What is the Best Way to Leash Train a Puppy?
While there are several methods for training a puppy, the best way to leash train a puppy is by using treat rewards and positive reinforcement. Most trainers and 99.5% of dog owners believe rewarding good behavior is the most effective training method.
What Age Should You Start Leash Training a Puppy?
You can start leash training your puppy at 7-8 weeks old. But remember that puppies have very short attention spans and will require a lot of patience. The ideal age is about 10 weeks old because they understand routine by this age and follow basic commands.
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Equipment Needed to Leash Train a Puppy
Before you get started, you’ll need to invest in a few items to leash-train your puppy the right way:
- Collar or Harness: There are several varieties of collars and harnesses. You’ll want to pick a harness that has a buckle collar, a head halter, or a front-clip harness. The harness should be snug-fitting, and the puppy can easily step into it, and it comes with a back fastener.
- A Leash: The leash needs to be 4-6 feet long and should not be retractable.
- Training Treats: Training treats are small dog treats to reward good behavior. Positive behavior training is one of the best methods.
Treat Pouch (optional): A treat pouch is like a fanny pack for treats. You could use a sandwich baggie too.
Steps for Training your Puppy to Walk on a Leash
1. Introduce and Acclimate Your Puppy to its New Collar, Harness, and Leash
Let them wear the harness and leash for short periods of time around the house or while you are playing with them. Give them training treats while wearing the harness to associate fun and treats with the harness.
2. Teach a Sound Cue
In a quiet area, when the puppy has on the harness, make a sound:
- Using a clicker
- Clucking your tongue
- Saying a command, like “Yes.”
Any of these will work and is a personal preference. Once you make the sound cue, reward the puppy with a treat if it turns toward the sound to help it associate the reward with the sound. It may take several repetitions to draw your puppy’s attention consistently.
3. Teach the Puppy to Come to You
When the puppy hears the sound cue, have them come to you to receive the treat. Each time you make the cue, back up a few paces to make them earn the reward. Continue reinforcing this behavior and progress to where the puppy will walk a few paces with you before receiving the reward.
Keep these training sessions short and end the session while the puppy is still eager to train and earn rewards.
4. Practice Walking Your Puppy Inside the House
Once your puppy has learned to come to you and walk a few paces, you’re ready to walk your puppy on the leash around the house. As your puppy continues to walk with you, offer treats and praise for walking with you on the leash.
5. Take Your Puppy Outside
Your puppy is ready to learn to walk outside. Now there are going to be a lot more distractions outside that will pull your puppy’s attention. Remember patience and positive reinforcement.
Keep your eyes on the puppy the whole time. If they look distracted:
- Give the sound cue.
- Walk a few paces ahead of them.
- Reward your puppy when it follows you on the leash.
These first walks should be short, and then gradually, you can increase the distance as your puppy improves at keeping pace and not getting too distracted.
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Common Problems with Leash Training
Your puppy may begin to show some of these common problems when trying to leash train. They can happen during training or several months after being trained. It's critical to remember that these behaviors can be corrected with patience and consistency.
Leash Training: A Puppy that Bites the Leash
If your puppy consistently bites the leash, you need to train the puppy to be more comfortable with the leash and recognize that it isn’t a chew toy. Tips to stop leash biting:
- Give your puppy an acceptable tug toy. This is a toy that can be used for tug-o-war. You’ll want to manage your game of tug-o-war properly to discourage aggressive behavior.
- Teach good leash behavior at home. Hold the leash, not attached to the dog, in front of your puppy. If your puppy attacks the leash, dangle the leash further away from the puppy. Reward the puppy with treats if they don’t bite or attack the leash. Sniffing is fine. If the puppy bites the leash, immediately drop it and disengage in the tug-o-war. Praise and reward the puppy when they drop the leash and hold the dog still by the collar or harness.
- Attach the leash to the puppy and walk around the room. For every few steps that the puppy doesn’t bite the leash, give them a treat and praise. As they behave, extend the time between treats until the dog can walk on a leash for several minutes.
Leash Training: A Puppy that Pulls
Training a puppy to walk on a leash without pulling can be challenging. If your puppy starts to pull in a different direction, you should stand still as a tree. Don't move until your puppy comes back to you. Do not:
- Drag your puppy
Be patient. Resume walking when your puppy has returned to you. If your dog loves to pull, you may want to use a head halter or front-hook harness to discourage pulling.
Leash Training a Puppy Takes Patience But You Can Do It
Don’t get discouraged. Puppies are energetic with short attention spans. As you exercise patience and love, your puppy will eventually be able to take long walks with you around the neighborhood. Remember to praise and reward good behavior and don’t engage the puppy when they misbehave.
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