Question: We have a 12-week-old puppy and we’ve started to acquaint him with his leash, but it’s not going that smoothly. He grabs it, won’t come along with us sometimes, and pulls all sorts of stuff. How can we get him on the right track with the leash?
Answer: Right now your puppy doesn’t fully understand the leash because he’s a baby. Because of that, it’s important to remain patient overall, and start with baby steps. There is a very powerful message communicated with the leash and here’s why: Wolves, your dog’s first cousin, spend most of their time patrolling their territory.
And when they’re on “patrol,” the pack leader’s responsibility is the safety and togetherness of the pack. Everybody stays together. No one strays off to sniff random bushes, pee on a tree, or chase lizards, and nobody gets ahead of the pack leader. The domestic dog is hardwired on a primal level to understand this dynamic. For you it’s a walk, but for your little urban wolf, he comes to see this exercise as “being on patrol in his territory with his leader.” This is an inherent awareness but we have to follow some basic, consistent protocols to restimulate this basic understanding.
When Max’s s little, we don’t want to do anything to create what I call a “bad leash experience.” You don’t want your heavy handedness to make him think “I hate the leash.” It’s far more natural for him to love the leash, and he will learn what you want by being gently insistent.
Conversely, you don’t want to be jerking him around. For now, use a standard 6-foot leash and a basic flat collar for your puppy. Retractable leashes are not the ticket to leash train your dog for a variety of reasons. Also, we’re not going to use a correction collar or any other gimmicky appliance at this juncture, either. Use the leash when you take him outside to do his business, but follow him around and keep the tension off of it. If possible, coax him rather than tug on him to get him to go a certain direction.
If he’s resistant to being coaxed, use the leash to nudge him, but without any yanking. If he wants to put the leash in his mouth, discourage this by simply pulling it out, but be quick about it. You must be more tenacious and determined about this than him. Anticipate him trying to grab the leash and yank it away. If you’re late, and now he’s got it firmly in his little choppers, yank it out and say, “no.” After X number of times he’ll give up on the idea, but you must outlast him on this. How many times will it take? That depends on the dog and depends on your resolve. A more dominant puppy may hang in there for a bit, whereas a more submissive dog will capitulate fairly quickly if your correction happens instantaneously. And don’t just yank it out of his mouth and stand there waiting for him to grab it again. Redirect him to walk with you.
As for walking on the leash, all you care about until he gets to be about 5 or 6 months old is that he move along with you, keeps his nose off the ground, and doesn’t get ahead of you. That’s it. We don’t care about him being on one side or the other. He’s going to be back and forth, and we’re going to let him, but we won’t let him pass in front of us.
If Max tries to creep ahead of you, gently draw him sideways toward your hip pocket, not backwards. If he balks or “digs in” like a stubborn mule, pause for 10 seconds, then coax him. Use your sweetest, happiest voice and pat your leg to get him to come along with you. Praise him for coming along, and keep moving. The message is: “The pack is moving, lets go.” Disallow sniffing. Every time he puts his nose on the ground to sniff, hold tension on the leash to keep him from it as you say “no,” but, again, it’s important to keep moving!
The pack stops when you – the leader – release him with “OK!”, To let him sniff and so on.
Originally from Louisiana, Gregg Flowers is a local dog trainer who “teaches dogs and trains people.” Contact him at email@example.com or dogsbestfriendflorida.com.