Leash Training a Puppy that Pulls

Black Lab puppy on leash at humans feet outdoors

Taking your dog out for a walk is essential for maintaining its physical and mental wellbeing. It also has the potential to be an incredibly rewarding experience for you and your pup alike. However, if your puppy lacks proper leash training, it is going to be nothing but exhausting for you both.

Training Your Puppy to Walk on Leash

Canines do not innately know how to walk on a lead. It is in their nature to explore their surroundings, and they pull the leash when it restricts their movement. Leash manners could be the most challenging thing you’ll ever teach your dog, but with challenge comes reward. Read on to learn how to teach your puppy to behave like a model canine citizen.

Keep Your Puppy Close while Walking

Yellow Lab puppy being walked on leash

The first thing to do is to get your puppy to stick by you as you walk. Put the pooch on a 10-foot long, non-retractable leash, and take him/her out into your backyard. Alternatively, you can also take your pet to some other familiar outdoor place. Be sure to keep some pea-sized bits of cheese or fresh meat to treat your puppy with.

Once you are in the field, you need to decide the side on which the puppy will walk. Traditionally, we keep our dog on the left. You will encourage your pup to stay on your preferred side by feeding the treats right next to your thigh.

After sorting this out, start a brisk walk and keep changing direction from time to time. Whenever your puppy chooses to walk beside you, give praise and a treat for every step you take together. Remember to give the treat by your thigh on your preferred side.

You won’t need to give the rewards as often after a few days of training. If your dog ignores you completely, take him/her inside and try again later when he/she is hungrier. You need to keep practicing until your canine stays by you the majority of the time.

Keep Your Puppy from Wandering Off

Beagle puppy on a leash standing next to a yellow and green striped curb.

The next step is to discourage your dog from lagging. If a moment comes (while walking) where he/she wanders off, say “Let’s go!” in an upbeat tone and walk away. The first few times you should slap your thigh too to ensure that you get the puppy’s attention.

Reward him/her on your preferred side for catching up to you, and for every few steps, you walk together. You can also give extra rewards if your pup catches up especially quickly.

If your dog doesn’t come to you and the leash goes taut, apply gentle leash pressure. Do remember that the point here is not to pull the puppy towards you. You are just reminding that he/she needs to come back to you. When the desired goal is achieved, praise the dog and release the pressure. You will be ready to move on to the next step once your puppy comes to your side immediately whenever you say “Let’s go!”

Allow the Dog to Explore

Black and white cattle dog puppy exploring a grass covered field

During your leash training sessions, say something like “Go sniff!” every five minutes or so. Choose the time when you would normally give a treat. This free time is meant to act as a reward.

When you are ready to end it, say “let’s go!” and start walking. If your puppy pulls at the leash while sniffing, end the free time early by walking in the opposite direction.

Shorten the Leash

french bulldog puppy on a leash standing next to owners legs

If all is going fine, it’s time now to start shortening the leash. You need to gradually reduce the length to 6 feet. You should also try mixing things up during the leash training sessions.

For instance, you can walk faster or slower to check how your pup reacts. Similarly, you can stop and change direction to test the effectiveness of the training. Reward him/her for keeping pace when you mix things up. Simultaneously, decrease the frequency of rewarding for walking by you under normal circumstances.

Take Your Puppy for a Walk

Jack Russell Terrier on a leash on a brick sidewalk with owner

Once you are confident that your dog is leash-trained, you should try taking him/her for a proper walk. You will need to watch carefully at all times, as there are many distractions in parks and on the streets. The moment you sense that something’s wrong, say “let’s go!” and walk a few steps away from the distraction.

Reward the puppy with a treat for following you. Give extra treats if it was especially hard for the puppy to return its attention to you. You should make sure to keep extra treats on you for this purpose. Don’t forget to allow your puppy to take sniff breaks.

How to Troubleshoot Leash Training?

2 french bulldogs on a leash taking a walk

If your dog seems to alternate between walking beside you and pulling, make a slight change to the training. Stop rewarding him/her for coming back after pulling. Instead, give the treats for sticking by you for every few steps. Gradually increase the number of steps taken together before the reward is earned.

If your dog is lagging, it is possible that he/she is feeling frightened or unwell. In this case, don’t try to pull the puppy along and give lots of verbal encouragement. If you feel that the pup is misbehaving to sniff about or eliminate waste, just keep on walking. Keep minimal pressure on the leash and reward your dog for keeping pace to discourage him/her from wandering off.

Sometimes, dogs grab the leash in their mouths and nibble on it. If your dog is a nibbler, try giving it a toy to chew on instead of the leash. You can also use a chain leash, which isn’t pleasant to bite on.

Another effective method to counter pulling behavior is to use two leashes (one on harness and other on the collar). When the puppy pulls on a leash, let that leash go and it won’t make much difference. The dog will soon learn that there is no fun in pulling.

Recommended Dog Training Courses for Leash Training a Puppy that Pulls

There are two online video based training courses that I recommend.

  1. Doggy Dan – The Online Dog Trainer
  2. Brain Training for Dogs

These two courses serve two very different purposes. The Doggy Dan course is the best behavioral training course that I’ve ever used. It tackles problem behaviors like barking in ways that are innovative and kind and most of all WORK.

The Brain Training for Dogs course is a course that will help give curious and bored dogs something to do so that they don’t get destructive. Bored dogs often behave badly. The games in this course are fun to play with your dog and they go from easy to very advanced. If you think your dog is barking out of boredom this video course is a good choice.

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Hi! My name is Heather Hallman. I’m the mother of two beautiful girls and a MAJOR passionate pet parent. I can hardly wait to bring you the BEST resources and information that I've found for our fur-babies.