How to get your puppy used to a collar and leash

A Labrador puppy pulling hard on a leash

CC Image courtesy of smerikal on Flickr

It’s essential that you get your puppy used to a collar and leash as soon as possible.

It’s a tool to keep them under your control and out of trouble while they learn how to live in our sometimes dangerous world.

It’s a useful device to keep their attention and prevent bolting during training.

And in many places it’s a necessity by law when walking them in public.

This article teaches you how to get your puppy used to a collar and leash in a way that’s as stress free as possible and does the best ground work to build upon to train your puppy not to pull on the leash when an adult.

Contents & Quick Navigation

  • 5 How To Get Your Puppy Used To A Leash
  • 5.1 Don’t Hold The Leash, Let Your Puppy Drag It Around
  • 5.2 Help! My Puppy Freaks Out Whenever They See The Leash!
  • 5.3 As Always – Take It Slowly
  • 5.4 Picking Up The Other End Of The Leash
  • 5.5 First Steps Being Led On The Leash
  • 6 How To Train A Puppy Not To Pull On A Leash From The Start
  • 6.1 My Puppy Freaks Out And Just Won’t Stop Pulling! – How To Stop It.
  • 7 Common Mistakes We Make As The Trainer
  • 8 Conclusion
  • When Can You Start And How Long Will It Take?

    I would advise against trying during the first 2 or 3 days in your home as they have enough to deal with getting used to a completely new environment and family.

    You could begin training your Labrador puppy to get used to a leash and collar from their 3rd day home, and many people do, but there isn’t really much point.

    I recommend waiting until they’re 10 weeks old.

    This is because until 12 weeks old, they’ve no need for ID tags as they’re just too young to take outside further than your back yard while they complete their vaccination program.

    And during house training you don’t need to lead them outside, they’re so small at this age that you can simply scoop them up and carry them.

    But by getting them used to a collar and leash at 10 weeks old, they will be comfortable wearing them by 12 weeks when you can start to walk them outside.

    How long will it take to get them used to a leash and collar?

    Some take hours, some take days, most will be comfortable by the end of 2 weeks as long as you take care to introduce them to it methodically.

    So by starting at 10 weeks, you have a full 2 weeks to get them used to it, one week for a collar, then another for the leash before you really need to use them and that’s ample time.

    Choosing The Right Leash And Collar

    First of all, it’s very important that you buy the right leash and collar for your puppy.

    I have two highly informative buying guides for choosing the right size and style of leash and collar for every situation that you can find here: How to choose the right collars and how to choose the right leash.

    I recommend reading these articles so you can make the most informed buying decisions, but here are the most important things to consider when buying the first leash and collar for a young puppy:

    • Do not buy a collar that your puppy will grow into, buy one in a size that’s made for a puppy. Otherwise it will be too heavy and uncomfortable.
    • Choose a small, lightweight collar. The lighter it is, the easier it will be to get used to.
    • Choose a wide, flat collar and not a thin round one. Thin and round will be lighter but the wider it is, the less pressure and the easier it is on your puppy’s neck and throat. So get a wide flat collar, but one that is as light as you can find.
    • Choose a collar with quick and easy to use clips and not a buckle fastening. You need to get the collar on and off as fast as possible and not have to fiddle with it. This makes the experience is as stress free as possible.
    • Your puppy’s first leash should be thin and lightweight so it’s the least intimidating as possible. Flat nylon webbing, or round rope style ones will suffice, just make sure they’re lightweight…and certainly stay away from heavy chain style leashes.

    If you’re yet to buy a collar and leash for your puppy and would like some guidance, we’ve put together a small selection that you can see by clicking the following links:

    Recommended Collars For Labradors. (opens in new window)

    Recommended Leashes For Labradors. (Opens in new window.)

    A Few Tips Before We Begin

    Before you begin training your puppy to accept a leash and collar, here’s a few tips you should keep in mind during the process:

    • Remain relaxed and calm . Do not rise to anger or make any fuss if your puppy doesn’t accept them for many days. The negative energy can make them think they’re right to dislike it.
    • Be patient. It may take hours, it may take a couple of weeks, not all puppies learn at the same speed. So be patient and eventually they will get it.
    • Try to act as though wearing a leash and collar is no big deal and is completely normal. Don’t make a fuss in any way. Calm energy from you promotes calm energy in your puppy.
    • Always remove your puppy’s collar and leash if you aren’t there to supervise them. Don’t even leave them unwatched for a minute wearing it. They can become snagged on things and cause strangulation.
    • To prevent your puppy getting their paw caught in the leash and panicking, which can slow down your puppy’s acceptance of the leash, you can buy a cheap one and cut the looped end off, or some thin rope from a hardware store to tie to their collar and tie no loop on the other end.
    • If you find your puppy is constantly getting tangled in the leash or they’re wrapping it around your legs, the leash is likely too long. Wrap it around your hand a couple of times to decrease it’s length…or buy a shorter leash.
    • For a puppy that constantly chews on the leash, spray it with Tabasco sauce, bitter apple or one of many other pet-safe bitter-tasting sprays available to deter their chewing.

