How To Leash Train Your Puppy

For walks, hikes and overall good manners!

Besides potty training, leash training may be the most important behavior to begin teaching your puppy from the get-go.

But what exactly does the process entail, and how can pet parents get started?

To better understand the basics, we talked to three professional dog trainers to get step-by-step instructions and learn how to leash train a puppy. And luckily, the process isn’t as daunting as it may seem.

Why you should leash train your puppy

The pros of leash training your puppy far outweigh the cons — in fact, there really aren’t any cons, according to the trainers we spoke to!

For safety

The most important reason to leash train your puppy is to keep him safe at all times when he’s outside with you.

“Leashes provide a way to keep your pup safe and under control when you are out walking or hiking together,” Julia Jenkins of Pet Dog Training Today told The Dodo. “Leashes can help you avoid dangerous situations by keeping your pup close to you and preventing them from running off or getting lost.”

And keeping your puppy close by not only gives you peace of mind, but it makes him feel safer, too. As the leader of your little pack, your puppy looks to you for guidance, and keeping him close with a leash makes leading him a lot easier.

For exercise

To keep your puppy healthy and happy (and to prevent him from causing chaos with late-night zoomies), it’s vital that he gets enough exercise throughout the day.

Going on walks is a great way to tire your pup out and help him maintain a healthy weight. Not to mention, daily exercise is good for pet parents, too!

For socialization

Being leash trained helps your pup learn how to safely socialize with other pups and other humans.

“Taking your puppy on walks and to new places is a vital part of the puppy learning process as they are undergoing the ‘critical socialization period’ in which they should be experiencing as much of the world as possible to prepare them to understand it and be happy and confident dogs,” Kimberly Archer, dog behavioral specialist with Courteous Canine Inc., told The Dodo.

And Jenkins added that well-behaved leashed puppies are more likely to be welcomed into public places like stores and outdoor restaurants — and what pet parent doesn’t want their pup with them at all times?

For potty training

While leash training your puppy, you can also begin to teach him the basics of potty training.

“Keeping a leash on your puppy will help you get your puppy outside to his/her potty area quickly when you see their signals that they have to go,” Elissa Weimer-Sentner of Paw & Order Dog Training told The Dodo. “You can also use the leash to limit where they actually potty in the yard, which can help them train to go to a certain spot every time!”

When you should start leash training your puppy

It’s important to start leash training as soon as you bring your puppy home.

“Most puppies will stay near their humans, so a lot of dog owners dismiss the importance of a leash … until it’s too late,” Weimer-Sentner said. “If you wait until your puppy gets extra inquisitive, runs away or just becomes older, it will be much harder to train them to be comfortable wearing one and dealing with the stress of … leash pressure.”

“This can lead to behavioral problems down the line,” Weimer-Sentner continued. “You want your dog to like wearing the leash and make it normal.”

Weimer-Sentner noted that even if you have a fenced-in yard and don’t need to take your dog on as many walks, it’s still a good idea to teach your puppy good leash manners for trips to the vet or groomer.

Never punish your puppy for misbehaving on a leash

Before you begin leash training your puppy, it’s important that you know what not to do first — and that’s never using physical or verbal punishment if your puppy doesn’t do something right during the training process.

Yelling or hitting only makes your puppy fearful of you and can cause emotional damage and trust issues, which will manifest in timidness or bad behavior. So before you can train your puppy, you have to train yourself to stay cool, calm and collected.

“Be patient and consistent with your pup, and remain calm yourself,” Jenkins said. “Leash training can take some time, but eventually your pup will get the hang of it!”

Collar vs. harness for training a puppy to walk on a leash

You’re also going to need the right tools before you start leash training. And you’re probably wondering: Which is best — a collar or a harness? Each accessory has pros and cons.

“Collars are typically less expensive than harnesses, and they can be easier to put on and take off,” Jenkins said. “However, some dogs may slip out of their collars if they are not fitted properly, which could lead to them getting lost or getting into a dangerous situation.”

For this reason, Weimer-Sentner said she prefers to use a Martingale-style collar when training pups, which snugs up around a dog’s neck when slight pressure is applied. But Martingale collars should really only be used by people who have experience training dogs or if a dog is already leash trained.

“However, I love seeing puppies arrive for training wearing harnesses at first,” Weimer-Sentner noted, adding, “Harnesses will let your dog safely pull without putting pressure on their throat like a normal, pretty flat collar will. Puppies, especially, will put pressure on the leash to get to where they want, which puts direct pressure on their trachea.”

And because of this, both Jenkins and Archer suggested that puppy parents should start with a harness, as it’s probably the safer option. “A harness evenly distributes the force across their chest and shoulders, which is much better for their health,” Jenkins said.

“My favorite harness is the 2 Hounds Design Freedom No-Pull Harness with Double Attached Leash,” Archer said. “This harness is amazing at preventing pulling and aids you in effectively training your puppy not to pull on the leash.”

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“Another good harness option is the Easy Walk Harness, which also has a front attachment on the chest like the Freedom harness does,” Archer said.

The PetSafe Easy Walk Harness is currently available on Chewy for $19.95

Even though a harness is the preferred accessory for leash training, your puppy should still wear a collar at all times with his ID tag attached in case he gets loose. We rounded up some pet-parent-approved puppy collars here.

How to leash train your puppy

Now that you’re finally ready to begin the training process, here’s how to leash train a puppy and get him used to his new accessory.

Get your puppy used to having the leash attached to him

“I always suggest owners make their puppy drag a leash around the house (always supervised), so you can get them quickly, remove them from dangerous situations, and to set them up for success,” Weimer-Sentner said.

Start close to home

“Start with short walks around the house or backyard to get your pup used to the feel of a leash,” Jenkins said.

Letting your puppy get used to being on a leash in his own environment will make the transition from unleashed to leash much less stressful.

Stay calm and be patient while your pup is learning

Once your puppy’s used to being attached to the leash, you can begin taking him on walks further away from the house — but be patient, as this is when the real training process begins.

“If your pup begins to pull on the leash, stop walking and stand still until they calm down,” Jenkins said. “Then, continue on your walk.”

Reward, reward, reward!

“Leash training a puppy is about rewarding appropriate behaviors,” Archer said, noting that there are several behaviors that should be encouraged by immediately giving your puppy treats and praise when he exhibits them.

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These reward-worthy behaviors include:

  • When your puppy makes eye contact with you
  • When your puppy’s staying close to you, and close enough that the leash is loose — “[E]nvision a J shape as the ideal shape a leash should be in, not tight and straight,” Archer said.
  • When your puppy’s walking side by side with you and changing directions when you do
  • When your puppy sees a distraction, like a squirrel, person or dog, but doesn’t pull or lunge

Call a professional if you need help

If you find yourself getting frustrated with the training process, or your puppy isn’t catching onto commands and behaviors after a lot of practice, then it might be time to call a local dog trainer. Getting help from a professional will lessen the chance of you using a loud voice or force when training your pup, which could be damaging to your relationship and the training process.

With plenty of patience, time and practice, your puppy will get the hang of being on a leash in no time, which will make him a well-rounded and behaved adult pup in the future and a walking and hiking buddy for life!

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