There’s nothing worse than a puppy that won’t stop pulling on the lead. It can be extremely tiring for both you and your pup and can turn a simple walk into a complete nightmare.
If your dog is straining at the lead, or your puppy refuses to walk without pulling with all their strength, it means that you are only controlling them with physical restraint, rather than with the training that should keep them happily trotting at your side. Not only that but, as they get older, the physical effort involved in controlling your dog could be overwhelming, especially if your canine friend is one of the larger, stronger breeds.
To make life easier for you and your dog, all it takes is a little training and they’ll be overjoyed at the sight of their lead in no time. Keep reading to find out how to leash train a puppy!
Why lead training puppies is important
Being able to walk your puppy on a lead provides an opportunity to exercise your dog and keep them healthy while they grow and mature.
Exposing your puppy to new environments is essential to their growth and development, and walking on a lead is essential to exploring many new places. The act of training itself is also great mental stimulation for your dog!
Lead training also improves responsiveness to overall obedience training, and it may become easier to teach other commands such as ‘sit’ or ‘stay’ once your puppy has learned to be walked on a lead.
What you’ll need before you start puppy lead training
A collar or harness
Buy a collar or harness that fits your puppy appropriately, never too loose or too tight – you should be able to fit two fingers between the collar and your puppy’s neck.
Use treats to reward them for good behaviour on the lead.
Buy a lead that’s of a suitable length to be able to walk comfortably. Make sure that the lead can be attached securely to your puppy’s collar or harness. This is so they are always safe during walks but there is enough slack so your puppy isn’t always pulling.
How to train a puppy to walk on a lead
To train your puppy to successfully walk on the lead, follow these steps:
You’ll probably be wondering how to leash train a puppy and when and where you should even start. It’s important that you begin training when they’re young, that way they’ll be much happier and easy to walk with right into adulthood. Whether you’re teaching a puppy or starting with an adult dog, the best place to start isn’t with a lead at all – but with their smart new collar!
When leash training your puppy, they need to be comfortable in their collar, so start with one that's lightweight with nylon webbing so it won’t feel like it’s weighing them down. Make sure it is fitted correctly, with just enough room for you to get two fingers underneath it. Check their collar daily and adjust it to make them more comfortable if you need to.
Does your dog try to wriggle out of their collar? They probably won’t even notice they’re wearing it if you put it on and then immediately distract them with treats or a fun game! If they scratch their collar, distract them. When they’re not paying their collar any attention, remove it again. Over the course of a couple of days, slowly increase the length of time that your dog or puppy wears the collar until they stop noticing it – and you’ll be well on the way to a happy, well behaved pup!
Before walking your puppy, the first step is to attach the lead to their collar. Being on a lead is another sensation your dog or puppy will need to get used to gradually, but when they do, there will be so much more of the world to explore!
Attach a lead to their collar and follow your dog around the garden, making sure the lead is kept slack. That way, they’ll barely notice it’s there, making puppy leash training a lot easier!
After a couple of minutes, remove the lead and play a game together, before reattaching the lead and walking wherever they wander, all the time keeping the lead loose so they feel no resistance.
It’s important to make the lead seem fun, otherwise your puppy might tense up every time you put it on. Once the lead is on, you can use treats or toys to entertain your puppy. By association, your puppy should anticipate fun once you put on the lead and will be much more likely to co-operate.
Once your puppy has learned to accept the lead and doesn’t become agitated or stressed when it is put on, it’s time to venture outside. Again, keep in mind that this will be a new experience for your puppy. There will be lots of new sights, sounds and smells. If your puppy seems overwhelmed or over-stimulated at first, don’t worry, this is normal given the circumstances. Over time they will become used to the experience as it becomes a new part of their routine.
Since most puppies are very excitable and full of energy, it’s best to find a quiet area to teach your puppy how to walk on a lead in the initial stages. Once your puppy has become more used to the idea, only then should you move into busier places (e.g. parks with other dog walkers).
Throughout puppy lead training, use consistent dog commands such as ‘heel’, ‘sit’, or ‘stay’. You can learn about teaching your puppy to sit or stay here. It is important to be consistent with the commands or you run the risk of confusing your puppy and slowing down the learning process.
