Here’s a step-by-step guide to teaching your puppy to walk on a leash:
- Find a low-distraction spot to teach your puppy this exercise. Outdoors is best, but it’s fine if you need to start teaching your puppy indoors.
- Gather 50 or so tasty treats — keep them in your pocket or on a flat surface nearby.
- Have your puppy on a four- to six-foot lead. A little longer is OK, but nothing longer than 10 feet.
- Stand still and let your puppy explore.
- Keep your hands at your waist, with the leash loop over your hand and thumb closed around it. Do not get into the habit of wrapping the leash around your wrist! This is a good way to get a dislocated wrist, rope burn, or worse, when your puppy grows larger.
- Make sure there is a soft bend in the leash. If the leash is tight, take a couple of steps backwards, and pat your leg and call your puppy to make it loose.
- With a soft bend in the leash, watch your pup. When your puppy turns her muzzle toward you, drop a treat on the ground near your heel. Drop the treat as close to your body as possible.
- Your puppy does not need to stare into your eyes, or even look at you! We are waiting for only two things: A soft bend in the leash, and your puppy’s muzzle to tilt in your direction.
- Repeat five more times. Then take your puppy back inside, or out of the room, and remove the leash. Tell your puppy, “All done!” Do not feed any more treats.
- Practice this exercise four to five times per day with your puppy.
- When your puppy starts to stare at you instead of moving around on the leash, it’s time to make the exercise harder. Choose a target that’s less than five feet from you and your puppy.
- Practice walking to this spot, and then back to your starting place. You will drop a treat next to your heel when your puppy turns his muzzle toward you. Aim to drop 4-6 treats each time you go out and back.
- Repeat three or four times, then take a break as before.
- As you continue to practice with your puppy, try walking six feet and back, then 10 feet and back. Remember to drop a treat every time your puppy turns his muzzle towards you, as long as there is a loop in the leash.
- If there is no loop in the leash, stop and wait for your puppy to look at you. Then turn and walk in the other direction. This means you have gone too far. You will need to work with your puppy on a shorter “walk” for a few more sessions.
- Within a few days, your puppy will be able to walk loops of 25 feet out and back. When this happens, you are ready to add distractions. Start over by standing still in a new location, or with another person nearby.
- Continue with the steps above, as before. Your pup will learn the steps much faster this time!
- If your puppy barks, strains, or pulls on the leash, you have chosen a new situation that is too hard for him. Go back to an easier situation, where he can be calm. Think of quiet places to practice: The backyard, basement, or garage; the sidewalk in front of your house; or on the driveway, to and from your mailbox. Ask your veterinarian if you can practice in the office parking lot. Start first by practicing after hours, then during business hours.
Keep working on these exercises, and in no time you’ll have taught your puppy to walk on a leash. Your friends whose dogs pull will be envious, and your arms will thank you!