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14 Steps How to Leash Train Puppies

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Leash Training

This puppy tugs while on leash despite wearing a halter, because the leash is attached over the shoulders.

Image © Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

Leash laws may require your puppy to walk nicely on a leash and know how to heel when off your own property. Even if they don’t, it’s simply polite puppy behavior to know leash etiquette. Proper leash manners allow puppies the freedom to safely explore the world beyond your front or back yard.

Large breed puppies can grow into power-boat tuggers able to pull the leash from your hands, or drag you all over. That’s not just doggone ruled, it’s dangerous for you if bowled over and dangerous for them if they run into traffic or become tangled far beyond your reach.

Even friendly puppies can get scared and a leash provides security and a comfort level when a trusted owner offers guidance through a crowd of strangers or scary situations. But puppies won’t automatically know how to politely walk on leash. When you pull, dogs instinctively pull back and if you allow the pup to win that can make it even more difficult to overcome the urge.

It’s much easier to teach a small puppy than a powerful adolescent or adult. Now is the perfect time to teach your puppy to walk nicely on a leash, so begin immediately when you bring Junior-dog home. Here’s how.

14 Steps How to Leash Train Puppies

  1. Many purebred puppies wear temporary collars (or color coded ribbons) from birth to help identify them from litter mates. But if a collar is new to your puppy, give him some time to get used to it. A flat nylon collar with a metal buckle, that you can fit two fingers beneath, is ideal. You very likely will need to get larger ones as the pup grows, so inexpensive ones at first work fine.
  2. For powerful pups that might be tempted to pull you off your feet, use a no-pull harness. These training tools work especially well for older hard-headed pups because it self-trains them not to pull. The leash hooks to a clip on the front of the dog’s chest, so that when she pulls, the harness turns her back toward the person holding the leash--and effectively, the dog trains herself not to pull.
  3. Before attaching the leash or putting on the harness, encourage your pup to sniff them. Smell is an important way puppies communicate so a good sniffing is important. But it’s not a toy, though, so don’t allow him to chew or play tug with the leash.
  4. Choose an appropriate style of leash for your size puppy. Lighter weight nylon leashes work well for small pets while heavier leather leashes may be more appropriate to larger pups. I’m not a fan of the “retractable” leashes since these can teach pups to pull and reward jumping up, but may be fine for Toy size dogs. A six-foot length typically gives enough puppy freedom without owners losing control.
  5. Don’t worry about “heel” at this point. The “heel” position is walking alongside you on your left side at knee-level, while stopping and starting when you do, and sitting when you stop. At this point, just aim for your pup to not surge ahead or drag/pull behind, but simply walk nicely on either side on a loose (not tight) leash. That’s actually counter-intuitive for most puppies that want to go-go-go! And if you keep the leash tight, he’ll naturally pull against it so avoid tugging or trying to drag him. Simply hold the leash in your right hand, doubling up the extra slack so it doesn’t drag, and hold that right hand at your belt buckle level.
  6. Have treats or favorite toys or other rewards (a sniff of something stinky for nosy pups!) and dole out with your free hand. You may also wish to use clicker training to communicate with your puppy. Show your pup a treat as he sits or stands at your side. If you plan to eventually compete in obedience trials or other dog sports, it’s traditional to have him walk on your left side. But if you don’t care about competition, it really doesn’t matter which side as long as you’re consistent.
  7. Wait until the puppy focuses on the reward. Then say, “let’s go!” or another verbal cue such as “heel” that you use consistently. It’s important that you talk to the puppy in a manner he understands so review the article how to talk to puppies. Hold the treat right in front of his nose as you begin to walk, luring him to keep pace.
  8. He should not be jumping up for the treat or toy, so lower the position if he’s trying jump up. You can also use a long wooden spoon with a sticky treat, or a commercial “treat stick” designed for that purpose so you don’t have to bend over.
  9. After a few steps, stop and have your puppy sit. Reward him with the treat.
  10. Repeat the leash walk exercise, with the lure. Stop every few steps and place your pup in a sit or down, and reward him. The pup quickly should understand that “heel” or “let’s go” (or other consistent command) means to walk at your side--and you will pay with a reward when he sits as you stop.
  11. When he’s performed several exercises, your dog won’t need to be lured, but will want to know you have rewards handy. Increase the pup’s attention and anticipating by eventually offering the reward intermittently--rather than every time, pay every second, third or fourth time. This teaches your dog that he should always obey since he never knows when a treat will be produced.
  12. Once he pays attention for you to give the “heel” command and anticipates the “sits” when you stop, increase the several steps to a dozen or more of the “heel” exercise. Try heeling your dog around the entire perimeter of the yard, or do laps outside the house.
  13. After the puppy understands the concept of loose leash walking and heel, change up speeds. You want your dog to maintain the pace at your side, whether you walk, trot or run. Also practice changing directions. When your pup walks on the left, a turn to your right or an about-face to the right should be pretty easy for the dog to follow. Turning to the left may require luring with the reward, at least initially. Turn it into a game so that once the pup understands he must pay attention, you can praise extravagantly when he’s not fooled by a change of pace or direction.
  14. Eventually move the practice times to areas that have more distractions. After all, leaving your back yard or living room will be necessary when you go to the park, or take a car ride to visit Grandma, and you want loose leash walking to be a default behavior wherever you go. For instance, practice in the front yard during morning rush hour or when your spouse tosses a ball on the other side of the room.
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