Once you’ve taught your dog to ‘sit’, it’s time to think about how training can help you when walking your dog on a lead. First of all, teach them to walk to heel on the lead and get your dog’s attention by saying their name and showing them a treat – this will be exciting enough to make any training worth the effort and is the first step to teaching your dog to not pull on a lead.
Then lean forward and take a few steps, encouraging your dog to walk forward too. Your dog should be rewarded and praised for any steps forward at this point, as they’re learning something new.
Encourage your dog to take the ‘sit’ position next to you, and then step forward again. Practice walking forwards in many short on-lead training sessions, and when your dog walks alongside you, without putting any pressure on the lead by surging ahead or lagging behind, say “heel” so they associate walking next to you with the request.
If your dog lags behind, be more animated in your actions and use a more excited tone of voice – just like you, your dog can get bored, and something that seems exciting is much easier to focus on!
If your dog pulls ahead whilst walking on a lead, it’s because they want to get somewhere fast. Simply stand still (or even start walking backwards), call them back to your side, and start again. Your training sessions are so exciting, especially to a young dog, that walking might involve a bit of puppy pulling. Puppy training will get easier, though - your dog will quickly understand that pulling on a lead is counterproductive to getting anywhere.
Remember that walking on a lead will be a new experience for your puppy and, for this reason, it’s important to be patient during puppy lead training. If your puppy stops, don’t be tempted to ‘pull’ them along. Instead, do everything calmly and gently. It can be good idea to just stop and kneel until your puppy figures out what’s going on and what the lead is for. Only reward good behaviour, and discourage other behaviour (such as pulling) by calmly ignoring them. The important thing is to stay collected. By doing this, your puppy will gain confidence in you and is likely to accept walking on the lead more quickly.
New encounters when dog walking
Once your dog is walking on a lead and to heel in your garden (and they have had all of their puppy vaccinations), begin taking them to other areas.
Walking a dog on a lead isn’t always plain sailing – remember that they will want to investigate new sights, sounds smells and other dogs – this is where good puppy socialisation is really key – so don’t expect too much too soon. You will have to work harder when faced with competition for your dog’s attention so take some special treats (either a small proportion of their daily food allowance or their favourite toy) and teach them that focusing on you is worth it! Keep training sessions short and positive, always ending on a success, and then have a fun play session together.
Meeting people and other dogs
Ask your vet or local training club about training classes that can teach you how to train a puppy to walk on a lead. They’re one of the best ways to prepare you for walking your dog and for trips into the wider world together. Walking a puppy or adult dog isn’t always straightforward - many dogs get very excited when they see another person or dog walking towards them and start pulling on the lead to greet them! It is important to pre-empt this behaviour so that it doesn’t occur. (It’s also where spending so much time puppy training pays off!) If you see someone approaching, get a treat from your pocket, say your dog’s name to get their attention and then calmly show them the treat, which they should focus on. As they walk past the person, give them lots of praise and then stop and give them the reward. They will soon learn good manners if they are rewarded like this.
Once your dog is happily and reliably walking on a loose lead, reduce their rewards and only give them the occasional treat for especially good lead-walking (such as calmly passing an exciting distraction like a cat). Don’t stop giving rewards altogether – a random reward will keep your dog’s interest and concentration far better than either constant rewards or none at all! If you need further help and advice on walking your dog on a lead, enrol with a local dog training club.
Dog or puppy pulling on lead
If your dog is pulling on their lead, or your puppy refuses to walk without dragging you and you are finding it hard to stop them, consider trying a canine head-collar and follow all the steps outlined above.
Never use a choke chain (also known as a ‘check collar’) or a prong collar. Training should always be a positive, reward-based experience that encourages bonding between you, not punish them in a way that may inspire fear – this is usually counter-productive in the end!
That’s our guide for how to train a puppy to walk on a lead. No matter what point you’re starting from, with a little love, encouragement and patience, you will be able to go on some truly memorable and special journeys when walking your dog. If you’re looking for even puppy training and behaviour advice, check out our puppy manners, chewing, mouthing and jumping up guide.