How To Get Your Puppy Used To A Collar And Lead

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Image via Flickr: Phil Dolby
 Image via Flickr: Phil Dolby
Image via Flickr: Phil Dolby

One of the first things to train your puppy in is getting used to having a lead and collar on.

A collar and lead is your puppy’s safety net in this often dangerous world, offering a way to keep her under control and out of trouble. It can also be used during other training, helping keep their attention and prevent them chasing off after something more interesting than learning obedience commands.

In addition, there are a fair few places which require a dog to be on a lead and under control. Did you know that a farmer can legally shoot your dog if it is off the lead and worrying their livestock? Keep your puppy, you and other people and animals safe by having your dog on a lead unless you a) have taught your dog total recall or b) are in a safe and secure place.

This article will give you the guidance required to teach your puppy how to get used to a collar and lead in the least stressful way. It will also offer techniques on how to train your puppy effectively, so that they don’t pull on the collar and lead when they reach adulthood.

When Can You Start And How Long Will It Take?

We recommend starting a couple of weeks after you have brought your puppy home. Give them a chance to settle in and understand their surroundings and build a level of trust with you. Whilst theoretically you could start a couple of days, dogs do not require ID tags until they are 12-weeks-old as prior to this, they are too young to take outside farther than the back garden as they are still going through their vaccination programme.

At around the 10-week-old mark, you will hopefully have a relaxed and non-skittish puppy who then has a good two weeks to learn the basics of walking on a collar and leads.

How long does it take for a puppy to get used to a collar and lead?

This very much depends on the puppy; some will take a couple of hours, some days but almost all will have the basics under their paw by the end of two weeks.

Starting your puppy off on her training at 10 weeks gives them a week to learn the collar and a week to learn the lead before you REALLY need them to be comfortable with the set up.

Choosing The Right Lead And Collar

Choosing the wrong collar and lead for your puppy could really set her back, so it is imperative you do your research and pick the right one for her. We have sourced two very useful buying guides that outline a lead and collar for every circumstance: How to choose the right collars and how to choose the right lead.

The buying guides will be helpful in choosing a collar and lead that is right for your puppy. Here are some more things to consider before you put your hand in your pocket:

  • Buy the right size – whilst it is tempting to buy a collar your puppy will ‘grow in to’, a too big collar can be very heavy and uncomfortable for your puppy’s fragile bones!
  • Think small and lightweight – the lighter the collar, the easier it will be for your puppy to get used to.
  • Wide and flat, not thin and round – wider collars have more surface area and therefore place less pressure on your puppy’s neck and throat.
  • Choose a safety clip fastening – avoid buckles at this point as you will be taking the collar off and putting it back on frequently. You want to make this process as easy as possible.
  • A thin and lightweight lead – a small lead will be less intimidating to your puppy. Avoid chain type leads and stick to flat nylon webbing or round nylon ropes, making sure they are as light as possible.

If you still aren’t sure, we have collected together some ‘best buy’ recommendations. Take a look at our recommended collars and leads for puppies below.

Recommended Collars For Dogs. (Opens in new window)

Recommended Leads For Dogs. (Opens in new window.)

A Few Tips Before We Begin

Before you begin training your puppy in wearing a collar and lead, take these tips on board – they will make the experience that much easier, for both of you!

  • Maintain a calm and relaxed environment whilst training – getting annoyed or angry at your puppy because they aren’t picking things up as quickly as you’d hoped will have a negative effect and may hold them back even more.
  • Patience is key – hours, days, weeks or even a month, puppies learn at different speeds. They will get it when they are ready, so relax and work at their speed.
  • Make the training no big deal – the calmer you are about things, the more responsive and receptive your puppy will be towards training.
  • Supervise – always take your puppy’s collar off if you aren’t there to keep an eye on her. This will prevent accidents and also get your puppy used to having her collar taken off and put back on again.
  • Reduce chances of getting caught – to stop your puppy’s paw getting tangled in the end of a lead and potentially frightening her, cut the loop off the end of the lead, or just buy a piece of nylon rope to use as a lead when you are starting out. If your puppy continues to get tangled, the lead is probably too long. Wrap it around your hand or lop a few inches off the end.
  • Prevent lead chewing – if your puppy keeps gnawing on the lead, spray it (the lead, not the puppy) with Tabasco sauce, bitter apple or another pet safe chew deterring spray.

How To Get Your Puppy Used To A Collar

First things first. You won’t be able to get your puppy to wear a lead if they haven’t got used to wearing a collar, so that’s where we shall begin!

