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How to Leash Train a Puppy (and Stop That Pulling!)

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Nobody likes being dragged around by a dog that pulls. It’s much easier to leash train a puppy right from the beginning than it is to break a bad habit later on.

While leash training a puppy isn’t necessarily a safety skill (like come when called or drop it), it’s important for your dog’s quality of life. If it’s fun to walk your dog because he walks nicely, you’re more likely to give him the exercise that he needs!

leash training a puppy

Why Do Dogs Pull When They Walk?

It’s the frustrating truth that almost all dogs pull on walks if we don’t train them not to. But why? Why don’t dogs just learn that if they walk slower, the collar won’t press their throat and they get to enjoy the walk?

While we can’t exactly ask dogs why they pull us around all of the time, there are a few pretty reasonable reasons your dog might pull on walks:

  • Pace Differences. Our dogs walk faster than we do. Your dog’s comfortable walking pace is way faster than most people walk. This mismatch in pace leads to pulling.
  • Energy Differences. Many dogs are cooped up all day and have energy to burn. Not only does your dog walk faster than you, he’s probably more energetic than you are! While you spent all day working, your dog was probably napping. He thinks it’s time to go!
  • Enthusiasm Differences. The smells and sights are just so exciting. Your daily walk is probably the high point of your dog’s day – every time. Not only is your dog fast and energetic, he’s excited to be outside! Pulling you towards scents and sounds is just part of that enthusiasm.

Understanding the why of your dog’s behavior does two main things for you:

  1. It helps you be a bit more patient. Try not to think of your dog as being willfully disobedient – just remember that he’s faster, more energetic, and more excited than you are. It’s no wonder that he’s pulling!
  2. It helps you identify the function of your dog’s behavior. If we know why your dog does something, we can solve the problem more effectively.

how to leash train a puppy

How to Leash Train a Puppy: The 4 Rules of Good Leash Training

As I said above, it’s much easier to build a good habit from Day One than it is to break a bad habit. The reason many dogs pull so much is because we let them “practice” pulling every day for years, then try to fix the problem in just a few hours of obedience class.

Before we get started, here are four important tips:

#1 – Be Patient

Leash training is really hard! While we consider it a “basic” skill for our dogs, it’s anything but. A nice, consistent loose-leash-walk is one of the most challenging skills I’ve ever taught any dog – including dogs that also trial-ed in obedience, agility, and scent work.

#2 – Be Consistent

If your dog gets to pull towards squirrels one day and is expected to walk nicely the next, you’ll end up with a very long learning process. You’ve accidentally put your dog on an “intermittent reinforcement schedule,” whereby your dog gets rewarded for pulling sometimes. This is a really hard habit to break – it’s like gambling!

#3 – Bring Treats

Treats are your friend. They’re your dog’s paycheck, and it’s important to be liberal with them when you’re working on a difficult skill like leash training. Instead of getting a fancy training collar, put your dog’s kibble in a fanny pack and bring that on every walk.

#4 – Use Context Cues

I generally leash train my dogs using two different setups: one for training, and one for walking. I have a four-foot leash that I attach to a flat-buckle neck collar for training. When we’re hiking, exploring, or otherwise not actively training, I use an eight-foot leash and a Ruffwear Front Range harness. This helps my dog know when he’s supposed to be on his A-Game.

This seems counterintuitive at first because you probably don’t want your dog to ever pull. But it helps you be consistent (Rule #2) without spending every single walk in Dog Training Mode. If you’re in a rush and can’t train for a potty break before work, just clip on the harness. But later when you have time, use the collar. Eventually, you can fade out the harness and long leash for more situations.

If you stick to these principles, the steps below will be much easier.

leash training equipment

When to Start Leash Training Your Puppy

The basic rule of beginning leash training for a puppy is to start early. It is more effective if you start early, as soon as a puppy is four to six months old, begging to train it. Please remember that just like children, young puppies can be fast learners. 

On the other hand, once puppies grow into adult dogs, it becomes more challenging to train them. So, this raises the question of the ideal age to start training your puppy.

You might be surprised to know this, but as soon as you bring a puppy home, you can start with its leash training. Generally speaking, puppies live with their moms for the initial one to two months, and you can also begin then.

It isn’t easy to train puppies at such a young age, but at least start with basic principles, and they will likely follow you.

What Equipment Do I Need for Leash Training a Puppy?

