How to leash train your puppy

How to leash train your puppy

8th Jul 2020

Once your puppy is ready to go out into the big wide world it is time to start leash training. Most puppies need time to adjust to the leash and learn what it is all about. If you don’t take the time to train it, your puppy can get frustrated and confused and bite at the leash or pull like a freight train. Before taking your puppy for a walk set up for success by following these simple tips and steps. Before you get started, some simple tips.

Before you get started, some simple tips:

  • Create a positive association for your puppy with wearing the harness and leash
  • A leash is a management tool not a training tool. The leash is simply a safety net that keeps your puppy or dog from running on to the road etc.
  • The leash is not meant to be jerked, yanked or pulled around to punish or manipulate the dog.
  • There are two different types of walks and you will need two different types of leashes for them.
  • Street walk, around the neighbourhood, going to cafe etc use a leash that is 1.8m – 2m long EzyDog Soft Trainer Light Leash 180cm for small breeds or EzyDog Vario 4 Leash for larger breeds of dogs
  • Sniff walks, use a light weight long line 5m +
  • Choose a comfortable harness to clip the leash to
  • A harness is better than a collar for most puppies but if you prefer to use a collar make sure it is a plain flat collar. No slip, choke or prong collars.
  • Assess your puppy’s baseline of behaviours before you start teaching a new one.
  • What does she already know and start from there
  • Ideally your puppy will know ‘Watch Me’ (puppy gives eye contact), Sit / Wait and eventually Leave It.
  • Make a plan and focus on training one thing at a time. If you don’t have a clear idea of what and how you are training how on earth is your puppy meant to catch on!
  • Keep your training sessions short and sweet. Two minutes is plenty with a young puppy.
  • Remember to check the guidelines for appropriate amounts of exercise for your puppy at their current age. Although the whole family is probably so excited about taking her for walks and adventures it is important that she gets enough rest too!

Step 1. Introduce the leash and create a positive association.

Clip a lightweight leash to your puppies harness. Don’t worry about going for a walk yet. This is a brand new experience for your puppy. So the goal is simply to have fun and create a positive association with wearing the leash. Play, praise and give treats to your puppy. If your puppy is struggling you can start by tying a ribbon to your puppies harness and working up to the real leash. Quite often puppies are surprised by this new feeling and want to play tug with the leash. The goal of this step is to have a happy and calm puppy when you attach the leash. If your puppy is cowering or trying to move away. Practise rewarding her for sitting calmly while you attach the leash. Use lots of treats and praise. When your puppy is very young you can introduce the harness, collar and leash at short intervals with lots of treats and praise creating a positive association with wearing those accessories.

Step 2. Practise walking at home

With your puppy on leash and treats ready in your pockets or handy treat pouch practise walking inside your home. Walk slowly to begin with and reinforce your puppy for following you by saying “yes” or clicking your clicker once and feeding a treat. Feed your puppy in the position that you are rewarding her for. For example if you are reinforcing following, say “yes” and feed a treat to your puppy while she is still following behind or next to you.

Change direction often so that you have more opportunities to reinforce your puppy for following. Add a verbal cue like “lets go” to let your puppy know you are going to change direction and for her to follow. Say “let’s go” before you change direction, when the puppy turns to follow you mark that behaviour at the exact moment it happens by saying “yes” or clicking your clicker once and immediately feeding a treat.

Keep the leash loose. The leash should always have a nice smile bend in it. If you always hold the leash short and tight that creates tension on your arm and shoulders and also on the puppy’s body. I have found that a lot of puppies or dogs pull on leash because they are trying to get away from the constant pressure from the leash. Aim to keep a nice U bend in the leash at all times. Reinforce your puppy with praise and treats for walking with a loose leash.

Step 3. Walk outside, in a controlled environment

Your back yard or in a quiet area where there aren’t too many distractions is a good place to get started. Remember every new experience is alot for your new puppy to take in. Starting your training at home and in low distraction environments sets your puppy up for success. Slowly build up the amount of distractions you introduce.

Step 4. Practise, Practise, Practise.

