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Have you ever watched the National Geographic Channel or Animal Planet and seen video footage of alligators or crocodiles doing "death rolls"? The crocodile has its prey in its mouth and it is rolling over and over and over again with it. Or perhaps you have seen footage of rodeo bronco horses, bucking off riders.
You might be wondering what these images have to do with your puppy. Well, have you ever attached a leash to your puppy for the first time and watched as your adorable bundle of fur turned into a bucking bronco or a rolling gator? Perhaps your puppy did the opposite and turned into a deer in headlights, frozen in his tracks.
A puppy can act wild and frantic the first time that he experiences the sensation of leash pressure. The puppy has no idea how to respond to the strange long object that has suddenly trapped him. You might be experiencing that type of response from your puppy and are feeling distraught, wondering how you will ever take your puppy anywhere in a country with widespread leash laws and dangerous cars! Most adult dogs were unsure of the leash at one time or another, and they overcame it. Your puppy can too, with a little help from you.
Acceptance of the leash is vital for your puppy in so many ways. Your puppy's temperament as an adult will depend a lot on the type of interactions that he has now, as a puppy. In order to learn how he should behave around other people and animals, and in order to gain confidence around new objects and through experiences, your puppy will need to go places with you. Places like your neighborhood, where he can encounter new sights and smells while on a walk. Places such as pet stores, parks, and trails are not safe for your puppy unless he is on a leash. Besides socialization, your puppy will need to be able to walk on a leash for practical purposes. Your puppy will need to go to the vet from time to time. He may need to go to the groomer. He will need to go on walks for exercise, and he will need to go outside to eliminate several times a day!
What type of temperament your puppy has and how old he is should affect which method you choose to use. If your puppy is very young or timid, then take the extra time required for the 'Drag' method, to allow your puppy to become accustomed to dragging the leash around before you apply any pressure to the leash. If your puppy is older, very confident, or even a bit stubborn, then you might find that the 'Pressure' or the 'Wait' method will work just as well but will take less time to teach.
The end goal with all of the methods should be to teach your puppy to come toward you when he feels the leash tighten. You want him to learn that he can always escape the uncomfortable sensation of the leash tightening simply by coming toward you and that when he is with you he will receive wonderful things, such as affection, praise, food, and getting to walk forward. Building your puppy's desire to be with you now can help future off-leash training be more successful. It might also help you keep your puppy safe if you were ever to accidentally drop his leash or let him escape through a door.
To get started, with all of the methods, you will need lots of small, tasty treats. If your puppy is very food motivated, then you can also use your puppy's own dog food in place of the treats. You will need a collar or a harness that your puppy cannot slip out of, and a regular, non-retractable leash. You will also need lots of patience and calmness when your puppy fights the leash, an encouraging tone of voice while you teach your puppy to come toward you, and lots of enthusiasm and praise when your puppy succeeds.
The Drag Method
To begin, put your puppy's collar on him and leave it on him for a week. This is to help him to become comfortable wearing it before introducing a leash also. If your puppy is already used to wearing a collar then you can skip this step.
When your puppy is used to wearing his collar, attach a leash and allow him to drag it around your home while you are supervising him. If you have more than one leash, use your shortest leash for this as long as that leash is still at least two feet long. If you have the option, use a leash without a handle, so that the leash will be less likely to get caught on objects.
Have your puppy drag his leash around for at least four days under your supervision. After you have done this, grab the loose end of the leash and take your puppy to a calm location outside, such as your own yard.
While you are holding the end of the leash, allow your puppy to explore while you follow him around. After ten minutes, encourage your puppy to follow you back inside, without applying any leash pressure. If he will not follow you, then pick him up and carry him inside.
Take your puppy outside at least five times over the next few days. Following your puppy around and keeping the leash as slack as possible while you do this.
Add leash tugs
After you have taken your puppy outside at least five times, then when you take your puppy outside a sixth time, every three minutes call your puppy in a happy tone of voice and give a gentle tug on the leash. If your puppy responds to your encouragement and tug by coming toward you, then praise him enthusiastically and offer him a treat as soon as he comes toward you.
If your puppy pulls against you and fights the leash, then stand still and wait until he stops. When he stops, call him and give the leash a gentle tug again. Repeat this entire process until he responds by coming toward you, even just one or two inches. When he comes toward you, praise him and give him a treat.
When your puppy completely stops fighting the leash whenever you tug on it , then practice calling him and rewarding him until you can walk and encourage him to follow you with the leash and with your voice, and he will continue to follow you while you walk.
The Pressure Method
To begin, attach your puppy's leash to him and give him a treat. Do this whenever you attach his leash for at least two weeks.
Give a tug
When the leash is attached to your puppy, pull on the leash so that it is tight and your puppy feels pressure, but do not physically drag your puppy toward you at all. If your puppy steps toward you when you do this, even by a couple of inches, release the leash pressure, praise him enthusiastically, and give him a treat.
If your puppy fights the leash when you tighten it, then simply stand still and keep the leash a little bit tight. Do this until your puppy stops. The second that your puppy stops fighting the leash, praise him, show him a treat, and encourage him to come toward you. When he comes toward you, give him the treat.
Repeat tightening the leash and rewarding your puppy when he comes toward you when you do so. Do this until your puppy will move toward you right away when he feels the leash tighten.
Require more movement
When your puppy is consistently coming toward you when you apply pressure with the leash, then begin to wait until your puppy comes all the way to you before you give him the treat. Continue to praise all movement toward you with your voice though.
Once your puppy has learned to come all the way to you when you tighten the leash, practice walking with your puppy on the leash outside. Whenever your puppy begins to pull ahead, simply stop or change directions, so that the leash tightens, then do not allow your puppy to continue the walk until he has returned to your side first. Practice this until your puppy no longer pulls on the leash and follows you whenever you change directions.
The Wait Method
Put on collar
To begin, put your puppy's collar on and have him wear it for a week, to accustom him to wearing it before attaching a leash. If your puppy is already used to wearing a collar then move on to the next step.
After your puppy has worn his collar for a week and is used to the sensation, then place small treats into a zipper bag in your pocket or into a treat pouch. Attach your puppy's leash to his collar and hold the end of the leash and stand still.
When your puppy reaches the end of the leash, if he begins to jump around and fight the leash or to pull, simply stand still and wait until he stops. This may take a few minutes the first time. Be patient.
When your puppy stops fighting and pulling on the leash, and puts a little bit of slack in the leash by coming toward you a bit, then praise your puppy and offer him a treat.
Reward your puppy every time that he stops fighting or pulling on the leash. Do this until your puppy stops fighting or pulling on it completely.
When your puppy is no longer pulling on the leash or fighting it, then take one or two steps away from him. Let the leash become a bit tight, so that it is pulling your puppy toward you a bit. If he starts to fight the leash or to pull away from you when it becomes tight, then simply wait until he stops. Reward him with a treat when he stops fighting or pulling and comes closer to you, even by one or two inches. When you reward him, immediately relax the leash.
Repeat walking away from your puppy until the leash becomes slightly tight, and then rewarding your puppy when he comes toward you in response to the leash pressure. Do this until your puppy will immediately come toward you whenever he feels tension in the leash.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 03/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021