My Puppy Won’t Walk on Leash! 3 Ways to Train Your Puppy to Love Her Leash

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By Dr. Sophia Yin

Question:

My girlfriend and I just got a 12 week old Schnauzer puppy and we have one problem, she does not want to follow us around the house.  We try to walk around the house with her on a short leash, but as soon as the leash is taut she digs in and won’t move, we then feel the need to ignore her, and once she relaxes we bait her with treats to come, but the behavior still persists.  Thoughts?  Thanks so much!

Answer:

A leash is the perfect tool for keeping a puppy near enough so you can supervise her. That way you can proactively prevent potty accidents behind your back, shredding of your shoes and slippers, and pouncing on pretend prey items—such as houseplants and your 15 year old sedentary cat. However, it can be a little tricky getting some puppies to walk on leash, because some puppies get scared as soon as they feel even a slight tug.

Most likely, some people who have had puppies are thinking, “What the hey! I had no problem at all. When I was a kid 20 years ago, training our family puppy was a cinch!”

Before you assume that your historical success means you came from a family of puppy-training superstars, consider that, for some of you, the actual story behind your fantastic results may have been something more like this scene out of my childhood:

About an eon ago when my parents got the family a Boxer puppy, we trained it the way we had been taught with our last dog. We attached a leash to his choke chain—which was the standard collar of the day—and just tugged. The puppy screamed like he was about to die while pedestrians peered into our alley as they passed by, surely wondering if we were puppy abusers. But knowing only one method of training, I vaguely remember telling my friend, who was with us, . “Oh yeah, that’s normal.” Within a few minutes, the puppy somehow figured out that that if he walked forward the tugging would stop. And shortly thereafter he was able to walk on a leash instead of balking and screaming.

If you’re reading this description in horror, rest assured, I’m horrified when I recall the methods I used when I didn’t know any better too! The take-home message is important. And that is, that even with medieval methods of puppy training, this puppy somehow learned to walk on leash, not because of the method, but in spite if it! If he had been even a mildly sensitive puppy—you know the kind that grows up caring what people think instead of the type that hurls himself at sliding glass doors to get to the toy outside in spite of your shouts to come to you—he could have easily learned to be fearful of the leash!

What method should you use to train?

My general rule of thumb is that we should use methods that focus on rewarding the correct behavior, starting with steps the dog can easily perform and quickly moving on to steps that are closer and closer to our goal behavior; rather than methods that rely on sheer luck that the type of dog you selected can endure it mentally unscathed. And if we choose methods that are as crude as dental care in the 16th century, we should realize that some dogs learn no matter what we do to mess them up.

Now, in the case of Bowser, the balking Schnauzer, who has learned to be afraid of the tug: let’s go back to the beginning and take 5-10 minutes to retrain the walking, step by step. First note, that unlike the methods I used many decades ago, the methods of today do not rely on corrective devices such as choke chains. Instead, they rely on combining rewards for desired behavior and removal of rewards for unwanted behavior.

Stage 1

Step 1: Practice off leash in a puppy-safe, potty safe area and reward little Bowser for sitting. Give one treat for sitting and additional treats for remaining seated. Once you have her undivided attention, then you run the other way to incite a chase. And stop after 5-7 steps, before she catches up. When she gets to you, she sits and gets a reward. Now she has the idea that it’s fun to follow you. (To see this in action watch this video from Creating the Perfect Puppy: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right and Stay on Track).

Step 2: Next, repeat the same process with a lightweight leash attached to her flat collar so she gets used to the feel of the leash. Of course, make sure that she can’t get it snagged on anything or you’ll be adding an extra day or two to your training!

Step 3: After you’ve practiced that a couple of times you’re ready to hold the leash. In fact, you can often skip that leash dragging stage. Little Bowser’s already used to following you when you sprint or head the other way. So, you can walk but with quick little steps so it looks like you are sprinting to get her to follow after you. Make sure that you keep the leash in a loose arc the entire time.

