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Puppy Leash Training

 Reviewed 8 January 2019 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion

Is your puppy treating the leash as a toy?

Stop your puppy being hyperactive on the lead

Some editions back we already saw the Adult Dog Leash Training Secrets. Now this edition adds the specific characteristics of Leash Training a Puppy.

In some ways Puppy Leash Training is much easier:

  • a puppy doesn't have the pulling power of an adult dog
  • a puppy is more focused on you and what you are doing (but doesn't much interprete your behavior just yet)
  • and puppies don't want to get left behind!

While older dogs, just like people, often have their own mind.

So, if you get your (next) pup off to the right start with Puppy Leash Training, you will see you'll have a much more attentive puppy and adult dog later.

However, Leash Training a Puppy is harder for other reasons:

  • If not done right, the lead often is considered a toy that can be played with and chewed on
  • and is considered a restrictive 'pain in the neck'
  • or even a real pain in the neck if you pull back hard and/or often

Or if you use a pinch, prong, choke, or electronic collar.

Note that these links are only there to show you what we mean, do NOT get any of these!

No need to, and harms the relationship! - Indeed, each link has explanatory hover text.

Also, with puppies generally being hyperactive it's much more likely for us to get stressed out during Leash Training! We must by all means avoid to get stressed.

Instead, stay calm with a puppy. Because dogs are energy recipients, they assume our energy level easily and rapidly! Fully explained in the Dog Training Toolkit f.

Puppy Leash Training the easy way

So, what do you need to focus on when you get your (next) German Shepherd puppy or other puppy, such that you have Puppy Leash Training the easy way?

Before we address the differences to Adult Dog Leash Training, let's first recap the Leash Training secrets by listing the similarities, thus what applies to a puppy as well:

  • The purpose of the dog leash or dog lead is the same: The leash (both the Short Leash and the Long Leash) serves as physical restraint for your puppy while the trained restraint, the Recall, doesn't yet work - or you fear it may not work in the given situation
  • With Puppy Leash Training too, you need to start the walk before the walk: Put on the lead already in the house, do SSCD (Start - Stop - Change Direction) inside the house, and use the Collar Freeze and Isolation (in this order) if your pup is not calm enough for Leash Training
  • For Puppy Leash Training too, you need both a Long Leash f or Long Line AND a Short Leash f (linked are the best based on all feedback)
  • Always slowly walk to your puppy to put on the lead - never call your puppy to you to put on the lead
  • Most importantly: Never walk with a tight leash. Either you and your pup walk, loosely connected through the lead, or you and your pup stand still (when you wait for your puppy to calm down)
  • The leash should only ever be tightened when you want to change direction, or of course when there's danger; whenever the lead tightens because your puppy pulls or changes direction you immediately stop, ie you never continue to walk while pulling against your dog (bad for your health, and bad for your relationship)
  • Always use calm movements: To put on the lead, as well as to take off the lead. Without looking at, speaking to, or touching your puppy at that moment (else we would give the leash importance, and make it memorable for the pup - we won't)

The above are the similarities to Adult Leash Training.

Specifics of Puppy Leash Training

Now what are the differences when we have a puppy?

dog collarFirst of all, from the moment you get your puppy, you better have your pup wear a suitable collar, because puppies must wear a collar all the time. This is both for safety and for behavior training reasons.

If you can afford two collars, get one soft (padded) leather collar f to wear at night and inhouse during the day (we have this one as well), and a reflective collar f during dog walks (we have this one as well). Reflective collars aren't made of leather, and they don't provide the feel-good factor of a genuine leather collar(!), but the linked Rogz' collar comes closest. So, if you want only one collar, I would suggest to get that.

If you get a GSD puppy-suitable collar like the ones shown above, then you need not worry that say the collar may choke your pup when roaming (or at night!), or that it may too much restrict your pup's 'childhood freedom'.

