How would I feel if this was me?
In the case of introducing your puppy’s first lead, it is useful to imagine yourself in your puppy’s position. Imagine you have a collar or harness on. You’ve only really just started getting used to this on your body. Then, the humans attach a lead to you which restricts your movement and it sometimes jangles around your face. Initially, at what seems to be random times, you feel pulling on your collar when you reach the end of that lead. Over time, you learn that this tension happens when you get to the end of the lead. This tension is generally uncomfortable. Plus, there is the frustration of not being able to move in the direction you want to go.
So, this sounds perhaps a bit annoying or a bit frustrating, but not too big of a deal right? Not too big of a deal if it happens just once, but most puppies will have their lead on at least once a day for walks or other outings. This feeling of frustration every single day then compounds and long term affects our pup’s feelings towards their lead. This is where you may see the puppy biting at the lead to try and control the tension, or other frustration based behaviours.
How to introduce puppy’s first lead so they love it
Instead of having our puppy frustrated when on lead, we want them to love it. We’ll use the same approach we used in introducing puppy’s first collar. Note, it is best to introduce your puppy to the lead after you have had some sessions getting them comfortable with their collar or harness.
Let your pup come over by their own choice and sniff and look at the lead before we clip it on to them. Once the pup is comfortable looking and sniffing at the lead on the ground, pick up the lead and let them sniff at it in your hands.
2. Pair any interaction with the lead with something good
When the lead comes out, good things automatically happen. In the introductory stage, this means every time your pup sees the lead, they get a treat. Once the lead is clipped on, let them sniff interesting smells in the garden and give them some tasty treats. Over time, we want our dogs to have the association with the lead that they get to go and do fun stuff when the lead is on.
3. Baby Steps
We want the lead to be a good experience for our pups so it’s up to us to introduce it in steps that our pup will be comfortable with. Apply the two concepts above when progressing through these steps below. If at any point you think your dog isn’t comfortable, go back a few steps until they are comfortable. Our dog won’t have a good association with the lead if they are scared when we are introducing it.
Practice the below steps inside at home before taking your puppy out:
- Lead is placed on the ground
- Human picks up the lead
- Touch pup’s collar while holding the lead in the other hand
- Clip lead on to collar, then unclips straight away
- Repeat the clip on and clip off routine above with a bit longer duration of the lead being on each time
- Once pup is comfortable with 10-15 seconds duration, walk around with your pup. Follow them where they want to go so the lead remains loose. Do this for a short duration, then take the lead off and take a break.
This is a general guide for how to introduce your puppy’s first lead. For each of the steps above, give your pup a treat for each repetition so they get a great association with the lead. For example, if you are clipping the lead on, pup gets a treat as soon as the lead is clipped on and each repetition after that. Each session should only last 2-3 minutes at most.
Work where your puppy is at. You may find they progress through all the steps above in the 2 minute session, or you may need to go slower with them until they are comfortable. Note, if your puppy appears to be particularly uncomfortable, there are more steps that can go in-between the steps listed above. Let us know if you want some help.
4. Don’t stress out if your pup gets a scare
We can’t reinforce our dog’s emotions if they are fearful. However if we appear to be scared or stressed in our body language and voice because we are trying to comfort the puppy from a scare, then the pup can use our behaviour as a reference point and think that you are also scared of the strange new lead. If your pup gets a startle or a scare, be a nice mix of relaxed and cheerful in your tone of voice.
At this early age of our puppy’s development, we simply want them to have a good association with the lead. This means we aren’t actively training for loose lead walking, but we can help them out with this by maintaining a loose lead when it is attached to the pup. Read more about this concept here.
Help! My puppy loves their lead too much!
Your puppy’s first lead may become something they love because they think it is a great tug toy. If this is your puppy, practice the steps listed above in the ‘Baby Steps’ section above. The key is to work at a level your pup isn’t trying to bite the lead, and reward them well for this. For example, human holds the lead in their hands, pup looks at the lead and doesn’t go to bite it, equals treat for puppy.
Note, some puppies will bite their lead or the human if they are not comfortable with it moving near their face, or if they are not comfortable with the human having their hands near the dog’s collar. Sometimes this looks like the pup is trying to play with the lead, but instead they are trying to communicate that they are not comfortable. They are trying to prevent the scary thing from happening by intercepting it with their mouth (just like we would try and move something away from our face or body if we didn’t like it). It’s important to listen to this.
If this could be your pup, go back to the first step in the progression under ‘Baby Steps’. Only work your way to the next step if your pup is comfortable with the one you are working on. Look for early indications that your dog isn’t comfortable such as a head turn, lick lip or facial tension. Get in touch with us if you want some help.
What should I get for my puppy’s first lead?
For your puppy’s first lead we recommend a 1.8-2 metre lead made of light material and with a light clip. This is to ensure your puppy doesn’t have a heavy lead attached to their collar which will feel uncomfortable while your puppy is still small. As they age, you can then get a lead which is more appropriate to your dog’s adult size.
We don’t recommend short leads as it is difficult for you and your dog to maintain a loose lead. We also don’t recommend retractable leads as it is difficult for your dog to learn how to keep the lead loose if the length of the lead keeps changing.