If I could turn back time! - How to introduce the lead correctly

Dec 08, 2023

If I could turn the clock back to when I first brought my new puppy Baxter home, there is one thing and one thing only I would really focus on and change. The lead!!!!

Now when we bring our puppies home around 8 weeks of age, we all want to get them out and socialise them because Paul says that’s what we need to do. One thing we need to be very careful of is lack of or no lead preparation.

Most people(including me) did nothing when it comes to getting our puppy use to being on or around a lead. Once our puppy has had its second vaccination and is allowed to go out for a walk. We literally whack the lead on and attempt to drag our poor pups around the block!(sound familiar)

Our pup is now left thinking after having 3-4 weeks of relative freedom, ‘what the hell is this thing you’ve just put on me, which means I now can’t go where I want to go?’

This is normally where one of two things happen. We either get the puppy biting the lead, which is great fun because us humans think it’s a great idea to tug back. Now we have turned the lead into the best tug toy in the world and they will now just keep doing this because it’s exactly what they want you to do. The other problem is they will just sit down and not move. Which leads us to try and pull them along. In doing this we are just making the lead a mass of negativity and isn’t what we want. They also sense your lack of leadership in this situation because obviously you don’t really want to be seen to be attempting to drag this cute, tiny puppy down the road. They quickly learn to park their bum on the floor, not budge and get their own way by not moving.. It can also lead back to problem number one where they just opt to try and bite the lead in frustration.

We should really be spending a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks of introducing the lead correctly before we even think about going out the front door. We MUST make it something they like being on and we must make them learn how to behave on it too.

You simply cannot expect a puppy to focus on the lead when you step foot out into the street. There are so many sights and smells all around them, many of which they are seeing for the very first time. It just too overwhelming!

We must lay the foundations and begin at a very basic level. Then build upon it form there.

Also most people won’t take their puppy out for the first few weeks anyhow due to vaccinations. That is an ideal opportunity to get a lot of the lead work done and get your puppy ready for when they can go outside.

We have to make the lead something they love being on/around and there are several ways we can do this.

One very simple step to stop your puppy from parking there bum on the floor/laying down and refusing to move is initially don’t take them for a walk out your front door. Your are taking them from a place of safety and comfort to somewhere that has lots of unknowns. They will always want to get back to that place of safety if they know it’s close. To take that out of the equation just get in the car to begin with and take them places to do some socialisation and then come back. 5-10 Minutes is all that’s required.

Here are some very simple steps to take when introducing the lead properly so there won’t be any of the problems mentioned above.

Step 1

For a couple of days simply have the lead out and place it in front of them to have a sniff and investigate what it is. I would do this around a meal time so you can sit with them and hand feed them whilst they investigate what it is. You could play a game whereby you have the lead in one hand and some of their food in the other. Place both hands behind your back. Show them the lead and then bring the food around and let them have a handful of food.

You could also do it with placing the lead on the floor then producing a tug toy and having a game of tug with them so they understand the toy is for tugging on and not the lead. You must be careful they don’t just have the opportunity to start chewing on the lead because they will obviously start doing this if allowed to. That’s why I would always do this around food or toys.

Step 2

Once step 1 has been completed over a couple of days we can move into step 2.

The next part will attaching the lead to the collar(or harness). I’m not a massive fan of a harness but if you do opt for a harness then step 1 is exactly how you will introduce it. You certainly wouldn’t just go straight to trying to put it on.

Even when going to apply the lead, instead of getting into a wrestling match with your puppy just to try and clip it on. Use food or a toy. Make it pleasurable what you are doing!

Hold a piece of food between your fingers and just let them nibble at it but don’t give it too them. To begin with it can be easier working in pairs. Whilst one is holding the food letting the puppy nibble on it the other can simply attach the lead. The minute we get into a wrestling match, it’s becoming a game again that your puppy loves and remember it’s learning this behaviour and it will continue.