Take It Slowly

It’s very tempting to just throw a collar on your puppy and leave them to it, but this isn’t the most effective, or kind way of helping them learn. Imagine your parents sticking ice-skates on your feet aged two-years-old and then pushing you onto an ice rink; it ain’t gunna end well.

Just as you would want to take things slowly with your ice-skates before doing triple axels on the ice, your puppy needs support too.

Try a slow and steady approach. Put the collar on your your puppy and leave it for 5 minutes before taking it off. Repeat every half hour or so for a couple of days.

Up the ante and start leaving the collar on for ten minutes in each hour the next day, then 20 minutes in each hour the next day, gradually building up until your puppy is comfortable having the collar on all the time.

Most puppies will have reached this stage by day 6 or 7, but some may take longer. As before, let your puppy take things at their own pace. For the best chance of success, follow the tips below.

Fitting A Collar Correctly

You need a balance between a secure collar and a comfortable collar. A general rule of thumb is to fit a collar on your puppy so that you can fit two fingers between the collar and your puppy’s neck.

Any tighter and your puppy’s breathing could be restricted. Any looser and you could lose your collar.

Putting The Collar On Your Puppy For The First Time

Put the collar on your puppy as calmly, gently and quickly as possible. The collar will feel strange to your puppy at first.

Some puppies will take it in their stride, others will think they are being attacked by the great collar monster from the planet Zorg and will flip out, scratching at it, rolling around and making a big fuss.

Both responses are utterly natural!

Whatever your puppy does, ignore their behaviour.

Whilst their antics may be hysterical to watch, it’s important not to give them attention. Remember, dogs love to make their owner happy. If they see you chuckle, they will repeat their behaviour!

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

The power of distraction is a great tool for managing puppies who take a fervent dislike to their collar.

Put your puppy’s collar on just before dinner time, or just before play time. Alternatively, if you have already started obedience training, try some sits and downs to take their mind off of their new attire.

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

Never take if off if they are making a fuss as this counts as rewarding the behaviour and could set you up for a long hard slog of collar training going forwards.

Use food, training or play to get your puppy into a relaxed frame of mind before removing the collar.

Should You Treat Your Puppy When You Put Their Collar On?

Some trainers recommend giving your puppy a treat when they put a collar on, making an association in the puppy’s mind that collar = good stuff.

Marking calm behaviour with a word or click followed by a treat will allow your dog to learn that calm behaviour can result in a reward.

For this to work, you must ALWAYS wait until your puppy is calm. NEVER reward unwanted behaviour.

You should also avoid giving treats when taking the collar off, otherwise your puppy may equate being rewarded with having their collar removed.

How To Get Your Puppy Used To A Lead

The following guidance will help you and your puppy get the most from lead training and help lay a solid foundation for success. The aim of the game is to avoid developing bad habits, such as lead pulling, and encouraging good behaviour whilst on the lead.

Firstly, before you even pick up a lead, make sure your puppy is both confident and comfortable when wearing a collar. Once you are convinced of this, choose a secure and familiar room in the house and attach the lead to the collar.

Use a lead without a loop to avoid entanglements and possible panic.

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

Now is the fairly easy part. Sit back and relax. Once you have attached the lead to your puppy’s collar, stand back and let them drag it around with them whilst you supervise. As with collar training, try to make as little fuss as possible; no laughing, encouragement or telling offs at this stage.

If you need to, use distraction techniques to calm your puppy of she gets overexcited. Obedience commands, food or a toy will help them forget all about their lead.

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

If your puppy goes bananas whenever she sees the lead, try to desensitize her by leaving it around in rooms she is playing or relaxing in.

Place it near a favourite toy or their food bowl so that they are distracted and don’t choose to attack or chew the lead.

The aim is to get them used to having the lead around without wanting to destroy it. A nifty trick is to have the lead in the room as soon as you bring your puppy home so they no there is nothing to fear by the time it comes to lead training;

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

As Always – Take It Slowly

Slow and steady is the name of the game yet again. Attach the lead for only a few minute at first, before removing it once your puppy is calm and collected. If needed, use some distraction techniques to take their mind off of the lead.

Now follow the same process as you did with collar training. Attach the lead for ten minutes of each hour for the first day or so, gradually building the time up in ten minute intervals until you can leave it on for half an hour without your puppy becoming agitated.

Most dogs will play or chew on the lead, they are dogs after all!  However, you should ensure your puppy is reasonably comfortable with the lead before moving on to the next step, namely; you picking up the other end of the lead.

Picking Up The Other End Of The Lead

Whatever you do, don’t try to instantly walk your puppy as soon as you pick up the other end of the lead. This will most likely lead to a tug-of-war and potentially a fear of the lead.

