Taking your puppy for a leisurely stroll in the sunshine is surely one of life’s great joys.
.. but getting there can also be the most single frustrating thing you teach your dog to do.
We don’t mean to be a Debbie downer on things, but we simply like to keep things real here at Zigzag – and show you how to make it better.
To see the days where walking without being yanked one way or another is possible, our step-by-step guide on how to lead train your puppy will come in quite handy.
Let’s get started.
Let’s talk about equipment:
What lead should I get for my puppy?
In order to teach your puppy to walk nicely on the lead, we recommend you get a double ended dog training lead (sometimes called a police style lead – as it’s what the boys in blue favour).
These will let you:
- Adjust the length of the lead to suit your needs
- Have two points of connection to your puppy’s harness – great for balance and safety
- Pop it round your waist for hands free lead walking and training – so you can practice juggling oranges at the same time, of course.
- Secure it to chair legs for settle training – ideal for taking your puppy with you to the pub in the afternoons soon.
- To know whether you’ve got the right lead, make sure it has:
- A narrow width so that it’s not too heavy for them. Don’t want to be training them for pulling on sledges yet.
- A good length – preferably adjustable with rings so you can change it from short to long.
Should my puppy wear a harness?
We vote yes.
Harnesses are kinder as they reduce strains on their neck and back by dispersing pressure onto a bigger surface area.
Also, no one likes to see a puppy choking themselves in a collar – so a harness is a great option to avoid this.
How do I pick a good harness for my puppy?
A good harness is one that has no moving parts.
Avoid any that say “no pull” or “stops pulling” – these generally work by restricting your dog’s movement, and causing them discomfort or pain if they pull, which we don’t want for your puppy.
Pick one that’s comfortable for your puppy to wear, which will vary depending on your puppy’s body shape. But here are our top three favourites:
Should my puppy wear a collar?
Also yes – by law, all dogs in the UK must wear a collar and an ID tag with their owners name, address and phone number.
Let’s not get anyone in trouble with the coppers.
Treats and Treat Pouch
As with any other kind of puppy training, lead walking training is easiest with treats and positive reinforcement. If you want to know how to choose the best treats for your puppy, our article here has all the answers.
Food really can do wonderful things.
PRO TIP: A treat pouch like this one from Mikki will let you have easy access to rewards for your puppy when you’re training them. This also means you’ll no longer have fish-smelling, sticky hands.
How to teach your puppy to not pull on the lead in 5 easy steps
Step 1 – Train naked!
By ‘naked’, we mean your puppy, not you. Please.
Don’t worry about the lead, harness or the collar just yet. First, you’re going to start training them inside the house by teaching them that somewhere next to you is the right place to be.
PS: I tend to train them to stay on my left side – obedience style. Old habits die hard, and this is how I learnt to train dogs in the olden days! If you’d rather walk your puppy on the right, that’s completely fine.
- Have some treats in your left hand, and your puppy on the left side of you. Pop them on your puppy’s nose.
- Now, slowly walk forward a couple of steps with your puppy’s nose sniffing the treats in your hand. Are they following the treats? What a good dog!
- Do this a few times to make sure they get the point of following the food in your hand and walking with you.
- Once they have the hang of this, keep walking and bring your treat hand up to your waist as you’re moving forward
- Your puppy should follow you – reward them with your ‘good’ marker and give them a treat.
– All we’re looking for in Step 1 is to get the following right. We want our puppy to act like a little shadow.
– By using treats, we’re teaching our puppies that ‘next to us’ is the ‘reward zone’ , so that it’s understood as the best place to hang out. Just like we find the kitchen the best place to be at parties.
– Try to reward your puppy WHILE you keep moving – we don’t want them to learn that we’ll always stop to give them a treat because it can make them stop more on walks.
Step 2 – Get your puppy dressed!
Time to gear them up. As you put the harness and collar on, you’ll want to use treats – the harness/collar combo can feel funny to them at the start, so we want to teach our puppy that wearing them will mean that good things will happen, rather than discomfort.
By now, you’ve hopefully done handling exercises outlined in some of our other articles or in the ZigZag app so your puppy is used to having the harness taken on and off and it being no biggie.
Once you have your puppy’s harness and collar on do the same exercise as in Step 1: Walking around your house with the harness and collar on, rewarding them for close following.
We’re not going to take them outside just yet. It’s best if your puppy learns to walk nicely indoors, in the garden and in places where there are as little distractions as possible before you try it outside.
Just imagine what a bird flying by can do to their concentration.
