Training your puppy to walk on a lead is a vital part of their education, but it can take some puppies 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.
Louise Feaheny of Doctor Loulittle Dog Training shares her top tips and a training plan for successful and safe puppy walks.
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 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 practice at home first, you’ll be ready to head out and about once they’re fully vaccinated.
“Avoid areas with lots of dogs and don’t overwhelm your puppy,” says Louise. Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, you can start walking on streets and visiting areas like dog parks.”
Puppies can be accident prone at home and out and about, so make sure you get your puppy insurance sorted as soon as possible as well.
How much should you walk your puppy?
“While your puppy’s body is developing, you need to be mindful of their growing bodies,” says Louise.
The growth plates on your puppy’s bones can take up to 18 months before they’re fully closed. During this time, avoid strenuous exercise like long walks or jumping. Your vet will be able to advise you at what age your puppy is mature and you can then gradually increase the length and intensity of their walks.
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.
You may want to split this into two shorter sessions. This is a rough guide, and can vary depending on your puppy’s breed and energy levels and it doesn't include free play time.
How to train your puppy to walk on a lead
Follow Louise’s step-by-step training plan to start your puppy walking on a lead. Before you start each training session, Louise recommends making sure your puppy isn’t tired or hungry.
If they get a burst of the zoomies, wait until they’re calm and then begin.
Before you even start using a lead, you can start training your puppy to become accustomed to walking by your side. Make sure you’re in a quiet environment with few distractions. Your own living room is an ideal location.
As you walk around, watch for when your puppy is walking beside your leg. Even if it’s just for one or two steps, give them plenty of praise and some high-value training treats.
Continue this process until your puppy can stay at your side for longer periods. Keep giving them treats and praise when they get things right.
Louise suggests “thinking of the side of your leg as a treat dispenser. If you're consistent and the treats always come from the same place, your puppy will start to hang out there, in the hope that one appears!”
Now it’s time to add your lead. Ideally, this should be connected to a harness rather than their collar, to protect your puppy’s neck. Use a lightweight lead and start just asking your puppy to follow you around the house as they were before. Allow the lead to trail behind them but make sure it can’t get caught on anything and never leave your puppy unattended with their harness and lead on. After a few sessions like this, you can pick up the lead and hold it lightly in your hand.
Once your puppy is staying consistently by your side wearing their harness and lead inside the house, it’s time to move outside. Start in your garden or a quiet (ideally fenced) public place. You can then slowly start introducing new places like quiet streets before moving onto busier parks and streets. By increasing the distractions gradually, you’re setting your puppy up for success.
Training tips for puppy walking
Louise recommends using a high rate of reinforcement as you train your puppy. Offer them a treat when they get it right. “This will clearly communicate to the puppy what it is that we're looking for. As our puppy gets better with training, we can start to increase the number of steps between each treat. You can also give them verbal praise in-between to encourage them to stay with you” she says.
If your puppy stops and sits down? “They might need a rest, or things may be too overwhelming for them. Let them take it all in for a few minutes until they're ready to continue.”
“The most important thing to remember is that our lead is like a safety belt, not a steering wheel. We use it for safety, not to direct the dog. We want to teach our puppy to walk with us, not with the leash.”
While you’re working on lead training, you can also start toilet training and crate training your puppy. If you’re not quite ready to leave home yet, there’s plenty of fun training basics you can try, from the very first day.