Instead, hold the lead loosely and let your puppy walk YOU! Yep, follow her around, making sure the lead never becomes tight and your puppy doesn’t pull. Have a pocket full of treats on hand so that if pulling does happen, you can distract your puppy and lure them towards you with a snack.

Practise this process for a few minutes every hour or so until your puppy is comfortable with you holding the other end of the lead.

First Steps Being Led On The Lead

Now is the time to start walking your puppy on the lead. Never drag or pull your puppy, let the decision to follow be theirs. Lead by example: if you don’t want your puppy to pull on the lead when they are grown, don’t do it to them!

Once again, treats are your friend. Use one or two as a lure to get your puppy to follow you a round the room. Give your puppy lots of praise, a treat every now and again or some play time – let her know how pleased you are with her progress!

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

This part of lead training is critical – how you respond to lead pulling by your puppy at this stage will have a huge effect on your future lead based experiences.

Don’t let pulling go, not even once. Teach your puppy from the very beginning that as soon as they feel tightness or pressure in the lead, it pays off for them to move towards you.

Step 1:

Choose a quiet room with no distractions and have a bunch of treats to hand. Place the lead on your puppy.

Step 2:

Let your puppy walk away from you until the lead starts to pull, or walk away yourself. Apply gentle pressure so the lead is tighter than usual.

Step 3:

Your puppy may fight this and start to pull away from you. Don’t move your hand. Keep it steady and call them to you, using your voice as a lure.

Step 4:

When your puppy turns towards you and the pressure lessens even a tiny bit, instantly release all pressure by moving your hand towards her. Give lots of praise! If she comes all the way to you, make a REALLY big deal of it, fussing lots and doling out a treat or two.

If they don’t come towards you, try, try again. Patience works well. We promise they will eventually do it!

Step 5:

After the praising session, ignore your puppy until they walk away again. Once you feel pressure on the lead, repeat steps 1 to 4.

Step 6:

Keep repeating the exercise 5 or 6 times for each session, each hour of the day, for a couple of days or until your puppy consistently comes towards you when they feel any pressure on the lead.

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

The best way to deal with this is taking things a step slower. Praising and rewarding smaller behaviours can really help a puppy get used to their lead.

Step 1:

Pretend to be a statue. Yes, you read that right. Hold the lead still, stay silent and don’t move. Let your puppy fuss and pull and freak out whilst totally ignoring them.

Step 2:

As soon as your puppy calms down, praise and reward them. They don’t have to move towards you, just to stop flipping out.

A few repetitions will teach your puppy that fussing gets them nowhere, but being calm equals a treat.

Step 3:

Once step 2 is mastered, make your puppy work a bit harder to get their treat. Now, only reward your puppy if she moves towards you, even if it is just half an inch. Repeat.

Step 4:

Start making the reward even trickier to get, only rewarding your puppy when she moves further towards you. Keep repeating, upping the distance she needs to travel incrementally to get a treat.

Once your puppy has got the hang of this, you can move on to moving around the room with her on the lead.

Common Mistakes We Make As The Trainer

There are a few things that we as trainers can do that can set back the training process and cause issues later down the line. Take a read through the below points and try to avoid them if you can!

Pulling on the lead yourself: Causing any discomfort or pain to your puppy will have exactly the opposite result to what you want. She won’t stop pulling and will probably end up being mistrustful of you.

When you pull on the lead, your puppy will return to you, but will then go forwards and pull again. It’s a no win situation. Take the training slowly and avoid pulling on the lead altogether.

Slackening the lead when your puppy pulls: Don’t teach your puppy that pulling actually works! When your puppy pulls, stop and wait for them to return to you.

Snapping or jerking on the lead: An occasional jerk of the lead can be a useful correction tool in the right hands, but used incorrectly and too often, it can cause real behavioural issues. Your puppy will learn that the lead going loose is pre-empting a snap, meaning they will continuously pull to keep the lead tight. Counterproductive, no?

Pulling the lead when your puppy is coming towards you: If your puppy is heading toward you, you should never pull on the lead. We want them to think the pressure on the lead 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 lead to be fair.)

Conclusion

Time, patience and effort from both you and your puppy is the order of the day when it comes to training her to walk with a collar and lead.

You will need to learn how to keep your puppy on a collar and lead when house training your puppy, or taking them outside. The ideal time to train them therefore, is before their last batch of vaccinations at 12 weeks and they can go outside.

Some people advocate chucking a collar and lead on your dog and leaving them to it. This does work in some cases, but if your puppy is one that responds badly, you may have set back training by weeks. By following the tips in this article, you are making the process swifter, less stressful and easier to complete. Your puppy will avoid learning bad habits and you will have a well behaved puppy on the end of the lead!