If you peruse the shelves of almost any pet store these days, you’ll be overwhelmed with the variety of tools available for dog training. That’s especially true when it comes to dogs that pull! From pinch and choke collars to front-clip harnesses and flexi leads, where do you begin?

As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, I’m bound to the rules of the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) training framework. This means that I never reach for a tool that’s meant to startle, reprimand, correct, or hurt a dog as my first step.

Instead, my first step should always be to start with environmental management to set the dog up for success (you wouldn’t teach multiplication in an arcade, so why try to teach loose-leash walking at the park?) and positive reinforcement training. For most dogs, positive reinforcement means treats.

READ MORE: 5 Best Dog Training Treats: Healthy Options for Effective Training

Even if you don’t care about LIMA, there’s a strong argument to stay away from most training collars (pinch, choke, or e-collars). With the exception of some really competent trainers, most dogs that are trained using a training collar never really get weaned off of the collar. You often see the training collar interrupt the behavior (pulling), but it’s not stopping the behavior from happening in the first place.

So what use is that?

If you’re going to have to put a training collar on your dog for every walk forever, why not bring treats instead?

When I work on teaching a dog not to pull, I use the following tools:

  • A flat buckle collar (for training).
  • A four-foot leash (for training).
  • A back-clip harness (for non-training scenarios).
  • An eight-foot leash (for non-training scenarios).
  • Treats.
  • Something to hold the treats (a fanny pack, a treat pouch, pockets, etc).
  • A front-clip harness or head halter if there’s a safety concern with the dog being on a back-clip harness.

I’ve worked with thousands of dogs of all shapes and sizes, including incredibly powerful and untrained mastiffs in animal shelters. I’m five foot two and I’ve never needed to use a training collar with a dog. If you really feel like you need mechanical help to control your dog, work with a trainer to ensure you’re doing it right!

Choosing The Right Collar Or Harness, And Leash

Training your dog is essential from an early age; training a dog is no easy task. Apart from requiring a professional trainer, it would help if you got a collar, a harness, and a leash for your dog’s training.

Let us tell you immediately that procuring these essentials is a challenging task. Yet, it would help if you bought these things before beginning your dog’s training process. So, in this section, let us guide you through how to buy a suitable collar, leash, and harness.

Ensure That They Are Comfortable On Your Dog

All these things should be comfortable for your dog. Most brands selling these products mention their specificities and the kind of dogs they are suitable for. So, before buying anything, compare the size and dimensions of your dog with that of the product.

A comfortable leash will ensure that your dog fits perfectly in such collars and will not choke on them.

The Leash, Harness, And Collar Should Not Choke Your Dog

While all this equipment is necessary to train your dog, they should not be choking. Unfortunately, this is one of the main dangers that your dog may face while training. At other times, it can also choke when its collar pulls it.

To ensure that your dog doesn’t choke on the collar and the leash, check that these products are not too tight on your dog.

They Should Be Of Premium Quality Material

The quality of the material is also essential. The leash or the collar must be free from harsh and rough materials, which otherwise will hurt your dog’s skin. The weight of the collar is also important.

While it should be strong so that your dog doesn’t escape from it, you want to avoid weighing down your dog with the weight on its neck.

These Products Should Be Durable

The durability of these products should also be on your priority list. You are not going to procure them over and over again. Hence, the shelf-life of these products is also important.

Try to ensure that the leash, harness, and collar should serve your dog for some time. Instead of hurrying, you should spend some time and buy after visiting some well-renowned pet shops and websites.

They Should Be Affordable As Well

The last factor you should look forward to is that they should also be affordable. Of course, we recommend you maintain the quality of the products to save money. But many firms are available in the market that provides these products.

While some are priced higher than others, there are no assurances that being more expensive is better. So, please consider a few brands first, compare the products, and then only decide if a particular product will serve your dog’s purpose.

SEE ALSO: 5 Best Dog Harnesses to Stop Pulling

leash training puppy

Troubleshooting Leash Training

While training a puppy is a must, training is a challenging task. Several issues can trouble both you and your dog. In this section, we will look at the potential problems you can face and how you can avoid those.

Don’t Wait Too Long To Begin Training

While many dog owners wait for their puppies to grow up and mature before beginning training, there are better ways than this. First, puppies are easier to train; as soon as your puppy turns a month old, begin training it.

