Leash Training for Puppies – Learning the Basics of Walking

One of the most important parts of owning a pet, or having a child, or really for anybody anywhere is getting an adequate amount of exercise. Well, now raises the questions associated with how to go about making sure your puppy gets enough exercise.

Generally speaking, going for walks is the ideal way for your pupperoni pizza to get some exercise. Not only does it get puppy active, but it gets YOU active as well. This can lead to some very, VERY IMPORTANT BONDING TIME for you and your puppy pal.

Much the same as with any training, you will need PATIENCE and TIME.

Getting Acquainted With the Leash

The first thing you are going to want to do is help the puppy get used to wearing a collar, or harness and leash. Now, it is assumed that one of the first things you do after adopting a new family member is providing them with “clothes”, or a collar, for them to wear at all time. That way, should the unthinkable happen that puppy gets lost on their own, there can be ID tags, or at the very least a collar, indicating that someone is missing this little pup and certain steps need to be taken to make sure they find their way home.

puppy getting used to a new collar
Photo by: user:Amagase/Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

So, what next? Well, now we need to get puppy used to wearing a leash. I would also suggest using a harness as well, as they help keep any pressure or tension from the leash more on the body than the neck. I couldn’t imagine how I would feel if whenever I was walking somewhere I had constant pressure on my neck.

The best way to get puppy used to wearing a leash is to MAKE A GAME OUT OF IT. What you should do is practice wearing the leash while playing with your puppy. This is best done in the house in a familiar space so the puppy has an opportunity to get used to wearing the leash. Puppy games are always lots of fun, but the most fun is had when there are lots of yummy TREATS available as well.

Once your puppy is used to the leash you are going to want to practice coming toward you. This is where a clicker and some treats are going to be really useful tools. The easiest way of doing this is presenting the puppy with a treat and have him or her walk towards you. As they are walking towards you to collect the delicious light at the end of the tunnel, you are going to take a couple of steps back so puppy has to continue walking toward you.

As puppy reaches you, give them a click and a treat. That helps them to associate the click with positive reinforcement, also known as a “CUE” Keep on doing this until puppy has gotten used to walking toward you with the leash on, and you feel comfortable enough to practice walking.

Practice Makes Perfect

Before heading outside, it is best to practice walking in and around the house, in a space familiar with the puppy. All you want to do is walk around doing laps in a room, giving the puppy a cue and a treat frequently.

It is important to note that at this time, until puppy becomes comfortable walking on a leash (which will be way down the road, literally), you will never take your eyes off of him or her. This is extremely important because you will be able to notice when puppy is about to be distracted by something so you may use your cue to get them to focus on you and come to you.

The Great Outdoors

Once your amigo has become comfortable walking around on the leash, it is time for the ultimate test: OUTSIDE. This is where your patience will be tested, as outside there are tons of new smells, sights and sounds to distract your pup and take their focus off of the task at hand.

To alleviate this, the first few walks with your puppy should be kept rather brief. Much like a child, puppy’s attention span will be short, so short walks close to home are ideal.

Common Things to Watch Out For

As I had mentioned previous, it is extremely important you maintain EYES ON YOUR PUP AT ALL TIMES. This way you can identify potential distractions or issues. Here I will outline a few things to watch out for and how to correct it:

  • Barking: Sometimes, dogs tend to have a habit of barking at other dogs whilst out on a stroll. One cause could be inadequate amounts of exercise. Make sure your pup is getting plenty of exercise based on their breed and size. The other thing you can do to prevent this is by being proactive for potential distractions that may be approaching and reacting by first creating some distance between you and your pup and the potential distraction. Then make sure you get your puppy’s attention by using your cue (click) and a treat to keep them from focusing on whatever the potential distraction may be
  • Lunging: In addition, lunging can also be a bad habit for dogs. Whether they think everyone wants to be their friend or they just get all that excited to meet an approaching dog, you will want to use the same method as barking to prevent this. Separate yourself from the potential distraction, use your cue, and a treat to hold their attention so they learn that not lunging is a positive thing that results in praise and snacks!
  • Pulling: This could be one of the hardest habits to break. The first thing you can do is channel your inner child from your 3rd grade play and become a TREE. Don’t move, don’t yank the leash, and don’t do anything until your dog comes back to you. Once they do, a nice cue and a treat will teach them pretty quick that they want to stay close to you. However, not all dogs learn this way. If your puppy continues to pull, you may want to consider a front hook harness or a head-halter (also called a muzzle-lead) to take away the option of pulling.
how to get a dog used to a harness
Photo by: Rennett Stowe/Attribution 2.0 Generic

The Secret to Leash Training

There is no one single secret; there are several. TREATS, CUES, PRAISE, PATIENCE AND PRACTICE are the secrets to teaching your puppy proper leash manners. Never try to rush your pup’s development, and avoid negative reinforcement at all cost, as fear will never help anybody learn anything.

Walking with your puppy can be one of the funnest and best bonding opportunities you have, and should be part of your daily schedule. Ideally, multiple times a day would be even better, but as long as you try your best, our canine best friends will surely be happy as clams!

Feature Image Photo Credit: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve/C C 2.0


  • Trish

    Great article – sometimes this can be harder to do than people think. I have three dogs and for one of them anytime you put a leash on he grabs part of it like he wants to walk himself – and he’ll do the same with the leashes on the other dogs as he thinks it’s a game (maybe we did the make it a game a little to well 🙂 )

    • Nathan

      Often times, leash training is one of the more difficult tasks to teach dogs. Generally, from my experience, I’ve found that the more high energy a dog is, the harder they are to teach to walk.

    • Nathan

      I agree that it can be a struggle. We struggled for a long time to get our dog to finally get used to the leash. I guess the best thing you can do is practice, and much like humans, some dogs will need more practice than others. Good luck.

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