put simply, walking a dog on a lead is teaching a dog to walk alongside you on demand without pulling or running away. It’s a very routine skill for dog owners to teach, essential to their dog’s daily life and wellbeing. Not only is it certainly risky to assume your pooch will be fine walking outside without being leash-trained; walking a dog without a lead, no matter how docile the dog is, is considered irresponsible to other dog owners.
For this reason, training a puppy to happily walk on a lead from a young age is incredibly important to their development as they grow into a happy and calm, regularly-walked adult dog.
Let’s get into the step-by-step process of teaching your pup to walk on a leash. It might take a few goes, but it’s quite straightforward - and with a big dose of patience (from you!), a willing puppy should respond well to being trained in this way.
First: Get the right equipment.
To decide whether you should use a harness or a collar when out with your pooch, check out our Dog Collar vs Dog Harness article here.
Then, start the training process.
You want your pup to know to come to you on demand, as leash training effectively means calmly walking alongside you without pulling, despite distractions. Inside the house, as you’re playing as usual, create a ‘cue’ which means they’ll receive a treat if they look at you - sometimes this is a word like “here” or a clucking sound. When your pup learns that by looking at you they’ll receive a treat, start doing this from a few steps away and ask them to come to you. After doing this a few times, they should now know the cue to come to your side, even from a distance.
Now introduce the harness and lead, and have them play around as usual while wearing them. Try the “come to my side” cue with them wearing them, with a treat as a reward. The goal is to get them completely comfortable with the harness, and to know that wearing it means good things are coming.
Holding the training lead loosely, walk along with them, rewarding and praising them each time they’ve taken a few steps with you without pulling. When they do pull, stay completely still and repeat the “come to me” cue.
Once your pup is used to walking alongside you in their harness, try it outside in a secure garden. Hopefully, your puppy should get to know that wearing their harness means they’ll soon be walking and going outside (this positive reinforcement should make it easier to attach the harness and lead in future)!
In your garden, get your pup used to wearing the harness and lead, coming to you on demand and walking greater distances on the leash without pulling. Don’t wear out your little pup, if they seem tired of training, try again another day. You want them to feel enthused and eager each time you train.
It might be tempting to think “Oh, they’re well behaved enough now” and rush to take your pup for a walk outside after only one or two tries. There are many distractions and sensory triggers on a walk - your pup needs to be prepared. Be consistent in your training so they’re fully informed on the correct behaviour before going out in the wild.
Now you know the basic process for teaching your pup to walk on a lead, here are some common tips and tricks to be sure the training sticks, and walking your young pooch becomes a simple and stress-free experience each time.
One of the most common issues you’ll probably encounter is your pup pulling on the lead, which makes walks unpleasant as it’s hard to control them. The goal of leash-training is for them to calmly trot either alongside or in front of you, so you won’t be pulled along (especially if it’s a bigger dog).
To stop your puppy pulling on the lead, immediately pause and stop walking each time it happens. Calmly give them the cue to return to your side. Be as still and calm as a tree - do not act angrily or speak in a high-pitched tone. Be consistent in this treatment, at first giving a treat each time your pooch does as they’re told, so that eventually they won’t pull at all.
An extendable lead isn’t suitable for puppy training, so get yourself a training lead of up to 6ft or so. When teaching your pup to walk with you, loop the lead once in your hand at first so that you’re holding the lead loosely above the puppy’s head as you walk. Then let the loop go so that they have some length to walk along with.
Be wary of your pup’s sensitive neck at this stage of their growth - don’t pull or jerk the lead to control them, make sure you’re using your own body language and verbal cues.
Be calm and extremely patient with your pup during leash training, but also demonstrate encouraging, positive energy. You want your pup to associate the leash and harness with safety, security and routine, but also positivity and excitement (it’s time for a walk!). Taking this attitude will be more effective in the long term than being commanding.
You should be well swatted-up on best techniques at this stage, but to finish, here are some common questions about leash-training a puppy:
Leash training usually starts at around 8-weeks old - at this point your pup should be willingly walking short distances. This depends on the readiness of your puppy, though - so if they have any growth or developmental issues, or have been slow to bond with you, wait until they’re ready. They need to feel completely confident in order for the training to be effective.
Plenty of pups love to bite and wrestle with the lead the first few times you attach it - so how do you stop your puppy biting the leash? The key, once again, is to distract them away from the lead with a well dispensed treat. Reward them when they stop biting the lead and eventually your small pooch should know not to do it, even without receiving a treat every time.
It’s variable how long it might take for your pup to become fully leash-trained. Some puppies catch on quickly, and will remember what to do each time you use the lead in only a few tries - others may struggle, especially if they’re anxious or easily distracted by their surroundings. Overall, it should take anything from a few weeks to a few months to see progress that sticks.
Lead-training your new puppy can be an exciting and rewarding experience as a dog owner, as it not only makes walkies more enjoyable, but it will strengthen the bond and sense of safety between you and your young pooch. Remember to be patient, warm and encouraging when teaching your puppy to walk on a leash, and they’ll be trotting happily at your side before you know it.
All kinds of puppy training needs clever use of incentives - so stock up on our tasty, healthy dog treats before you begin lead-training your pup. Our organic puppy food also contains nutritious, whole ingredients and supplements to have your pup feeling clear-minded, competent and calm.
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