If your own your own throw a couple of treats on the floor and then apply the lead whilst they are eating them. Using a toy is just as simple, get them tugging on the toy and whilst they are tugging, apply the lead. Working in pairs is also easier with this to begin with. We do not want them biting or chewing the lead. If they do we MUST distract them(with food or toy) and NOT start yanking it away from them and saying ‘no, stop’. Remember that lead WILL become the best tug toy in no time at all, trust me!

Step 3

Over the next few days it’s all Going to be about your puppy having the lead on and letting it just trail on the floor so they just get use to it being attached to them but they can still freely run around. Remember we are making it pleasurable to have on.

Factor in several play sessions a day of literally 5 minutes at time, whilst the lead is attached and trailing in the floor. You can also put it on whilst doing some hand feeding or handling exercises. Just remember we don’t want them biting it, if they do distract and take their mind off of doing it.

Play sessions can simply be running around with your puppy playing a game of chase, it’s all about them forgetting the lead is attached to them, whilst having lots of fun at the same time. Tug of war is always my go to option because it’s teaching them to tug on a toy which is what they are allowed to tug on and not the lead. It really doesn’t matter what you on this session provided your puppy isn’t walking around with the lead in its mouth. Fetch/retrieve is another option.

Step 4

The next stage is a repeat of Step 3 but we will Start picking up the lead and walking a few paces around and then dropping it again. Tug is still the preferred option as you can hold the tug rope/toy in one hand and the lead in the other, start walking around whilst they have having All the fun of tug of war whilst being walked around on the lead. Plus the added bonus is they won’t try and bite the lead whilst they are biting the toy.

We can also throw in some formal lead walking now. But only indoors around the house. When we walk our dogs, to avoid any confusion and inconsistency, everybody who walks your dog needs to walk them on the same side.

You can practice this without holding the lead to begin with. It can all get a bit much Holding the lead, trying to reward the dog, whilst trying to keep the lead loose. Then the puppy tries to bite the lead and it all goes wrong a bit too quickly. Have a handful Of treats or your pups food. Have the lead trailing on the floor like in the previous steps. Get your puppy Sat either side of you by your ankle, facing the same direction as you. Lure them into position with a treat if need be. Then start taking a few steps and getting them to follow you. Quicken up, slow it down, plot a little route around the house but practice keeping them on the same side and close by your ankle. Reward liberally for remaining with you. Lure them round using the food to start and then just reward for every couple of steps you take. Just be careful to not encourage jumping up so get that good right down at their level. It’s the position you would want them in if they were in a lead.

You have to appreciate that they can obviously just wander off if you aren’t engaging enough because their not on a lead. Only do it for a minute or two to begin with as they will switch off quickly. Small Wins is all we are after. Baby steps.

Step 5

Repeat as above but now we will be holding the lead aswell. Personally I would be feeding my puppy meals whilst doing some lead walking around the house everyday. Up & down the hall, Around the lounge, create a little route. It’s just all about practicing and showing them how we want them to walk. The key is to not take too many steps. Start with 2 steps and reward, then keep rewarding every 2 steps providing they remain by your ankle. Don’t push it too far so they get in front and start hitting the end of the lead. I walk my dogs on the left so will have my treats in my left hand, with treats either in a pouch or pocket on the SAME side as the dog. I will then keep delivering the treats as I walk them around.

If you get any biting of the lead, DO NOT get into a tug of war with them. Just drop it and don’t engage. You may want to have a tug toy handy so you can redirect to that.

Remember to keep the sessions short and sweet. 5 mins max of this or if they get distracted and they have switched off.

I would Be doing lead training every single day, several times a day for several weeks just indoors.

It’s how you will get results! Doing it in as least distracting environments as possible, consistently over a long period of time. How many people actually do this? Hardly anyone!

Hence why pulling on the lead is probably the one problem the majority of people have with their dogs and this is the reason why.

look at it on the flip side. You take your puppy out every single day, a couple of times a day and for several weeks. It’s pulls pretty much from Day one. You’ve now just trained your puppy to pull on the lead and it has now learnt this behaviour. It will not magically wake up one day and think I’m going to stop pulling on the lead today. It’s like this with any behaviour that is allowed to go on over a period of time. It becomes learnt. Why don’t we just get it right from the beginning?!?!?

Happy training

Good luck