How to Train a Puppy to Walk on a Leash | Step by step

Walking nicely on a leash is not the same thing as heeling. Heeling is much more precise and demanding, and—while an interesting behavior to train—is rarely employed by pet owners on walks.

The point of the walk, in fact, is to give the dog an opportunity to check out smells, a great pleasure for dogs, and this is impossible if he’s heeling.

So walking on a leash is a compromise both the owner and dog can live with. It allows the dog some freedom but not so much that he is all over the place (meaning switching sides) or pulling, which makes the walk unpleasant for the owner.

How to Leash Train your Puppy! Step I

puppy walking on a leash

1. If you have a toy-crazy puppy, use a toy for this exercise. If he’s toy-interested, buy a new toy and don’t let him see it until you do the exercise. If he’s quite unmotivated by toys, use a pile of tasty treats. Dinner is also fine if he’s keen on it.
2. In a quiet room in your house, put your puppy on a leash (I like a four-foot leash, but six is fine) and tie him to something so he can see what you’re doing.
3. Show him the toy or a handful of treats, then walk about ten feet away and put it on the floor.
4. Go back to your puppy, take the leash, and start walking very slowly toward the prize. Hold the end of the leash against your body to keep the length from changing due to arm movements.
5. Your puppy will pull the leash tight toward the prize. This makes you start over. Say “Too bad” and return to the starting position.
6. Wait until he gives up straining, and then start slowly walking again. He’ll pull again. Say “Too bad.”
7. Repeat until your puppy can make it all the way to the prize without tightening the leash at all, then do a two-second Leave It and pick up the toy or treat and let him have it (don’t let him grab it from the ground).

Push on five in a row without one tightening. This exercise will take many repetitions for most Puppies.

Walking on a Leash: step II

How to Leash Train a Puppy

1. Repeat Walking on Leash I with a brand-new prize.
2. Be superstrict: if in doubt about whether your puppy has tightened the leash, start over—he’ll actually learn faster if the standard is tough. Push on five in a row without one tightening.

Walking on a Leash: step III

1. Repeat Walking on Leash I with yet another new prize and in a different room.
2. In spite of these changes, you might see your puppy catch on faster—after just two or three mistakes, he might start consistently doing this right.
Keep track of how many tries it takes before he succeeds at five in a row.

how to train a dog to walk on a Leash Without Pulling

how to train a dog to walk on a leash without pulling

Training your dog to walk on a leash outdoors without pulling is much more difficult than the indoor exercises for one reason: outdoors, you don’t have control of the rewards.

Whereas indoors you can instantly stop and start progress toward the reward to make your point, outdoors there are sights and smells in all directions, which your dog can “collect” for naughty behavior.

For this reason, I’m a fan of employing equipment to give you relief from pulling outside, to supplement the foundation exercises you’ve just done.

Best Training Collar for Stubborn Dogs

puppy leash training

Historically, dog trainers have gravitated toward pain to teach dogs not to pull. An array of special collars that choke, shock, and dig into the dog’s neck exist, and their principal market is exasperated dog owners with pulling dogs.

Although I used to use such collars, I no longer do because I am not comfortable with hurting dogs and because evidence has mounted that these collars are dangerous, even if used as directed.

Luckily, as dog training has gained in sophistication in the last two decades, much gentler anti-pull equipment has emerged. The two main categories of humane anti pulling gear are:

  • Halters that the dog wears on his head, like a horse.
  • Body harnesses that attach at the front of the dog’s chest.

Each type comes in a variety of brand names, many of which are available at pet supply stores. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

Head HalterBody Harness
Degree of controlSignificant reduction in pulling in most dogs, plus control of the head.Moderate reduction in pulling in most dogs
FittingRequires a careful initial fitting for all dogsRequires a careful initial fitting for all dogs
Dog acceptanceMost dogs require a get-used-to period. Some dogs hate it.Most dogs are fine with it right away.
Owner acceptanceTo an untrained eye, looks like a muzzle. Get-used-to period makes some owners give up.Most owners like the look.

There is some variation among brands. Browse online to see what each product looks like on a dog. Then read the specs table above and go to a supply store to see the products in person. Try some on, if they’ll let you. Purchase the one you like best and give it a whirl. If you don’t love it, exchange it.

best collar for puppy

Both head halters and body harnesses can be ornery to fit the first time, but luckily, you only have to adjust the buckles to your dog once. If you take a training class or get a private lesson or two, the trainer should be able to help you fit the device. Fit matters to get the full anti-pull effect.

Never leave a head halter on a dog when he’s not on a walk. Also, neither device is a substitute for a flat collar, which your dog should wear all the time so he’s never without ID tags.