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Beginning Leash Training – Introducing Your Puppy to a Leash

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Boston Terrier with ballThis article is for pups who have never had a leash on or who won't walk at all when you put their leash on.

If your pup already walks confidently on a leash but pulls you around, read this leash training article instead.

So... for new pups who have never had a leash on

Put on a buckle collar. Let the puppy wear it for a day to get used to it. He might scratch at it, but that will pass.

Attach a lightweight leash, 4- to 6-feet, with a lightweight snap.

Let your puppy lead you at first. Put no pressure on the leash. Just follow him around so he gets used to the two of you moving in close proximity.

Time to stand still! Now.... holding your end of the leash, stand still. It shouldn't take long before your puppy, wandering around, tightens the leash so it's pulling on his collar. If he doesn't wander away on his own, take a few steps in any direction, just enough that the leash gets taut. Then stand still.

white pup pulling on the leash

Now observe what happens:

  • Some pups feel the pressure on their collar and quickly discover that if they move toward you, the pressure stops. Praise the pup "Yes! Good!" and reward with a treat. Repeat lots of times. You're teaching the puppy the valuable lesson of "yielding" to leash pressure.
  • Some pups don't seem to notice (or mind) the pressure on their collar. They're so eager to run around that they pull happily in all directions. That's okay for now! We'll get the pulling under control in the next article.
  • Some pups become vigorously resistant  when they feel pressure on their collar. They rear up on their hind legs, leap around like a hooked fish, bite the leash, wrap their front feet over the leash, even holler.
  • Finally, some pups are passively resistant.  They face you at the end of the leash, feet braced, refusing to move.

Whether your pup is vigorously  or passively  resistant,  DON'T respond with sympathetic murmurings. DON'T pull the pup toward you, but also DON'T release the tension on the leash. Just hold your end calmly, as though you  don't see any problem here.

If the pup doesn't quickly figure out how to relieve the pressure by moving in your direction, crouch down and pat your leg to encourage him to come toward you. You want him to learn that HE  has the power to stop the pressure by moving toward you.

When he takes even one step in your direction, praise with your animated voice ("Yes! Good puppy!") and hold out a treat. That should get his attention and hopefully get him trotting the rest of the way to you so you can give him the treat.

Pups who really won't walk

St Bernard pupA few pups are determined that they're not going to walk at all. Some will even sit or lie down.

1) Start with treats!

Hold a tiny piece of boiled or baked chicken in front of his nose. When he leans toward it, make him walk a step or two before giving it to him. Praise!

Gradually make him take more steps before you will give the treat. Three steps.... treat. Five steps.... treat. Seven steps.... treat. He needs to work for his food!

To save yourself a spot of back pain from bending way down with a treat, get a long wooden spoon from your kitchen. Smear some peanut butter and cheese on it. Hold the spoon in front of the pup's nose and see if he will trot beside you, occasionally getting a lick of the spoon.

The problem is that some clever pups decide they won't walk unless they see a treat. And you can't bribe them forever.

2) Use alternating pressure on the leash.

If you have a very stubborn pup, just start walking. If the pup doesn't move, the leash will obviously become taut when you reach the end. Don't stop walking. Move your hand quickly toward  the pup, which will create a bit of slack in the leash.

That will catch him by surprise. He might even wobble a bit since there is no longer a tight leash to brace against. Take advantage of his surprise by quickly pulling him toward you just enough to make him take a couple of steps.

Remember to keep walking as you do this, and keep encouraging him to follow you. Every time the pup refuses to walk, or sits or lies down, use that alternating technique (loosen/tighten/loosen) that should make him take a couple of steps.

Walk, walk, walk.... that's the key to getting a balky pup to start moving. He's attached to the leash, so if you keep moving, he has  to move also.

By alternately loosening, tightening, and loosening the leash, as you keep walking slowly, you'll be able to move the pup in the same direction you're walking, a few steps at a time. Yes, it will be a bit herky-jerky  for him, but that won't last long.

Remember, dogs are opportunists. They want to do things that bring them some benefit and to avoid doing things that cause discomfort. Your pup will discover that he can stop the herky-jerky movement and walk comfortably if he simply trots along with you.

Now on to real leash training!

My book covertraining program is for puppies 2 to 18 months old. It explains, step by step:

  • How to establish good patterns and routines that govern everything your pup does.
  • How to teach your pup to be calm and to look to you for guidance, direction, and permission.
  • How to make yourself important – the most important thing – in your puppy’s life. How to show your pup the clear, black-and-white rules and routines he is to follow. And how to make sure he does.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

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If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
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