PRO TIP: If they haven’t had their full vaccinations yet, we’ve got good news. You can still start training lead walking indoors so they start getting the gist of everything, and be unstoppable (in the best way possible) once they’re able to step outside.
Step 3 – Attaching the lead
Here’s how you get working with the lead:
- Attach the lead to the harness and practice indoors and in your garden, rewarding your puppy for walking next to you.
- Try and do a few more steps between treats
- Make sure there’s no tension in the lead.
– Keep your lead ‘smiley’: When the lead loops down loose, it will look like a smile between you and your dog. As long as the lead looks happy and smiley, you’re on the right track.
– Have the lead in the opposite hand to the side you walk your puppy on: That way, you have a treat hand on the side that your puppy is, and you won’t have to perform a contortionist act.
Step 4 – Start lead walking training outside
The day has come!
Before getting all excited and attempting a walk to the park straight away, let’s start with taking your puppy outside for a few short and simple lead walking training sessions.
You can repeat Step 3 from above:
- Create a reward zone by treating your puppy for being next to you.
- Lure your puppy a few steps and reward them with a treat.
- Bring your hand up higher (around your hip or waist height) and reward your puppy for walking next to you – they’ll be looking right up at the treat to begin with, that’s great!
- Do more steps for one treat as your puppy learns the ropes
– Outside, puppies will want to sniff everything. This can be quite distracting, and make it difficult for them to follow their training. When I’m doing lead walking training, I like to go up and down the same street, over and over again, because it will eventually become familiar to your puppy, and they will be much more likely to focus. Emphasis on eventually.
– Some dog owners will find cheese or liver paste in a tube useful for lead training as you don’t have to bend down so far – a good tip for tall people and small dogs! (illustration for this would be good)
– Dogs either like to walk very very slowly, or they like to walk quite briskly; regular human speed can be difficult for them to get the pace right. To get them to engage more with you, try speeding up your pace slightly. Not so much that you look like you’re in a speed walking race though.
Step 5 – Spice it up and change locations.
It’s very likely that you’ll want to take your puppy on walks to a lot more places than up and down your street.
When discovering new places, there are endless distractions that can make it difficult for your puppy to focus; but don’t worry, it will be possible. One day, you’ll take them on walking holidays in The Lakes like you’ve always wanted.
To prepare for walking in new places, you’re going to need:
a) A puppy who has some idea that walking next to us predicts rewards, and has practiced that behaviour in easy locations first.
b) Some high value treats to teach our puppy that engaging with us instead of everything else is worth their while. You’re not bribing him, it’s all part of training.
c) Your mind on the job! Let’s avoid you getting distracted with other things, so best put away your phone. If you’re really keen on having it, then better put some tunes on – Walk This Way by Run DMC should get you in the right mood.
PRO TIP: Our goal is to increase the number of steps between treats so our puppy learns to wait for treats until they’ve walked a bit further – don’t rush this part, but keep it in mind once your puppy’s got the hang of things.
Ah yes, there will be whoopsies along the way.
What to do if my puppy pulls on the lead?
Puppies pull because they think it’s going to get them where they want to go faster, so we want to teach them that what happens is actually the opposite – they’ll be going nowhere.
How to do this?
If your puppy pulls on the lead, just stop walking immediately. Avoid the temptation to yank, check or pull back – just stop and wait.
If your puppy looks round at you, give them some verbal praise, take a few steps backwards and gesture them to come with you. Then, you’ll need to either:
a) Change direction and walk away from what your puppy desperately wants to get to, and make a note of what it is in your head so you can train for that distraction later. Some of us could benefit from this for food shopping.
b) Keep them looking up at you and being rewarded for walking on a nice loose lead towards the thing they want to get to. Unless it’s fast moving traffic.
The option you choose will depend on what your puppy wants to go towards – like we said, not so great to walk towards moving cars.
What do I do if my puppy sits down and won’t walk?
It happens quite a lot, it’s not just you! Puppies sit down on a walk for a few reasons:
· They’re tired – they’ll need to be swept into your arms and carried home.
· They’re in pain – same, they’ll need to be carried home.
· They’re worried about the situation they’re in – if this happens, give them time to figure things out, and continue with teaching them to walk next to you like we explain below.
If your puppy is worried about the situation they’re in:
We can understand how it might be tempting to pull or drag them along the floor if they’re not walking, but please don’t do this. It will make them associate lead walking with a bad experience, and make them much more apprehensive about walking again.
GOOD TO KNOW: Dogs are always sizing situations up – asking themselves whether this ‘thing’ is an opportunity or a threat. It’s an essential survival skill – but for puppies who don’t know how the world works, they’ll often sit down while they figure things out. Kind of like a fight or flight situation in humans…except for them sometimes it’s to freeze, other times it’s just them sat there thinking like a small Yoda.