There's not much sense to get a luxurious collar from Dean & Tyler f for a puppy (which will grow out of it quickly), because they have a hefty price tag - although admittedly they are stunning beautiful, so from age 9 months or so you may want to have one too. In any case, get a GSD puppy-suitable collar:

  • NO pinch or prong collar
  • NO choke collar
  • NO electronic collar
  • No cheap plastic quick-release buckle or unreliable stitching
  • No parts of metal chain on the collar!
  • The collar can be left on 24 hours, day and night
  • DO attach a suitable dog tag f with your puppy's name and your phone number (but do not include your address)
  • Regularly adjust the collar to your pup's growing neck size, leaving one to two fingers room (for young pups one finger, and say from 4 months two fingers, because then it's unlikely that the dog can pull the collar over the ears even with two fingers room)

If you are considering a head collar f and you ask me, I would advise against a head collar because dogs, unlike their owners, hate it (if interested see the explanation and proof in the ultimate Leash Training Guide f). So, obviously, we don't have a head collar!

dog harness

And if you are considering a harness? That's good, and it can even be helpful, eg if you have a fearful pup. Also, a harness is more humane/canine than a collar, as it doesn't strangle the dog's neck! Instead it restrains the dog's entire body.

A dog harness comes in two varieties, one looks like this f (from Dean & Tyler, thus posh - we have it! grin ), and the other type looks like this f (the cheap bestselling dog harness from Puppia - not suitable for adult GSDs).

The safety reason for leaving the collar on, all the time: Only when you leave on the collar all the time, you can be sure that you have something to hold on to your puppy when needed in unforeseen dangerous situations, whether inside or outside the house, whether at day or night!

The behavior training reason: If you have studied the Puppy Training Essentials that you got from MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG for FREE (so, likely you haven't cause you thought "free is worthless" 😕 ) then you know that with a puppy there will often be the need for both the Collar Freeze and Isolation. Either of these you can only do if indeed your puppy is wearing a collar!

Since the need for the Collar Freeze and Isolation is unforeseen and has to happen instantly, your pup really needs to wear the collar all the time. Then you don't want your puppy to be restricted or irritated by the collar in any way. This is why you need to choose the right collar(s) as described above.

Once again: Even when your dog wears outdoors the chic D&T harness, do leave the collar on too if you have a puppy.

Start Leash Training Immediately

The next point to consider is that when you get your (next) GSD puppy, start with Leash Training straight away on the second day of having your pup. You will normally not get a puppy before age 7 or 8 weeks (if from a responsible breeder; backyard breeders typically don't care if their sole purpose is to make quick money). At 7 or 8 weeks, your puppy will have the right age to start Leash Training straight away.

Stage 1

BUT we don't start with restrictive heeling and 20-minute walks on the leash! We don't yet leash-walk our pup at all. Instead, we start Puppy Leash Training this way:

Short Lead
  • On the second day we have our puppy, we attach a suitable short lead to the collar at least three times a day, each for around 20 minutes or so. With a German Shepherd puppy, we can straight away get the ultimate short lead, the multi-purpose genuine leather teaching lead f from Sarah Hodgson, because there is no point in spending money twice on the same type of lead. The weight will hinder the small pup's walking, yes, but that's a good thing now wink
  • We let our puppy run around inside the house with the lead attached to the collar f. This way our pup will get used to something hanging off its neck, and will not make a fuzz out of it later, each time we put on the leash. This avoids leash aggression from the start! smile
  • So that our puppy doesn't get tangled up around some furniture in our house, we won't clip the second carabiner into the D-ring at the end of the lead (if it has one at all, like Sarah Hodgson's teaching lead has). We just let the end hang loosely
  • Every now and then, we gently step our foot on the end of the lead to make our pup stop in its track. Our puppy will look up at us and wonder, what's happening now, why does my Pack buddy hold me back? (Remember, we are not yet the accepted Pack leader)
  • In every such moment, we MUST give our pup a positive experience: Patting and saying something like "good dog" (avoid Food Treats). Because one of the fundamental rules of dog and puppy training is that you never call your dog to you or pull it to you (by stepping on the lead in this case) and then give it a negative experience or no sign of a good reason (say by stepping on the leash 'just for fun' without wanting to praise your pup for stopping)
  • On the second day of this puppy lead training, every now and then instead of just stepping on the end of the lead, we step on it to pick it up, praise as described above, and then initiate the first experience of gentle SSCD (Start - Stop - Change Direction). - Just don't overdo it, there's no point in getting your new puppy follow all your movements just yet, this is about FUN from your pup's viewpoint
  • We keep on practicing this first part of leash training over the first three days inside the house; we don't let our new pup outside, unless we have an enclosed garden and we are satisfied with our pup's vaccination status

There will be an extensive Periodical on vaccinations later, but be warned already: Giving series of the same vaccine is wrong, one of each (which you deem relevant) is enough! But it must be given not before the level of maternal antibodies in the blood is sufficiently reduced, and while this differs among pathogen-specific antibodies and each individual puppy, 12 weeks of age has been identified as the best age overall. To find out your individual puppy's best age for each vaccination, you can ask (and pay) for a titer test before each vaccination! (All of course explained in the newest edition of the Puppy Development Guide f)

This was how to start successful Puppy Leash Training.