    How To Get Your Puppy Used To A Collar

    Of course before we can train our puppy to get used to wearing a leash, we have to first get them used to wearing a collar. So that’s where we’ll start.

    Take It Slowly

    Side view of choc lab puppy in a red collar

    Photo credit: © / FotoJagodka

    You could just whack a collar on your puppy and let them get used to it, but this isn’t the most effective or kindest way by far.

    What you want to do is the first time you put it on, leave it on for just 5 minutes then remove it. Repeat this every half hour or 45 minutes for the first couple of days.

    Then leave it on for 10 minutes in each hour for the next day. Then 20 minutes in each hour the next day, and so on until you can leave it permanently on.

    By day 6 or 7 most puppies are used to their collar and comfortable wearing it for hours at a time. But it’s only fair to warn you, some can take longer. A puppy will learn at their own pace.

    To have the best chance at the quickest success, use the following tips and techniques.

    Fitting A Collar Correctly

    You must choose a collar that fits securely but isn’t so tight that it’s uncomfortable. The rule to follow is you must be able to fit two fingers between the collar and your puppy’s neck.

    Any tighter than this is uncomfortable for your puppy and may even restrict their breathing. Any looser than this and they may be able to slip it off.

    Putting The Collar On Your Puppy For The First Time

    You want to put the collar on calmly, gently and as quickly as possible. This is why a plastic clip fastening is best as you can do it in a second.

    Almost all puppies feel confused at what’s going on as they’ll never have felt one around their neck before.

    Some will remain quite calm (rarely!), most will scratch at it and shake their heads trying to get it off. A few will go absolutely crazy, scratch at it, roll around and make a huge fuss.

    You need to ignore their struggling.

    Don’t encourage the behavior by laughing (this might be hard! Haha) or by trying to calm and relax them, and certainly don’t tell them off for trying to paw at it and get it off.

    Any attention while they’re making a fuss might make them believe they’re right to do so. Just ignore all the fuss.

    The Power Of Distraction – And When To Take The Collar Off

    Some puppies just really don’t like a collar and most will try to paw it off at first. To help combat this, you can use the power of distraction.

    Put the collar on before you feed your puppy one of their meals. Or put it on and then offer to play with them and their favorite toy. Or if you’ve already started simple obedience training, ask them for some sits and downs to take their mind off it.

    It doesn’t take much to distract a puppy and they will act like they’ve forgotten the collar, at least for a short while. Also:

    You should only take the collar off when your puppy is calm and relaxed.

    If you take it off while they’re making a huge fuss, you’re inadvertently rewarding the behavior and can make them think that fussing and fighting gets you to take the collar off. Obviously you want to avoid this.

    So use food, training or play to distract them and get them into a calm state before you remove the collar.

    Some People Say To Treat A Puppy When You Put A Collar On

    I’ve read some trainers recommend to put your puppy’s collar on then repeatedly give them treats to make them think wearing a collar is a positive thing.

    By marking calm behavior (with a click or a word) and then giving a treat, it shouldn’t take long for your puppy to realize that being calm earns them a reward. Then they will offer calm behavior to get it.

    I’ve not tried this so I cannot say from personal experience it’s an effective technique, but the theory is sound. Just remember that you mustn’t treat them when they’re making a fuss or they may think it’s fighting with the collar that’s being rewarded. You have to wait for calm.

    And you should also avoid giving treats when you take the collar off. You need to remove it then act as if nothing has happened, otherwise your puppy may think they’re being rewarded for the collar being removed.

    Now, once your puppy is comfortable in a collar, you can move on to training them to get used to a leash.

    How To Get Your Puppy Used To A Leash

    A yellow lab puppy with a green leash in his mouth

    ikostudio

    The following tips will get your puppy used to a leash and lay a great foundation to build upon for future leash training.

