As a new pet parent, you may not be sure how to train a puppy to walk on a leash or you may not even consider it essential.
Teaching your puppy to walk well on a leash is an extremely crucial lesson that is often overlooked by new pet owners. While it may seem obvious for larger dogs that will get very strong as they age, leash training is actually necessary for puppies of all sizes.
Though it is not always easy to start, training your puppy to walk on a leash doesn’t have to be super difficult either, especially with these 10 effective tips to help get you started.
10 tips on how to train a puppy to walk on a leash
1. Choose proper equipment
Before you even begin training, something that can make a massive difference in how your puppy is on walks is the equipment you use.
Using a thick, heavy, or menacing collar can actually put you at quite a disadvantage as puppies tend to be intimidated by even regular collars at first. Rather, consider using a flat, light collar, and avoid chain, prong, and choker ones so that they can learn not to fear wearing collars at first. When it comes to leashes, you want to stay away from any that will make it harder to control your puppy.
While retractable leashes are helpful when dogs get older, they generally make training more difficult at the beginning.
If you have a stronger puppy, a no-pull harness gives you some more control and as the name suggests, prevents them from pulling you.
Generally, try and stick to sturdy, simple leashes that will give you a good grip.
A simple change that can make all of the difference at the beginning of leash training is to start with a shorter leash.
While it can feel and look harsh, it really is worth the initial awkwardness and you can start to give more slack as your puppy learns. Generally, a leash of around 6 feet is a good starting place but really the shorter the leash is, the more effective it will be.
The reason a short leash makes such a huge difference is that your puppy will have more trouble straying from your side. This way they will slowly learn that they should stay next to you and not pull ahead while walking. A short leash also gives you far more control and allows for more reaction time when your puppy starts to pull.
A huge hurdle that comes with training your puppy to walk well is its initial discomfort with the equipment.
Dogs are naturally averse to being on a leash or wearing a collar around their neck, so it helps to introduce it all separate from walks. Put your puppy’s collar on around the house, especially while positive things are happening such as playtime. You can even attach the leash to the collar, and let them drag it around while you feed them treats.
Introducing the collar and leash in a controlled and positive environment will help your puppy get over some of the initial fear that comes with anything new.
If you are having trouble getting the collar on, try distracting your puppy with treats and then if it doesn’t bug them too much, leave it on throughout the day.
4. Practice at home
Before you even begin going on walks outdoors, you can get a lot of training done right at home.
At-home training will also extend to the tip above, however, you can take it a step further by practicing walks through the house.
This is better for when your puppy is already more comfortable with the equipment and now has to get used to the restraint of a leash.
Put your puppy on a leash and walk them to the backyard, or to the front yard. If there are two of you, you can walk your puppy on the leash, while the other one calls them over with a treat.
Do not scold them for pulling, instead gently pull your puppy back towards you and then reward them when they are back at your side. This is a great way to get them used to the restraint of a leash, without all of the distractions that they would run into on a walk outdoors.
Puppies are extremely curious animals, so no matter where you walk them they will find something to distract them. That being said, you can make your training a bit easier by going on your first walk in a calmer environment.
Consider avoiding busy streets with lots of people or even worse dog owners. It is also a good idea to stay away from nature trails where there are so many smells and little creatures around for your puppy to investigate. It is best to not set a destination for your walk, instead, bring your puppy to a calm environment and let them lead the way.
6. Teach a Cue
Most people actually introduce cues to their puppies while training, even if they do it without realizing it. However, consciously taking the time to teach a cue can make training your puppy way easier and faster. A cue can really be any word, phrase, or even a sound that your puppy will be able to associate with the action you are asking of them.
Overall, whatever words or sounds you choose for your cues, use it, and reward them every time they perform the action. Dogs are pretty quick learners when it comes to positive reinforcement. Just remember to give them treats and praise every time they complete the task when the cue is said.
Walking in front of your puppy is a pretty easy way to establish that you have control while on the walk.
Walking in front does not mean far away, it really just means a step ahead, however, it is just as good if they can stay by your side. This tip works very well combined with a short leash; you just want to prevent them from pulling you to sniff everything.
It is pretty natural for puppies to try and get ahead of you, so if this happens don’t get upset; it actually makes for a perfect training opportunity. Start by calling your puppy back to you either by name or by the cue associated. If your puppy doesn’t come back to your side shorten the leash or stop walking, every time they are back at your side give them a treat.
The best way to train your puppy safely is to be aware of your surroundings so you can seek out distractions before they do. Distractions can be anything from a fellow dog owner to a napkin that may have some leftover food on it.
If you are distracted or on your phone and your puppy pulls towards something, your late reaction could easily harm your puppy or you, depending on its strength.
Try to stop bad behavior right before it happens, address it every time, and don’t let it slip in the beginning or it can be confusing for your puppy.
Really, it is important to stay focused, and show control, and give rewards every time you bring your puppy back to your side.
9. Teach the difference between good and bad
There is a very fine line between good and bad behavior on walks which can be hard to understand for a puppy.
Sniffing and being curious isn’t inherently bad, but lunging and pulling towards smells or things of interest is bad.
As you slowly allow for more slack in your leash your puppy will take some liberties in investigating everything around you. This is okay, it is just important that they stay at the same pace as you while you walk.
Try not to let your puppy pull and run ahead of you or lag behind you. If they do pull forward, do not yank them back, instead, stand very still and your puppy will learn they will eventually reach what they want to sniff if they walk patiently.
No matter what you are trying to train, dogs respond extremely well to positive reinforcement.
If your puppy is lagging behind you and sniffing something, do not pull him to meet up with you. Rather, wait until they are done or get your puppy’s attention and then reward them when they are back at your side.
Your puppy will learn far faster with praise and rewards, than hostility or impatience. This is why every time you go on a walk you should bring treats with you.
That being said, a very cheerful and loving voice telling them they did something right will do the job as well. Just remember to be consistent when you give praise to keep your puppy on the right track.
While you can begin training your puppy to walk on a leash as young as 8 weeks old, do not expect too much at the beginning. There are so many distractions for a young puppy out in the world that training isn’t always easy. That being said, with enough patience, you will get past the hurdle with no problem.