How To Start Training Your Puppy To Walk on a Leash

Taking your first walks with a new dog is exciting. But puppies aren’t born with polite walking skills, and they won’t immediately understand why they have to wear a leash. Teaching puppies how to walk on a leash is a skill you and your puppy need to learn together—and that starts with introducing the leash in a patient and positive way.

To help you get started, we asked several professional trainers for their expert tips and tricks. This step-by-step guide will explain how to prepare your puppy, what equipment you need, and where to take your first walks. And if you run into trouble, we also have expert advice for resolving some common leash training issues.

Set Expectations for Your Puppy’s Leash Skills to Neutral

You can get started with leash training as soon as you bring your new puppy home. But have realistic expectations about how well your puppy will behave and the consistency of their attention span. Remember, the world is brand-new to your 8-week-old puppy. They need time to pause and observe. Rushing your walks to be “around the block” will not set your puppy up for success.

“It’s normal for a puppy to stall, chase leaves, zigzag, and then be ready for a nap before you’ve hit the end of the block,” says Jennifer Malawey, a Fear-Free certified trainer at Instinct Dog Behavior & Training. Malawey emphasizes the importance of aligning your goals with what your puppy is capable of right now—which may just be taking turns around the living room.

Leash walking doesn’t require a lot of equipment up front. Malawey recommends a 6-foot flat leash and a Y-front harness for safety. You’ll also want to stock up on tasty puppy training treats and choose a treat pouch to ensure rewards are always at hand. When you’re ready for outdoor treks, it’s smart to get in the habit of bringing along a poop bag holder filled with poop bags.

Work on Walking Without the Leash

Before heading outside with your puppy, it’s helpful to build some foundational skills without the leash.

“In these early lessons, you are teaching your puppy that it’s really fun to walk beside you, to see where you are going, and that staying close to you gets them rewards,” says Carolyn Menteith, a professional dog trainer and behavior expert at You want to give your puppy a lot of chances to practice what you like so they get reinforced by

She lays out the following steps to set your puppy up for leash walking success:

  1. Choose a quiet, distraction-free place in your home. Start without a collar, harness, or leash.
  2. Make the area beside you a “magic spot” by giving your pup a treat when they are next to you.
  3. Keeping the treat near the end of their nose, walk forward a few steps. Then, give them the treat.
  4. Build this up slowly over several sessions until you can walk across the room and even do some turns.
  5. If the puppy gets ahead of you, stop, lure them back with a treat, and carry on a few steps before rewarding them.

Menteith recommends practicing this in different rooms and even the backyard if it’s safe to do so.

Black Lab puppy looking up at man holding leash on city sidewalk

Chalabala via iStock

Upgrading Your Puppy to Walking on a Lead

Once your pup has some basic walking skills under their belt, it’s time to add the leash. We still want to go slowly and let our pups get acquainted with this new gear at their own pace. This teaches your puppy the leash is a good thing—not something they should fear or be apprehensive about.

Ali Smith, professional dog trainer and founder of Rebarkable, breaks how to get your puppy used to the leash.

  1. Leave the leash on the floor and scatter treats around it. Let your puppy sniff and inspect the leash.
  2. Sit on the floor with the leash behind your back.
  3. Show your puppy the leash, reward them, then hide the leash. Repeat this several times.
  4. Elevate the process by moving the leash towards your puppy, followed by a reward. (So the process becomes: show leash, move leash toward puppy, reward, remove leash, repeat.)
  5. Add the step of clipping the leash to the puppy’s collar or harness. Reward while it’s attached. Then unclip, hide, and repeat.

Practice tips to keep in mind

At first, you can supervise your puppy while they drag the leash around around the house. Once they’re comfortable wearing the leash, you can return to your “walking beside me” exercises with the leash now in hand. Continue practicing indoors, as your puppy is less likely to get distracted in this controlled environment.

During your sessions, watch your puppy for signs they’re getting overwhelmed. If they’re pulling away or exhibiting signs of stress like excessive panting, drooling, or tucking their tail, you may need to take a step back.

As always, patience is key. Don’t rush your puppy, and be patient with their progress. Remember, too, that puppies have short attention spans, and training sessions should be short and sweet for best results.

How To Start Walking with Your Dog

Start with low distractions when venturing outside

After practicing indoors for a while, it’s time to venture outside. Initially, you’ll want to start small. To minimize distractions, begin with short walks in a controlled area, such as your backyard or a parking lot. It’s also important to avoid areas frequented by lots of other dogs if your puppy isn’t fully vaccinated yet.

“You might stay right outside your house or only go up and down your block,” says Malawey. “There is no need to take them on a mile trek right away.” As Malawey points out, the distance of these early walks is less important than allowing your pup to explore and enjoy this interactive bonding time.

Limit the time outside to encourage good behavior

Since super long walks can be physically and mentally tiring for a puppy, it’s best to limit your outings. “Let your puppy stop and sniff or just have a break frequently, and aim for no more than five minutes of leash walking for every month of their age,” Menteith recommends. That means a three-month-old pup will hit their max walking time at 15 minutes.

Use positive reinforcement and an excited tone

To encourage polite walking, Menteith says to continue using positive reinforcement. “Use your voice and treats to keep [your dog] from pulling on the lead and walking beside you where possible.”

It’s equally important to refrain from correcting your dog’s behavior by forcefully tugging on the leash. Remember, your puppy is excited! Instead, Menteith advises pet parents to stop walking, use their voice or even a food lure to bring their dog back to them, and then continue.

Go with the flow

Don’t get discouraged if your puppy’s first walks are far from the long, leisurely strolls you’d envisioned. Puppies are bound to meander, take breaks, and sniff everything in sight. And that’s okay!

“All you should be aiming for in these early walks is that your puppy enjoys themselves,” says Menteith. “Be guided by your puppy. If you don’t get any more than a couple of meters from your gate, that’s fine. There’s plenty of time to build it up.”

Samoyed puppy rolling on ground with leash in mouth

Photography by Adri via iStock

Expert Tips for Common Leash Training Issues

Training a puppy to be comfortable with a leash can be a daunting task. We ask the experts how to troubleshoot some common problems along the way.

What if my puppy runs away from the leash?

This usually happens if a puppy’s first encounters with a leash are negative or they haven’t had a chance to get used to the leash. That’s why it’s important to start with deliberate desensitization. If your puppy is afraid of the leash, go back to gradually introducing it in a positive way. Don’t run after them or force the leash on them—instead, coax them gently with treats and praise.

You can also bring out the leash during positive moments like mealtime or playtime. With consistent positive reinforcement, most dogs will come around in a few weeks.

My puppy gets too excited wearing the leash

If your dog becomes a frenzied tornado every time the leash comes out, trainer Ali Smith suggests associating the leash with something less exciting. To do this, you can repeatedly take out the leash and then hang it back up. The goal here is to make grabbing the leash a boring, commonplace activity that doesn’t necessarily precede an exciting walk. With time, taking out the leash will no longer signal something super fun is about to happen.

My puppy wanders all over the place and can’t walk in a straight line

“Let them,” says Smith. “It’s their walk!” Remember that puppies are curious creatures with limited attention spans. It’s perfectly normal for them to zigzag across your path during their first walks. With patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement, they will eventually learn to walk in the desired “heel” position.

How do I stop my puppy biting on their leash?

Smith recommends redirecting a chew-happy pup’s attention to a ball, stick, or chew toy.

What do I do if my puppy tugs on their leash?

If your puppy pulls, Smith says to stop walking. When your puppy looks back at you and loosens up on the leash, reward them and start walking again. Over time, they’ll get the idea that moving forward only happens when the leash is slack.

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