    You will learn to avoid developing bad habits that lead to pulling later on and develop good habits that help in future training.

    First of all, make sure your puppy is comfortable and confident wearing a collar, then in a secure and familiar room of your home you can attach a leash.

    As previously stated, use a leash without a loop, cut the loop off a cheap one or use a short rope from a hardware store and don’t tie a loop in the end so your puppy can’t get their paw caught and panic.

    Don’t Hold The Leash, Let Your Puppy Drag It Around

    Once you’ve attached the leash, just sit and supervise your puppy while they walk around dragging it behind them.

    As with the collar you want to almost ignore them. No encouragement, laughing or telling them off if they chew at or try to remove it.

    Any excitable energy from you can project on to your puppy and you’re hoping for them to stay calm.

    If the need arises, you can calm your puppy by using distraction. Call them over to you, ask for some obedience commands or offer them food or a toy and it will redirect their focus and attention away from the leash.

    Help! My Puppy Freaks Out Whenever They See The Leash!

    If your puppy’s truly petrified of the leash you can desensitize them to it by leaving it in areas where they spend time or play so it’s always around.

    Leave it laying just outside of their confinement area where they can see it but not get at it and use it as a chew toy, or place it near to their food bowl when eating so they can see it but will be too busy eating to want to play with the leash.

    We want them seeing the leash around to learn its nothing to fear, without being able to play with or chew on it.

    A good tip is to practice this from the minute you get your puppy home, a couple of weeks before ever attempting to attach the leash.

    As Always – Take It Slowly

    Like all training, take things slowly. Leave the leash attached for just a few minutes at first and only remove it when they’re calm, using distraction to take their mind off the leash if necessary.

    Attach it for 10 minutes of each hour during the first couple of days, then 15 minutes of each hour for the second day, 20 minutes for each hour of the third day and so on, until you can leave it on for half an hour at a time and they’re comfortable with the leash.

    I’m not saying they shouldn’t play with or chew it at all, this could take an age to stop completely, but they should be reasonably comfortable and confident with the leash, not stressed or fearful.

    Now you can start to pick up the other end.

    Picking Up The Other End Of The Leash

    Once you’re puppy is comfortable with the leash and dragging it around, you can now pick up the other end.

    Don’t try to walk your puppy, leading them around on the leash. They aren’t ready for this yet and will pull and fight against it, possibly even finding new fear of the leash.

    Instead, hold the leash and follow your puppy around, keeping the lead slack for them as you both go.

    You want to make sure the leash doesn’t go tight to avoid your puppy pulling on and straining against the leash. It pays to have a pocket full of treats so if this does happen you can grab their attention and lure them toward you with a treat.

    You should practice this a few minutes every hour for a day or two.

    First Steps Being Led On The Leash

    Once your puppy is comfortable walking around with you holding the leash and keeping it slack, it’s now time to start taking the lead so they follow you around.

    The most important thing is you shouldn’t pull or drag them by the leash, make it their decision to follow. You really don’t want your Lab pulling on the leash when they’re an adult, so set an example by not pulling on the leash yourself!

    The first few times you lead them, have a treat in your hand or one of their favorite toys and use it to lure them around the room with you.

    As you both go, give enthusiastic praise so they know you’re pleased with how well they’re doing and now and then give them the treat, or stop and give them the toy and some play time before setting off again.

    How To Train A Puppy Not To Pull On A Leash From The Start

    Happy Labrador Puppy Walking on a Leash

    © / sjallenphoto

    How you deal with your puppy pulling on the leash now will have a dramatic affect on the future success of your leash training together.

    If you don’t want a dog that pulls on the leash when walking, you need to start training this into them right from the very start.

    Learning to pull for a few weeks as a puppy, can take so much longer to correct when they’re an adult.

    To avoid this, from the first time on leash you want your puppy to learn that when there’s pressure it pays to release it by moving toward you, not by pulling harder away. Here’s how…

    Step 1:

    Head into a quiet room with no distractions and a pouch full of treats. Now put your puppy on the leash.

    Step 2:

    Wait for your puppy to walk away from you until the leash is tight and they start to pull, or if they don’t then move away yourself until the leash is tight and there’s light pressure toward you.

    Not so you’re actually pulling them toward you, just apply gentle pressure on the leash so it’s tight but your hand is actually still.

    Step 3:

    Most puppy’s will fight against this and pull on the leash away from you. Don’t move your hand to let them win even a single extra inch, but also don’t pull them toward you.