Begin with simple commands like “sit” and “stay,” and they are more likely to respond. Then, keep rewarding them with snacks and treats for better results.

Invest Time In Training Them

Some people only train their pups once or twice a week, and they make the training sessions unnecessarily lengthy. Don’t fall for this trap. Instead, teach them daily, and keep the training duration short but engaging.

Moreover, the attention span of puppies is much shorter, and they are unlikely to remember your teachings and commands after some time. Besides, lengthy training sessions are tiring for them, which can take a toll on their bodies. Remember that repetition and consistency is the key to success.

Using A Single Approach On All Dogs

A single training method only suits some dogs, as all dogs are unique and will respond to the training technique differently.

So, it is better to try different training methods and follow the one that works best for your dog. If you have more than one dog, and it looks like they need different training, ensure that.

Patience Is The Key To Success

Do not think your puppy or adult dog will be able to understand and memorize your teachings and commands instantly. Just like humans, dogs also have unique ways of understanding and remembering things, and it may take some time for them to get familiar with your commands.

So, be patient with them and give them all the time and the support they need. Stay calm with them, and don’t scold them for failing to follow your instructions. Instead, maintain a positive environment, and the results will be fruitful.

Don’t Bully Or Discipline Your Dog

According to prominent organizations like the Association of Professional Dog trainers, bullying or disciplining your dog during training is bound to backfire. Doing this can instill fear in them and ultimately make them aggressive. 

Instead, maintain a positive attitude while training your dog, and go for reward-based training. Encourage your dog with kind words, pat them on their back, and reward them with their favorite treats as they follow your commands.

Rewarding Or Praising Them At The Wrong Time

Often, dog owners reward and praise their dogs at the wrong times. If you commit this mistake, your puppy or adult is bound to miscalculate the value and importance of the command you are trying to teach. 

Correct your reaction based on their reaction and the number of times a command is repeated. Doing this will help your dog gauge the importance of your commands better.

Train Your Dog, Don’t Bribe Them

Rewarding your dog is not the same as bribing them. Unfortunately, this mistake is difficult to recognize, and the easiest solution is to keep your dog from knowing beforehand about the treats it will get for following your orders flawlessly.

After training for some days, you need to lessen the frequency of giving them treats. Instead, let your canine friend guess when and for what they will be rewarded. Eventually, this will deepen the bond between you two and build a healthy relationship.

Be Aware Of Your Dog’s Body Language

Our furry friends often express emotions like fear and anxiety through bodily actions. As a pet owner, you need to be aware of these signs. Some of them are cowering away or pinning their ears back. An afraid dog in training can turn aggressive.

Maintaining positive reinforcement during the training process is a must. Work on your dog’s fears and ensure it is not tense during the training sessions. Also, don’t use any harsh methods like choke collars during training. Bear with your dog’s anxiety, as it may be confused in a new environment.

Don’t Be Overly Emotional

Don’t be overly emotional during the training sessions, as dogs are smart enough to read through your emotions. So, maintain calm and don’t over-excite during the training session.

Maintain positive body language and encourage them to give their best without being angry or frustrated with them. Doing this will break the trust between you two. Instead, be supportive, and your puppy will be interested in the training.

Take Charge Of Training Sessions

You need to take control and charge of the training session when you are trying to train your dog. At the same time, be different from the dominating alpha. You need to be confident in yourself and show faith in your dog. 

Be patient, and maintain a calm and composed voice to give clear commands to your dog.

Dogs also need your support and guidance to fulfill your commands. They will look to you for guidance during the training, and you need to be supportive and confident about your dog’s caliber. Doing this will help your dog to be better trained.

Training Games: The Fun Way to Leash Train a Puppy or Dog

Leash training is hard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun! The most important (and arguably hardest) thing about leash training a dog that pulls is to slowly add distractions and build up the difficulty.

I generally find that it’s best to separate training time from walks to reduce frustration on the human end of the leash!

I start indoors with the dog on the neck collar and shorter leash. Then we try the backyard. Once we’re doing well there, we go to the front yard. Then a quiet park or suburban street at dusk. Then a slightly busier park – and so on. In the meantime, I walk the dog using the harness and longer leash.

Game #1: Silky Leash

How to Play: Clip your dog’s leash on and go to a quiet area. Wait for your dog’s attention, then put light and gentle pressure on your dog’s leash. When your dog leans towards the pressure, steps into the pressure, or even shifts weight a little bit, click (using a clicker) and give her a treat.

