Lead training: How to train a puppy to walk on a leash

28 November 2023 - 6 min read

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 set them up for success as they grow up, and make sure they start to love the sight of their lead.

In this article, Louise Feaheny of Doctor Loulittle Dog Training shares her top tips, and a training plan, for successful and safe puppy walks.

Why is lead training your puppy important?

Walking your puppy on a lead is about much more than exercise. Wearing a leash is a way to build a puppy’s confidence and strengthen its bond with you. The effective use of a leash communicates to a puppy that it doesn’t need to worry about who is in charge and, in turn, that it doesn’t need to become anxious or aggressive when it’s outside. 

Beyond the positive psychological benefits for your puppy, a leash will help keep them safe when they’re very young, and help you take them to a range of different environments that will broaden their social experience. In short, the leash makes walks more fun for everyone!

When should you start training your puppy to walk on a lead?

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 outside, so make sure youget your puppy insurance sorted as soon as possible as well.

What do I need to walk my puppy?

There are a few essentials to leash training: 

  • The leash: Find something comfortable and durable, and long enough to let your puppy walk comfortably - start with at least 2 metres. 

  • Collar and harness: You’ll need a collar to attach your leash safely to your puppy - so make sure it’s the right size! A collar is also necessary if you want your puppy to wear an ID tag. For extra control and safety, you might consider getting a harness. 

  • Treats: When you’re training, treats are the perfect way to reward good behaviour.

  • Obstacles and barriers: Putting down obstacles and barriers is a good way to get your puppy used to navigating while they’re on their leash. 

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 activities like 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 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.

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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!”

Step 3

Now it’s time to add your lead. Ideally, this should be connected to a harness rather than to their collar, to protect your puppy’s neck. Use a lightweight lead and start by 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.

Step 4

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’ll be setting your puppy up for success.

Training tips for puppy walking

When to treat your puppy

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,” Louise says. “You can also give them verbal praise to encourage them to stay with you.”

When to stop for a rest

What 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.”

How to stop a puppy from pulling on a lead

Lots of owners fret about how to stop dogs pulling on leads, so it’s worth dealing with the problem while they’re still puppies. It’s important to remember that lead-pulling is natural and indicates that your puppy has lots of energy and wants to go faster. 

Leash pulling typically happens when your puppy is out in front of you on the walk. Here are a few ways to stop that happening: 

  • Be ready with treats to reward good behaviour and hand them out when your puppy chooses not to run ahead. 

  • Train in a quiet area where there are fewer distractions that could make your puppy want to run out ahead. 

  • Create a training routine where you take a few steps back from your puppy, and it calmly follows you. Treats can help in this exercise, too!

  • Follow a routine walk around your neighbourhood for a while. If your puppy knows the route it’s less likely they’ll want to run ahead. 

  • Let your puppy tire itself out before the walk: less energy means less desire to run around. 

How to stop leash biting

If your pup is biting on their leash while you walk, it’s a good idea to redirect them. Offer them a toy to hold during the walk, or let them know they’ll get a treat at some point later on. It’s also a good idea, where possible, not to pull on the leash: pulling might give your pup the idea that you’re playing, and that you want them to pull back!

Keeping up with other training

Lead training is a fun and normal part of a puppy’s development, and means that they’re growing into happy, healthy dogs. If you’re currently working out how to lead train a puppy, it might also be worth starting toilet training and crate training. On the other hand, if you’re not quite ready to leave home yet, there’s plenty of fun training basics you can try with your pup from the very first day.

Emma has written extensively about the environment and health but she has a real passion for pets. She has written articles for The Happy Cat Site, Pet Life Today and Dogsnet, as well as ManyPets.