Once you feel like your puppy is starting to reliably follow you when you say “lets go” and is walking happily on leash, keep practising! Continue to reinforce desired behaviours like following, walking on a loose leash, and waiting when asked. This helps your puppy learn that it doesn’t matter where you are or what distractions are around, walking on a loose leash is the best choice.

The more you positively reinforce a behaviour the more likely it is to continue or strengthen. Your dog will start to offer the behaviours you have trained without even being asked. How nice! Your consistency and reinforcement history will pay off throughout your entire life together with your dog. So have fun practising and reinforcing behaviours you want to see more of like nice leash walking.

Tip: Play red light green light

If your puppy pulls on the leash, that is the red light, stop walking. Once there is some slack in the leash again, that is the green light, start walking again. With consistency, patience and positive reinforcement your puppy will catch on that walking on a loose leash is the best choice.

Things to remember:

The big wide world has so many new experiences your puppy can easily get distracted and seem to forget all of your training. Don’t worry. This is normal.

If your puppy is overwhelmed by the environment or seems to have forgotten everything you have learnt simply take that as information that you need to keep practising and generalising her skills to different environments and with different distractions. Go back to a point of success for your puppy and go from there. Make it easy for her to succeed, or if it is just too much on that day or in that area, consider trying again another time. Remember that your puppy is never being naughty or trying to dominate you when she pulls on the leash. Puppies and dogs simply walk faster than humans naturally, so it takes consistency, patience and positive reinforcement to teach puppies and dogs to walk on a nice loose leash.

Remember how young and little they are, the world is so exciting and it is easy to get distracted. So it is important to go at a pace that keeps your puppy happy and confident while out and about. Having a puppy that is calm and confident and curious about the world is more important in these early stages of life than having perfect leash walking. Focus on keeping your puppy happy and safe and the rest will come.

Do not use your leash to punish or train your dog. Dogs that have the leash jerked or yanked each time they see another dog or person can become fearful of people and dogs. If you are finding yourself scared or frustrated about your puppy or dogs behaviour on leash, get in touch with a professional dog trainer. You and your dog will thank us for it.

The difference between playtime and greetings

Although we want your puppy to make furry friends. Leash time is not social time. Before you let your dog approach another it is important to check with the owner first. I have a habit of calling out “Is it ok if they meet?” before approaching another dog. If the answer is yes: Keep the greeting short and sweet. Three seconds of sniffing is plenty. Tell your puppy “lets go” and reinforce them for following you with praise and a treat as you walk away from the other dog. If you regularly bump into the same dog and they seem to really get along with yours, organise a puppy play date so they can have an off leash play together.

Go for Sniff Walks

Take your puppy out to explore somewhere away from the hustle bustle of city life and sniff at her own pace. Because puppies’ strongest sense is their sense of smell. It is empowering to let them use it! The goal is for your puppy to take in the environment in a calm and natural way, it is an awesome enrichment exercise and it will strengthen your bond with your puppy and also helps grow your puppies confidence.

With your puppy wearing her harness, attach a light weight long line. You can visit different environments and tell your puppy “go sniff”. Your job is to follow your puppy, keeping the tension out of the leash where possible and keeping her safe. Let your puppy sniff till her heart’s content. But remember to use the leash as a safety net. Do not let your puppy wander towards danger like the road or off a cliff. You can use your verbal cue “lets go” to let your puppy know its time to change direction.

Sniff walks are a great way for your puppy to experience the environment with less stress, more calm and fun from the pups perspective. It helps build their confidence in the outside world and this strengthens your bond. Your puppy will return home more tired and relaxed from a sniff walk than a march around the block.

If your puppy seems to be stressed or scared about leash walking, sniff walks are a great way to build her confidence. I highly recommend working with a professional dog trainer to help you achieve your goals together. Click here for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers NZ directory to find a professional dog trainer in your area.

Guideline for appropriate puppy exercise:

A good rule of thumb is 5 minutes of exercise per (puppy’s age in) months up to twice a day.

For example: a three month old puppy should only be getting 15 minutes of exercise twice a day. A four month old puppy should be having 20 minutes of exercise up to twice a day. Over exercising a puppy can lead to ongoing injuries and behaviour problems. Once they are fully grown they can go out for much longer.