The goal is to teach the dog to loosen the leash on his own! Ask your dog to move further towards the leash pressure over time, eventually taking steps together. Then start taking it to new locations as described above!

Learn More: Grisha Stewart started teaching this game at Ahimsa Dog Training in Seattle. You can learn more about the Silky Leash Technique in her fantastic book, the Ahimsa Dog Training Manual.

Game #2: 1-2-3 Walking

How to Play: Stand with your dog on the leash and do nothing except count (out loud) “1, 2, 3.” At 3, give your dog a treat. Repeat this 10 times. Then start to slowly walk in circles or down the hallway, continuing to count and give a treat at 3. Be sure to give the treat right near your pant pocket, where you want your dog to be. Gradually start to play the game in more and more distracting environments.

Game #3: Focus On Me!

How to Play: Head to a quiet area for practice. Walk in random directions – think following a child’s scribble pattern. The more erratic your direction, the better for your dog! Whenever your dog looks at you or gets into “heel position,” start feeding treats near your pant pocket. Transition to less and less erratic movements, rewarding your dog for staying near you the whole time.

Eventually, you’ll be moving in a straight line! If your dog starts getting out ahead of you, just “pull a U-turn” and reward your dog when he catches up. This game is so fun that my dog and I often do this instead of marching around the neighborhood in boring straight lines.

Learn More: I don’t know if this game actually has a name. I started playing it at the animal shelter years ago.

puppy leash training

Over time, you’ll find your skills from your games bleeds over into walks. I like to switch from “The Walk” to “training games” several times over our walk so that my dog quickly learns that loose leash walking is actually the FUN part of our walk. Eventually, your dog will just stay close for occasional pieces of food.

If you’re watching your dog’s weight, be sure to use healthy treats (I like white chicken breast) and cut down meal sizes if needed. Eventually, you’ll be able to reduce the number of treats that you use per walk, but it’s always good to continue “paying” your dog for his hard work sometimes!

As a professional trainer, I still bring treats with me on almost half of my walks. That helps my dog and I always get better, rather than getting rusty!


What age should I start leash training my puppy?

You should start leash training a puppy once they are one to two months old. However, begin as early as possible, as it is easier to train puppies than adult dogs.

What’s the best way to train a puppy on a leash?

The best way to train a puppy on a leash is to make them wear the collar, harness, and leash and, for a short time, let them roam in your house. Meanwhile, play with your puppy or give it treats.

They will eventually love the equipment, which will help them adjust to the new environment, and the training ground.

How do you leash train a 4-month-old puppy?

To leash train a four-month-old puppy, let it be comfortable with the leash and harness it at your home first. Teach them basic commands, and reward them with treats when they can follow your orders. Once it becomes comfortable and habituated with them, take them to regular training parks.

How do I get my puppy to walk on a leash without pulling?

To get your puppy to walk on a leash without pulling, don’t move in any direction, and let your puppy take its time exploring the nearby areas. Also, remember to reward it with treats when it walks by your side.

How do I stop my leash pulling in 5 minutes?

It is a to use a chest-based harness that will not hurt your dog. To stop leash pulling in less than 5 minutes, don’t force any command on your dog and incorporate new smell stops while on the walk. Also, reward your dog for good behavior.

Should I drag my puppy on a walk?

No, it would be best if you never dragged a puppy during a walk. Pulling or dragging a puppy can damage its neck and knees. Besides, it will also hurt them emotionally and make them become aggressive.

Should you let your dog sniff while walking?

It would help if you let your dog sniff around while walking. Dog trainers opine that this allows dogs to explore more of their natural surroundings, giving them better mental stimulation. Also, such dogs are happier.

Should I let my dog walk in front of me?

Yes, you can let your dog walk in front of you. The possible reasons why dogs love doing so are that they want to walk faster, protect you, interact more with their immediate surroundings, and have much stored-up energy that they want to spend.

What to do if your puppy sits and refuses to budge on a walk?

If your dog sits and refuses to walk, you can take the following steps:

• Go to one side of the road to prevent pulling the leash.
• Choose an exciting location, and take a different route.
• Give it proper leash training and reward it for following your orders.

Why does my dog zig-zag in front of me?

If your dog is walking in a zig-zag pattern in front of you, it implies that it is either very excited or happy about something. Otherwise, it tries to smell from different places and gather as much scent as possible.

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