How to Leash Train a Puppy

Brown puppy on a leash

The first few months of puppy training is definitely enough for owners to start questioning why the phrase is ‘"herding cats" instead of puppies. But with persistence and the right tools, leash training your new best friend can be fun, rewarding and stress-free. Learn how to leash train a puppy below.

Can Your Puppy Be Leash Trained?

Yes, he can. A lot of new puppy owners fall into a trap of thinking their puppy is untrainable. Puppies are energetic, easily distracted and take a long time to learn commands, so it’s easy to get discouraged when training them. But it’s important to remember that if you create a strong connection and guide your puppy gently through training, even the wildest dogs can be taught. 

Frustrated owners may lose patience and try to leash train their puppy by force. However, using a choke chain or prong collar to force your puppy to obey is highly discouraged. Training is about bonding and creating a trusting relationship. You want your puppy to enjoy training sessions and feel rewarded for doing a good job. If you punish or hurt him to teach him, he likely won’t enjoy training and try to avoid it, which is counterproductive. Puppies also may begin to fear or dislike their owners, leading to other behavioural issues. 

Why Leash Train Your Puppy?

Much like human children, puppies have an endless curiosity and need for adventure, which is why they absolutely love walks. But if he's constantly pulling on his leash and trying to run off, walks become a tiresome ordeal for both puppy and owner. Training him to be comfortable on the leash and not pull makes the experience more pleasurable and lets you both explore the neighbourhood.  

Being able to go on walks with your puppy is crucial to all aspects of his development. It helps him grow strong and stay healthy and helps get all his energy out. But it’s also important for his mental development. Exploring new environments and experiencing new things helps him grow mentally. Walking and lead training also help get your puppy used to following commands and the training process, which you’ll use for learning other tricks later.

Leashes are also usually required in public areas, so leash training is important if you want to take your dog to the park or with you into town. 

How to Leash Train a Puppy

To start lead training, you’ll first need to gather the appropriate supplies. Your puppy will need a collar or harness that fits well. Too tight of a collar will be very uncomfortable for your pup, and too loose of one can let him escape or ride too high on his neck. The general rule of thumb is to make sure you can fit two fingers in the collar while your pup is wearing it. 

The next item you’ll need is the leash. The size of the leash you get depends on how tall your puppy is. You want there to be enough slack that your dog feels he can move around easily within a safe distance. The idea is to train your pup so he never pulls the leash taut. It’s also important to make sure the leash hooks to the collar securely.

You’ll also need treats you know your puppy likes to reward him with. 

6 Steps for Puppy Leash Training

Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to start the training process.

  1. Introduce the collar and leash. You want to get your puppy used to wearing a collar regularly before starting the leash training. Some dogs are more sensitive than others and you may need to try a variety of leashes to find one he doesn’t mind wearing. After you have your dog in a dashing collar, it’s time to get him used to the leash. Try to make positive associations with the leash by putting it on for a few moments and giving your dog a toy. If your dog associates the leash with playtime, he’ll be more likely to see leash training as play too.
  2. Start with the backyard. Before heading out to the busy street with tons of distractions, parade for a few laps around the backyard. 
  3. Go for your first walk. Now that you’ve got your puppy used to walking with the leash it’s time to go for your first leashed walk. Here’s where you’ll need to be focused because your pup definitely won’t be. You’ll need to gently guide him away from the infinite distractions of the outdoors.
  4. Reward good behaviour. To teach your dog what behaviour you like and don’t like you’ll use positive reinforcement. This can be vocal praise, like "good boy," petting and attention or treats. Mixing up the rewards keeps your dog from learning to expect anything specific. You also want to give rewards randomly. Constant rewarding will make your dog not want to do anything that doesn’t secure a treat and going cold turkey on the rewards causes him to lose his interest. 
  5. Introduce commands. If you feel confident with your dog's leash training abilities, you can start adding commands. Learning new things keeps training challenging and interesting to your dog. Try teaching him to heel. Just take him for a walk and every time he gets ahead of you stop walking and wait for him to return to your side. Say "heel" to associate the word with that action and reward him when he responds to the command. Then, start walking again.
  6. Be patient with your pup. Learning new things and getting used to training isn’t always easy. But if you’re consistent and patient, your puppy will surprise you with how well he learns. Learn to understand puppy behaviour and how they think. 

Keeping Your Puppy's Attention

Keeping your puppy focused on training can be really difficult. He’ll always want to explore the world and chase after new things and other animals. He’ll probably forget you’re even there. The solution to this is to carry special treats when training. If you use the standard snacks you give him all the time, he’ll quickly lose interest. Getting a more luxurious treat for training purposes piques your dog's interest because there’s a higher reward. It's also a good idea to socialize puppies so they’re used to seeing other dogs.

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