Step 3 alternative: Alternatively you can go for variation two. Walk to the end of the leash, but without letting the leash tighten. We want to avoid any pressure at first since pressure might scare her. When you get to the end, remain with your body facing forward while looking back at your puppy or face your body slightly sideways so you can see her more easily.  Then lure her to you with a treat. Do this 3-6 times in a row or more until you can rapidly walk away and when you stop and lure she readily catches up to you when she sees the treat.  (To see photo illustration, read section 5.6 in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days)

Next, repeat the process but don’t show her the treat until after she catches up to you. Once she follows you 3-6 times, she will most likely start to walk with you as you begin to walk away.

What if she still balks when she feels pressure even if she can follow you on leash?

If you have a puppy who follows nicely by this stage but still balks once she feels pressure on the leash, you can move to Stage 2 of training where you train her that pressure on the leash is ok.

Stage 2:

Put a tiny bit of pressure on her leash while waving a really tasty treat so she thinks more about the treat than about how the pressure might scare her. If you’re careful about staying below the pressure that triggers a fear response, then she’ll soon just automatically follow you. Repeat as with Stage 1 of training.

Stage 3

Use the collar grab protocol:

(Refer to section 6.1 in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days for photos of this)

If you think you have the most difficult puppy in the world, first off, know that probably 30 of your friends would disagree. They think THEY have the most difficult one. All of you can go on to the next Stage 3 of training: a variation of the technique for training dogs to love collar grabs. The reason a love of collar grabs is essential for puppies is that later on in life you’ll want to be able to grab your dog’s collar in an emergency without worrying that he will freak out and bite.

Here’s the gist of this method: With leash and collar on and you right next to your puppy, pull very gently, not enough to move your puppy. Then within a split second of starting the tiny tug, place a yummy treat into your puppy’s face. The goal is to train the bitty Bowser that the slight pressure on the collar equals a big yummy treat. When you’ve done that maybe 3-5 times and you’re sure she’s just thinking “food” every time her collar gets slightly tugged, you can increase the tug. The trick to this method is that you need to stay below the level that causes her to show signs of anxiety or fear.  We want her to develop a positive association so stay at the level where she is always just thinking “Cool! Treat!” when she feels the tug. If you approach this systematically, you can progress quickly—within just one to a handful of short sessions in the standard puppy with this type of issue.

Another alternative: Leave-it at the end of the leash. Yet another alternative that trains puppies that the leash pressure is not scary is the leave-it exercise which should be taught after your puppy knows to sit and focus on you well (see section 5.6 in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days for full photo illustrated instructions or watch Creating the Perfect Puppy DVD). A two sentence run down here is that you toss a treat past the end of the leash and when Bowser goes to the end to get the treat, because you stand completely still and do NOT pull her back, she just realizes that the pressure she feels around her neck means she should do something else … something that will cause the pressure to decrease. If you’ve worked on the exercise I call say please by sitting, then she’ll quickly come back and sit and look at you since she’s been rewarded for that in the past already. Then she can get a sequence of treats.

So there you go. A plethora of methods for fixing the Balking Bowser, and for ensuring that any puppy learns to walk willingly on a leash. For more specific instruction on the entire process, watch Creating the Perfect Puppy: How to Start Off Right and Stay on Track or read Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right (chapter 5-6).

 

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25 responses to “My Puppy Won’t Walk on Leash! 3 Ways to Train Your Puppy to Love Her Leash

  1. A great post! One thing I’m curious about is how to handle a puppy who responds to the leash pressure with biting at the leash? My pup is a big fan of leash biting that he tries to turn into a game of tug.

    1. My does doesn’t even move when I tug a little and stop to wait. She tries to go back inside the house. But I try to be persistent. Have tried many methods on using treats and waiting and going a few steps but they don’t work. Need help with a very stubborn dog

  2. I was checking my boxer about 3 weeks ago and the police came and took my dog away and charge me with animal cruelty I miss my dog

          1. Probably because she already has 7 pit bulls. It’s unlikely that any city would allow someone to have that many dogs, it’s a wonder that they were allowed to keep any at all.

  3. We have a 2 1/2 month old Australian Shepherd. We are trying to train her on leash and sometimes she just won’t walk,she sits or lays in the middle of the sidewalk. What could be causing this and how do we correct it?

