Training your puppy or older dog to walk on a lead is a crucial part of their education, but it can take them a while to get used to this new experience.
Carefully planning how you’re going to start walking your puppy will help set them up for success and make sure they start to love the sight of their lead.
Watch our video to discover dog behaviourist and trainer Adem Fehmi's, top tips for collar, lead and harness training.
When can you start walking your puppy?
You can start training your puppy to walk on a lead from the day you bring them home, but you should stick to walking your puppy in your home or garden until they’re fully vaccinated.
Socialisation with new people and environments is really important for young puppies, so if you practise at home first, you’ll be ready to head out and about safely in no time.
Picking the right collar and lead
For a puppy, you should pick either a collar or a harness that’s lightweight so they can gradually adjust the feel of it. But as your dog grows you can move on to something weightier and more substantial to prevent them getting loose on walks.
The same principle applies for leads. “Pick something light for a puppy that’s getting used to walking for the first time,” Adem advises. “It should also be long so they have lots of space to explore. You’ll also want a simple clip that goes on nice and easily.”
Introducing the lead and collar
If you’re training a puppy, this is something you can do while waiting for their vaccinations to kick in.
The first step is to just keep both the lead and the collar around the house so your puppy can get used to seeing it. Then gradually introduce the weight of it on them with the tag removed so the noise doesn’t startle them.
If they don’t initially take it to it, don’t worry. Just keep trying little and often – and reward with a few carefully chosen treats!
Once your dog feels comfortable wearing both the items around the house, then you can move onto the next stage.
Loose lead walking
Or otherwise known as ‘heel training’. Again, it’s good to practise this inside with a new puppy first, so they have an idea of what to do when you’re out in public. However, this is also great training for dogs of any age.
Hold the lead loosely in one hand at hip level, with a treat in your other hand. As you move off, give the command ‘heel’ while guiding your dog forward with the treat.
As they stay in the heel position keep giving them treats, little and often. Over time you’ll be able to extend the time between treats and eventually replace them with praise alone.
Planning your walk
When planning your walk keep in mind your dog’s life stage and physical ability. For a puppy, you want to keep it short but fun, giving them plenty of room to explore.
The usual recommendation is that puppies should have a maximum of five minutes structured walking time each day, for every month of their age.
For example, by the time your puppy is three months old, you can walk them for 15 minutes, and by the time they’re four months old, you can walk them for 20 minutes.
For a dog in their prime, consider their breed and fitness levels. A fit and healthy dog will likely be up for a brisk walk or a jog with a few games thrown in. Off lead time can be great for refining your heel work too.
And for the older dog, or a dog with a medical condition, keep your walks short and gentle, making sure to give them frequent rest breaks.
Lead training takes time and sometimes feels like one step forwards and two steps back. But if you stick with it and stay positive with your pet you’ll get there. Here’s a quick reminder of what you need to be doing:
Start training at home before a puppy is ready to go outside
Choose a lead and collar or harness that isn’t too heavy
Give your dog space to explore on a long lead
Reward your pup while heel training
Plan walks based on your dog’s physical ability