If your puppy doesn’t want to walk, here’s what you can do:
- Walk forward just a step and wait – keep the lead loose, no pressure on the harness.
- When your puppy decides to walk again, give them lots of verbal praise and treats while carrying on walking.
PRO TIP: In fact, make sure to reward them (both verbally and with treats) when you’re in motion – if we always stop and reward them, they can learn that stopping (instead of walking) gets them rewards. Which is, indeed, the opposite of our mission.
- Keep up the practice with lead walking training at home so they don’t lose the good habit of walking next to you.
- Give it time! As your puppy’s confidence with the outside world grows, they’ll feel much better about walking. It will come, we promise.
What to do if my puppy keeps barking?
Puppies often communicate how they’re feeling through barking. If they bark on a lead, this will probably mean one of two things:
- Fear: They probably don’t like the scary thing (which could be anything – a rock, or your scary neighbour) and they want it to go away.
- Excitement: They’re simply really excited, and don’t know what to do with themselves. Except to bark.
Work out which one it is by reading their body language, and then:
If it’s fear: Let’s change the association of what’s frightening to at least ‘not scary’ with some training and desensitisation.
If it’s excitement: I guess it’s better than fear but still; you’ll need to work on teaching your puppy to be calm around the exciting things to avoid ending up with a noisy, frustrated puppy!
What to do if my puppy keeps grabbing and biting at the lead?
Hm, playing tug with the lead might look cute at the start, but it isn’t so fun when the game is never-ending and when all you’re trying to do is go for a nice stroll.
If your puppy thinks quite highly of playing tug with their lead, here’s what you can do:
a) Check that the combination of their lead, collar and harness isn’t hurting them.
b) Teach them an alternate behaviour. For some puppies, this might be teaching them to hold a toy when we walk so that their mouth has something to do, while others do better with a high rate of reward, so going back to working on the basics of lead walking training.
Yanking the lead back will only make them feel the game is getting better, so make sure to fight your temptation to do so. We do understand how hard this might be!
FAQ – Lead Walking
As soon as they’re home! Start loose lead walking training without a collar, harness or lead (when they’re in the full nude) and teach your puppy that walking next to you predicts rewards!
Small breeds of puppies prefer lighter leads with smaller clips, while larger breeds should have a slightly stronger lead for safety. They can be surprisingly strong, those big puppies.
Go for a 2m training lead – they’re ace for switching up the length to what’s right for you and the situation. Too often, I see puppy leads that are too short which make walking stressful and definitely not a walk in the park.
Retractable leads serve a purpose…but that purpose is not loose lead walking, sorry! They can teach puppies to pull, and they’re also quite uncomfortable to hold when training.
Retractable leads aren’t terrible though – they can be useful when attached to your puppy’s harness if you’re not so keen to let them off lead, or when there are ‘dogs must be kept on lead’ signs.
Well, stop letting them. I know it may sound easier than it seems, but do try to change your direction away from what they want to pull towards. Even if it’s a fish and chips food stall you also want to walk towards.
Instead, follow the loose lead walking guide in this article – what’s important to keep in mind, is that walking next to you should always be more rewarding than the alternative.
Teach them to do something else, with help from your treats. For example, teach them that walking next to you gets rewarded, or that when they hold a toy while walking gets them a yummy snack too.
Remember to do a quick check for tiredness, pain or over excitement as any of these can cause lead biting too. I also like to bite things when I’m tired.
Yes. Specifically, a 2m training lead is brilliant because you can do so much with it: alter the length, do hands free walking, and pop it around a chair leg to teach settle training.
A 5 -10m long training lead is super useful for recall training – you’ll probably want to look at those later.
Well, providing you’re able to get them to never pull, teach them to walk nicely next to you from the beginning, and gradually increase the difficulty of locations and distractions, not that long at all. Sounds like a piece of cake when I put it like that…but it might not be.
Of course, hiccups and mistakes will happen along the way, but that’s more than okay. All that matters is to stay consistent and patient – that’s when the best results come about!
The best dog training lead is one that’s going to be:
· Comfortable in your hand
· Size adjustable
· Not too heavy to attach to your puppy – comfort is key!
And yes, we’re sure you can find bedazzled training leads that fit the criteria above.
We hope our lead training article is of great help to you and your puppy – the days of walks in the park that actually feel like walks in the park are just a few days of practice ahead!
For more detailed lead walking exercises and games, check out the ZigZag app – there’s plenty more to see.