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Leash training a puppy is usually pretty easy!
I have leash trained several puppies – one of the crazier moments in my life was when I was taking care of three nine-week-old puppies in an apartment that didn’t have a fenced yard. My neighbors got to know me really well!
You can start working on leash training as soon as you bring your puppy home. Most puppies love to interact with their people, so by treating leash training as a game you can make these sessions feel like play.
How to train a puppy to walk on a leash
Your puppy is going to be walking on a leash throughout her life, so make these learning sessions fun!
1. Start with a collar and a harness
Once you have fitted your puppy’s collar or harness, put it on and just let her walk around your house freely. Encourage her to play, and tell her how great she looks.
If you got your puppy from a breeder, she may already be used to wearing a collar. Otherwise, expect some head shaking and attempts to scratch the collar off with her feet. This will pass – praise when she is relaxed and ignoring the collar.
Let your puppy go where she wants until she is comfortable with her collar or harness.
2. Teach a cue
You don’t necessarily need a formal cue for walking on a leash – the leash itself is the cue! Your puppy will learn that when she sees the leash, you will be going for a walk or other outing and she needs to walk with you and not pull.
But you might find some sort of verbal cue helpful to get your puppy moving. Many puppies already know “Puppypuppypuppy!” as a sort of loose recall that summons them for meals or playtime. Your puppy is also learning her name, which has high value. Other options are, “Let’s go!” or, “Walk,” to let your puppy know that you are going for a walk.
3. Make your dog come to you
When you first put the leash on your puppy, let her choose the route. She is learning the length of her new tether, as well as getting used to the pressure that she feels when she pulls away. Expect a little bucking and balking.
Follow your puppy around, keeping the leash slack as much as possible and allowing her to go at her own pace.
When she starts to settle, cheer her on to encourage her to follow you instead! Make it a game – be silly, and pet and praise her when she chooses to follow you. You can use treats to encourage her to walk with you as well. You want to make yourself the most interesting thing in the room!
4. Practice at home
Start by practicing your leash walking in a familiar and limited space, such as inside your house or in your yard. Following you is an easy choice for your puppy in this setting.
5. Continue practicing outside
Once your puppy is comfortable walking on a leash inside your house, try taking it outside. She may need some extra coaxing or encouragement if there is a lot going on or if she is overexcited. Use a happy voice and praise her for walking with you.
As she gets more experience, take her to new places to continue her leash training and combine it with some socialization.
Leash training pro tips
As with all things, you might hit some snags along the way as you leash train your puppy.
Walking on a leash is a strange concept for many dogs. Some pick it up quickly, while others may struggle.
Also, expect your puppy to have some relapses as she becomes a teenager around 8-12 months old or so. At this age, many puppies who had been walking very nicely on a leash and doing great with their household manners training suddenly seem to forget everything they have learned. It’s just a stage! Be patient, work through it, and your perfect puppy will return soon.
Take baby steps
Keep training sessions short, especially if your puppy is shy or seems overwhelmed. Let her learn how to walk on a leash in a familiar environment before taking her to a strange place.
In new places, you may need to go back a couple of steps. Play the follow-you-follow-me game again, starting by letting your puppy choose where you go, then encouraging her to follow you on the leash.
Associate leash training with playtime
Walks are fun! But to make being on a leash even more enjoyable, bring along some treats or a toy that your puppy likes so that you can reward her for walking nicely with you.
Do not encourage your puppy to bite or chew on her leash, however. While playing with the leash can be convenient sometimes, someday your puppy will be bigger, and she could potentially chew right through a leash!
Everybody likes to be told they are doing a good job, and your puppy is no exception. By praising her for walking with you, you will make her both want to be with you and associate the leash with good things.
Leash training equipment for puppies
There are two essential pieces of gear you’ll need to leash train your puppy:
- A well-fitted collar or harness
- 4-6 foot leash
The collar needs to be snug so that it can’t slip off over your puppy’s head. Choose an adjustable collar so that you can loosen it as your puppy grows.
I prefer collars for most dogs, but for toy breed puppies a harness is often the better option so that you aren’t putting pressure on their delicate necks. Harnesses also need to be snug – puppies are surprisingly flexible when they want to escape from a harness!
For the leash, stick with a traditional leash that is four to six feet long and appropriately sized for your puppy (a 1” wide nylon leash is pretty heavy for a 10-week-old Scottish Terrier puppy!). Retractable leashes always have a little tension, which can be confusing for a puppy who is still learning what this leash business is all about.
At what age should you start leash training a puppy?
Leash training can start as early as eight weeks old. Just be patient with these little guys – they are still learning a whole lot about their world!
Keep training sessions short, around five or ten minutes max at a time. Most puppies love to be with their people, so use that following instinct to your advantage when leash training.
When should you start leash training a puppy?
Immediately! Leash training can start as soon as you bring your new puppy home. Keep the first few sessions very short though, because moving into a new home can be a bit overwhelming.
If you have a fenced yard, you can delay leash training for a couple of days while your pup settles in.
But for those of us who don’t have a fenced yard, being on a leash when outside is absolutely necessary to keep your puppy safe. In some cases, the breeder or rescue that you got your puppy from may have already started introducing leash training.
For the first few outings, carry the puppy to the general area where you would like her to be and place her on the ground. Then follow her as she bounces and balks. She may put on quite a rodeo act if she has never had a collar and/or leash on before! Be patient and praise her when she settles.
How long does it take to leash train a puppy?
The initial process of teaching your puppy the concept of walking with you on a leash usually goes pretty quickly, and may only take a couple of training sessions over a few days.
Once in a while, a puppy may be really uncertain about either the weight of the leash or the feeling of any pressure on their neck. These puppies may buck and balk, or may just freeze and refuse to move. Be patient – she just needs some extra time but will figure it out!
Teaching your puppy to walk on a loose leash and not pull will be an ongoing process that will require refresher training throughout your dog’s life. Already have an older dog that needs a leash training refresher? Check out our “How to Leash Train Your Dog” article.
Key takeaways on leash training a puppy
- Choose a collar or harness that fits snugly
- Use a 4 to 6-foot leash while your puppy is learning
- Start in the house, then gradually explore outdoor areas
- First, follow your puppy, then encourage her to follow you
- Praise and play to reward her for walking with you
- Be patient with setbacks in new places
Leash training is an important step that will allow your puppy to go places and enjoy activities with you.
You want your puppy to be excited when she sees the leash, and to know it means you are going somewhere interesting together.
There will be setbacks as your puppy ages and becomes a teenager, but setting a positive foundation to leash training during puppyhood will help you to power through the challenges of adolescence. Praise and/or reward your puppy any time she is walking with you on a loose lead.