  4. how do you teacher a puupy of 4 mnths old to walk on lead without dragging him
    everytime i try he just dig in and will not move ???????????????/

  5. We have a 9 month schnauzer boy who is the most affectionate dog,but he fights me everytimewe on his collar&leash.tried snacks,no tugging,and standing still.he fights me on all counts.leash gets wrapped around him,he jumps,tries to nip at my hands.what to do?

  6. My 4 month old bullmastive-pitbull mix will sometimes now come when given the command. She sits well but comes only sometimes. I tried rewarding successful “comes” with treats and interrupt playing sessions for quick training but when needed, she will just sit there and look at me…fully focused on me but wont move. Any advice?

  7. My 3 month old puppy will not walk on he lead I introduced to the collar and lead early on did all the thing the experts tell you bribed her with treat I get nothing!!!!!
    She is jack Russell/Chihuahua cross so she is only tiny but I’m at my wits end with her
    I have been told that perhaps a harness would be more suitable but I’m spending so much on different collars that are just lying in the drawer

  8. I have an 4 month old English mastiff puppy, before we got her she had never been outside, never been a car, never been around other dogs other then mom and dad, never been around new ppl, and has never been on a leash. She is doing good with everything including all the new experiences and situation I am putting her in to socialize her, except for the leash! She hates being outside in general so even trying come or sit she runs into the house or the back door. She doesn’t mind her collar or harness and doesn’t even mind running around the house with the leash. She just wont walk. She is so scared of it that when I have it in my hand she will pee a little and run and try to hide. I need tips! I dont wanna overwhelm her but she is going to be to big to pull soon. The car she is not fond of but getting used to it. I need help!

  9. Help my 11wk old puppy will not walk to the door o n a leash. She pulls and struggles and I have to pull her to move. Tugging at her only scares her I know then he will not walk down the steps.he was never out before I got him or did steps.. he also was not socialized and is scared of strangers. Where do I start by the way it ia malei imisstyped.t

  10. I have a lancashire heeler of 2 years and a few months. He has suddenly decided (although he has never liked damp weather) that he won’t walk away from the house on a lead. If I take him to the woods in the car and we start off there he is ok but if I go from home where there are pavements and roads he refuses to move and I end up either pulling him (he wears a harness now as he slips his collar) or carrying him and he is no lightweight. I have tried coaxing him and giving him treats but nothing works. I don’t know why he has suddenly decided to behave this way but he completely shuts down and will not move and seems scared or worried by the whole thing. If he sees another dog he perks up and half way round if we get that far in the end he perks up and seems fairly normal sniffing etc.he tends to pull me then all the way home.

  11. I have a 4 mth old Boston terrier when I take him out for a walk he just stands still or sits down sometimes he will walk after encouraging him with treats another time he will not be tempted with anything just refuses to move even hides when he sees his lead come out help please don’t know what else to try

  12. I have a 3month old boxer who refuses to walk on a leash. He’s used to the collar but will not budge on a leash. He digs in and will not move. What are the best methods I can institute positive leash walking?

  13. My 9 mths old bichon frise, walks nicely on the leash indoors, but as soon as I take her out she pulls like mad, really choking herself, even with a harness on, I just don’t know what to do with her, I know one thing, it isn’t fun, she isn’t interested in treat while pulling.help

  14. I have a new 14 week old puppy, very nervous, doesn’t like any treats and just freezes when I put on collar and harness – how can I train a puppy to a leash when then don’t like treats :S

  15. Hi, I have a Maltipoo puppy she weighs 3 pounds. I started as soon as I brought her home at 8 weeks old on a leash and collar/harness, I have bought just about every kind they sell and she will not budge if I give the slightest tug she lays down starts biting and nipping at the leash, I try to be firm and get her attention she starts hollering so it sounds like I’m killing her, she is so tiny and I don’t know what to do. I really need her on a leash and collar although we are not in city limits we have a busy Road our high school is right across the street and she tries to head to far toward the road and I’m really afraid I’m not going to get her in time and she will get in the road and be hit by a car also it’s to the point every time we go out to potty when she finishes she runs and wants to play which is fine to have play time but I really don’t want her not coming to me when I call her. If I take her out and she is on the leash and collar she will not potty and this is one thing we have mastered and I don’t want to mess that cycle up! Any ideas on what I can do?
    Thank you

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