    Just encourage them your way you by calling their name and slapping your thigh.

    Step 4:

    As soon as your puppy turns to you and releases even the smallest bit of pressure on the leash, instantly move your hand toward them to release all pressure and praise them warmly: ‘Good puppy!’

    If your puppy comes all the way to you, praise them, pet them and give them a treat. Make a HUGE fuss to make it a massive reward that they came to you.

    If your puppy doesn’t come to you, call again. They will come eventually, just wait until they do and then praise and treat enthusiastically.

    Step 5:

    After the enthusiastic praise ignore them until they walk away and pull, or if they don’t then back away yourself until the leash is tight and there is gentle pressure on the leash once again.

    Now repeat steps 1 to 4.

    Step 6:

    Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times per session, each hour of the day and repeat for a few days until your puppy consistently moves toward you when they feel the slightest bit of pressure on the leash.

    This will not take long and once it is learnt it will benefit your future leash training massively!

    My Puppy Freaks Out And Just Won’t Stop Pulling! – How To Stop It.

    To change this behavior, praise and reward smaller steps until they realize you want them to come to you and it’s the best thing they can do when there’s pressure on the leash.

    Step 1:

    To begin with, hold the leash dead still, stay silent and don’t make a single move. Don’t give an inch and don’t pull them toward you. Just let them struggle and don’t make a fuss in any way.

    Step 2:

    As soon as they stop freaking out give total release of all pressure on the leash and give warm praise and a treat. They don’t have to move toward you, just stop freaking out.

    This rewards them being calm. A few repetitions will teach them that outbursts get them nowhere and being calm gets the leash to slacken off and earns a treat.

    Step 3:

    Once your puppy has learnt to be calm to earn a loose leash, they have to do a bit more to earn their treat. So now only reward them for moving toward you, even if it’s just the tiniest little movement. Repeat this a few times.

    Step 4:

    Now only reward them for coming even closer. They will soon cotton on to the fact that being calm and moving toward you earns praise and a treat.

    You can now follow the processes of stopping them pulling on the leash and leading them around the room as described earlier in this article.

    Common Mistakes We Make As The Trainer

    There’s a few mistakes we commonly make that can lead to problems when leash training and our dogs becoming future pullers. So try to avoid the following:

    Pulling on the leash yourself: This will achieve absolutely nothing. The discomfort to mild pain that you cause likely isn’t big enough a deterrent to stop your puppy pulling and it certainly won’t teach them anything.

    Additionally, dogs (like most animals) fight against restraint so when you pull, it just makes most pull harder.

    Also, your puppy pulls, they go forward. You pull back a bit, then eventually give in, they still go forward. So they learn your pulling is only temporary anyway and their pulling gets them where they want to go. There’s just no benefit and nothing gained from you pulling.

    Rushing forward to slacken the leash when your puppy pulls: This teaches the puppy that pulling works! If your puppy pulls even one bit, you need to stop and not move until THEY move toward YOU.

    Snapping or jerking on the leash: In the right hands, the occasional ‘snap’ on a leash is an effective correction, but most people use it incorrectly and way too often.

    When you snap or jerk a leash, you loosen it first, then snap it tight to startle a dog and get their attention. It’s a reminder of sorts. But when used incorrectly and too often, your puppy pulls, feels the leash go slack and then gets yanked back. A puppy can think a loose leash leads to a snap and then try’s to avoid it by keeping the leash tight. Not good.

    Pulling when your puppy’s already heading toward you: If your puppy is heading toward you, you should never pull on the leash. We want them to think the pressure on the leash is totally released when they move toward us, so never add any back in (although this is usually only a problem when using a long leash to be fair.)

    Conclusion

    Getting your Labrador puppy used to a leash and collar takes time and patience but it’s something you have to do as soon as possible.

    When house training your puppy, you’ll need to use a leash to lead your puppy to their bathroom spot and keep them there, and you need them on leash when out in public. So ideally they’ll be comfortable with it before their second shots kick in and you’re able to walk them outside.

    Many people argue that with little effort, you can just throw a collar on your puppy and ‘let them get used to it.’ And once they are, just stick a leash on. Well, maybe this works to a degree. It’s not the toughest challenge your puppy will ever face.

    But by following the techniques described in this article, the process will be as stress free as possible, and you will have laid the foundations for training your puppy not to pull on the leash later, instead of them learning bad habits that you then have to break.

    I know which of these two scenarios I’d prefer!

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