Start training your puppy to walk on a leash as soon as you get him home. You don’t need a leash to begin… in fact, I recommend you simply teach him to follow you off leash.
You will need a leash, of course, within the week, if you haven’t already got one. Retractable leashes are fine for a walk with an already leash-trained dog, but for training purposes, you need a leather leash or a braided or woven nylon one. If you insist on a collar, please, please use only flat buckle collars … no chokes, no prongs, and no martingales. Better still, a harness. I prefer the harness where the leash attaches on the front at the chest.
The design of a harness prevents pulling on the neck either by you or the puppy. Then there are the nose halters like those used on horses, but that’s a subject for another day.
Let’s get puppy to follow you ‘on cue’ – that means when you ask.
Decide whether you want her to walk beside you on the right or left and be consistent. It doesn’t matter which side; being consistent about which side does matter.
For the sake of clarity, I am going to have puppy walk on my left side.
Somewhere in your home – pup’s long-term confinement area or the kitchen (you need a bit a of space) – give your puppy a treat or piece of kibble. This is the “game on” signal.
With a few pieces of kibble in your left hand, hold your hand straight down by your left side. With pup’s nose close to your hand (and it most likely will be), take 2 or 3 small steps. Praise her and give her a piece of kibble while you’re still moving. Take 3 or 4 more steps, praise and another piece of kibble, and keep moving for a few more steps… same as before, praising her and giving a piece of kibble. That’s enough for now. We call that a ‘session’.
Later on Day 1, begin as above. Stop for a moment. Now, before you take your next step, add the verbal cue ‘by me’, ‘follow’, ‘let’s go’ or whatever comes naturally to you. Then with the kibble by her nose
- Take 2 or 3 steps and without stopping, praise and treat
- Take 3 or 4 more steps and without stopping, praise and treat
- Take 3 or 4 more steps
If she stops when you do, praise and treat. If she doesn’t, repeat the cue ’let’s go’, etc.
- Take several more steps. Stop. Praise and treat if she stops.
- Continue this stopping and going 3 or 4 more times. Puppy should now be getting the idea of stopping when you do and coming along ‘on cue’.
That’s a session.
Later in the day…
- Give the ‘game on’ treat
- Repeat the ‘come along’. Walk several steps and stop. Do this 3 or 4 times. Use treat while walking and for stopping.
- Move treats to your off hand. If your puppy is walking on the left, put the treats in your right hand.
- Continue asking for ‘let’s go’, stopping and starting after several steps. Give lots of praise for following and stopping and the occasional treat for speedy compliance.
If you are doing several sessions a day, the treats should be random and occasional by the end of Day 2. The ‘let’s go’ is itself the reward for staying by you and stopping.
Now, snap on the leash, say ’follow me’ or whatever cue you have chosen (do remember to ALWAYS use the same word) and begin, as I you did in the beginning, with a few steps forward, then stop, then ’let’s go’ and so on.
If having the leash attached poses no problem, move outside to the yard for the next session. At this point in training your puppy, it’s good to have few distractions. As your puppy get more reliably attentive to you i.e. she looks at you each time you stop, increase the distractions by taking her for a short walk in the neighborhood.
Do continue to give her random and occasional treats for excellent attention. For example: a bicycle goes by and she pays no attention.
Remember: as you add more difficulty i.e. distractions or distance, if puppy does not comply, you’ve attempted too much, too fast. Go back to the previously successful step.
That’s the basics of training your puppy how to walk on a leash.