Guide to Leash Training a Puppy or Dog
The process of leash training a puppy or dog requires a step-by-step approach so to help instill positive associations and train good leash behaviors.
Because your puppy or dog will have to rely on the collar and leash for the rest of his life, a proper introduction to these training tools is necessary.
From finding the perfect fit, to taking your canine companion for his first walk, you want to make sure your puppy or dog is set up for success.
Leash training is not complicated, but to succeed in the shortest time possible, you need to avoid some common mistakes.
Learn what techniques work best to facilitate the leash training process.
Fitting the Collar for the Very First Time
A simple buckle collar is the best choice when training a puppy or dog to wear a collar for the very first time. You may want to skip attaching all identification tags at this time; some dogs get startled by the noise and the sensation of these metal objects dangling from the neck.
Fitting the collar properly plays an important role in helping your puppy or dog accept the collar. It also plays an important role in keeping your pet safe.
The buckle collar should fit comfortably; just snug enough to prevent it from slipping over the puppy's neck, yet loose enough to allow two fingers to fit between the dog's collar and neck. A collar that is too tight may cause skin irritation and impair breathing. In some cases, it may even injure the dog. If the collar is too loose, the puppy or dog may easily take it off. Worst of all, if this happens frequently enough, your puppy or dog will learn a new behavior pattern that he may rehearse over time.
Introducing the Collar for the Very First Time
Expect your puppy to react to the collar. He may decide to run, jump or roll. Some puppies may bite the collar, scratch their neck or paw at the collar in an attempt to remove it. This behavior is only temporary and will decrease as your puppy gets used to the feel.
It may help to distract the puppy during this time by engaging him in a game or offering him some food or treats. After a bite, he will likely have forgotten all about the collar! Best of all, if every time you put his collar on you play a game or offer some food, he will learn that great things happen every time his collar is on!
If the collar needs removed for any reason during the introductory phase, it is important to do so only when the puppy is calm. If you remove the collar when the puppy is actively trying to get it off, he may learn that his collar-removing behaviors work and may repeat them over time.
Introducing a Leash for the Very First Time
The process of leash training a puppy can start once your puppy has learned to accept the collar.
From my experience, the best type of leash for this type of training is a drag leash. It's a lightweight leash without a handle. Because there is no handle, the puppy is prevented from getting his legs tangled in the loop and the leash does not get caught on furniture. The drag leash is also optimal for controlling the puppy without engaging in a "keep-away" game.
Because the snapping noise produced by attaching the leash to the collar may startle some puppies, it helps to make the snapping noise several times before attaching it. Your puppy will get used to the noise and be more likely to accept it.
Many puppies find the leash attractive and think it is just another fun toy. It is important to prevent your puppy from playing with the leash and chewing on it. Try to distract him with one of his toys. If your puppy gets into the habit of wanting to repeatedly chew the leash, you can spray the leash with a taste-aversive product such as Bitter Apple Spray.
Taking Your Puppy for a Walk for the Very First Time
Once your puppy is used to wearing a dog collar and leash, you can shift to a regular 6 foot leash and try to walk with him for a few steps. You may want to start leash training a puppy indoors initially so there are no distractions. Following is a step-by-step guide to leash training a puppy for the first time.
- Choose on which side you want to walk your puppy. This is usually a matter of personal choice. In the dog training world, the left side is often referred to as "heel position" and the right side is known as "side position". To avoid confusion, make sure all family members walk the dog on the same side.
- Take the leash in your hand and start introducing the cue "let's go" or any other word to let your puppy know you are about to walk together. Stay still, look at your puppy and say "let's go!" just a second prior to taking a step ahead. Using the same leg to start your first step will help your puppy rely on an additional cue suggesting you are about to move ahead. Again, it will help if all family members use the same cue.
- Reward with a tasty treat as soon as your puppy catches up. Try to reward your puppy when his shoulder is parallel to your knee. This is the ideal heel position. You may not view them as "training devices" but using dog treats during training will make your dog learn at a much faster pace.
- Repeat the exercise, rewarding when your puppy catches up and is by your side.
- Once your puppy or dog understands that being next to you is rewarding, try walking around the room with a loose leash. A hallway works great for this. If your puppy pulls ahead, stop, give a negative marker such as "ah-ah!" and then lure your puppy with a treat back next to you. Reward when he is back in heel position. If your puppy lags behind, prompt him to catch up by saying something like "here, puppy!" and praise him for catching up with you.
- Once your puppy gets the idea that you want him next to you, you can try to generalize the behavior outdoors. Move to the yard where there are more distractions and then try a brief stroll around your neighborhood.
Tips on Leash Training your Dog
All dogs need daily walks for socialization and exercise purposes. After training a puppy dog to walk on the leash you can then go for some pleasant strolls outdoors.
Young puppies should also not be walked for too long on hard surfaces as this can put too much strain on their growing joints.
The following are additional tips for leash training a puppy:
- Make it a good habit of asking a "sit" when you need to attach the leash. Many dogs learn to associate the leash with walks and get too excited. If you attach the leash when your dog is sitting, you reward calm behaviors.
- Some puppies will sit, but once the leash is on, they will sprint out the door eager to start the walk. Don't reward this behavior by going out! Rather, stand back and walk outside only once your dog is calm.
- Avoid leash corrections or harsh collar grabs as these may create negative connotations.
- Make sure you walk on a loose leash. A tense leash makes your dog feel tense as well.
- Think about how big your puppy will be in a few months. Leash training a puppy early will help you prevent being dragged down the street 100 pounds later!
- Avoid reinforcing leash pulling. If your dog pulls and you follow, your dog will continue pulling because he knows it works. To prevent this from happening, stop in your tracks and ask your dog to go back into heel position or turn the opposite way so he is once again next to you. Soon, your dog will learn that he gets to walk ahead only when next you.
- Enroll in group training classes to further proof your puppy leash training in presence of other dogs and distractions.
Here is a brief video that discusses some of the things we just covered.
Changing the background of your walks will also help proof the leash training puppy process and help your puppy generalize the behavior. Make sure to include walks in the country, in the city or in the parking lot of a busy store to your dog's repertoire of experiences. This will help your puppy or dog get used to the presence of different stimuli and will make the leash training a puppy process more complete.
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Want to learn more?
You may also want to consider this dog training guide. It offers solutions to numerous behavior problems associated with leash training a puppy, including pulling on the leash and fear of the leash.
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