Stage 2

Given our pup already got one shot of each relevant vaccine, on the fourth day of Leash Training (day 5 of having our new pup), the 'real' Leash Training starts, with a Long Leash:

Long Line
  • We attach a suitable Long Leash or Long Line to the collar and we go with our puppy out into the garden, yard, or another safe area close-by, again at least three times a day, each for around 20 minutes or so. You can straight away get the ultimate long line, the 50 feet feather-light but strong and well over the ground sliding(!) outdoor line f from Sarah Hodgson, because there is no point in spending money twice on the same type of lead (particularly not if it's feather-light and hence ideal for a puppy)
  • With the Long Line attached, we let our pup run around freely within that safe space
  • At this stage, the purpose is not to restrain our puppy in any way, at any time; we don't step on the Long Line (unless there's danger of course, that's the whole point of the Long Line!) and we don't ever pull it back! Instead the purpose of this stage of Puppy Leash Training is that our pup simply gets used to running around freely while something is hanging loosely off its neck
  • During these next couple of days we give our new puppy as much opportunity as we have time to let it explore the (limited) surroundings within that safe space

This was the second stage of successful Puppy Leash Training. You will notice that the beginning of the 'real' Leash Training already considers the purpose of the leash: To serve as physical restraint when the trained restraint (the Recall) is not expected to work for sure in the given situation. Since we haven't yet trained our puppy the Recall, we MUST have at least a Long Line attached when we go outside the house (safety first).

Stage 3

At the third stage of Puppy Leash Training (about day 6) we start the leash training as part of dog walking:

  • We plan a session of an hour or so, and take both leads with us, the Short Lead and the Long Lead
  • Once we are in our chosen safe space (garden, yard, whatever), we attach the Short Lead to our pup's collar, and now briefly do some 'real' SSCD in that open space (no more than 1 minute each)
  • Real SSCD means that now the focus is no longer on FUN for our pup (although it should still have FUN, that's why we do very short sessions), instead the focus now is on matching our movements - and in a much more distractive environment (very tough for a puppy!)
  • Again, don't overdo it, but do get your pup to start when you start walking, to stop when you stop walking, and to change direction when you change direction (and in the same direction wink )
  • After each minute, we swap the Short Leash for the Long Leash and let our puppy freely 'roam' within that safe space for 5 to 10 minutes; the purpose of these breaks is for our pup to relax (to continue to experience this third Leash Training stage as FUN)
  • On each subsequent day (if we can) we choose new environments (subject to being safe), because the whole point of Leash Training as a physical substitute for the Recall is that the Recall shall later work regardless of the environment, regardless of the distractions in new situations!

You see that dog walking practice must start with SSCD (frequently interrupted by Long Line free time) to be successful!

Now, how do we get to that safe space if we have no garden or yard, and our puppy is not yet leash-trained??

Ha! Either our pup is still so small that we can carry our puppy, or we may need to lead our pup on the Short Lead into the car, or even walk our pup to the safe space (while being on the Short Lead). In this case however we better make that walk part of the Leash Training itself, or we may end up dragging our puppy there (I've seen it all!). Thus we would have to get our pup to fully match our movements during SSCD already indoors.

The Ultimate Goal of Leash Training

The above are the three stages of successful Puppy Leash Training, and you will notice that each stage gently leads to the ultimate goal of Leash Training: Training the Recall.

Our approach normally means that within just one week our new puppy is lead-experienced and lead-conform in standard situations. On all days after this first week we will simply extend the experience for our puppy: We will do the Leash Training in varying environments and situations.

You could go even further with Leash Training before you train the Recall, but those would be advanced stages that are not part of Puppy Leash Training as we considered it here. Actually, we will feature those and training the Recall in the next MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.

Leash Training and Obedience Training

Let me add a note on the popular 'Obedience Training' here:

Personally I would argue that the key point of all stages of Puppy Leash Training is that our pup experiences this primarily as FUN. In my opinion the whole discussion about 'Obedience Training' (and the pricey training courses, videos, books etc) is exaggerated if not misleading. Particularly when you have a German Shepherd:

A German Shepherd is a dog breed that you can (and should) compare with the role of a business manager, while the vast majority of other dog breeds by their nature assume the role of front-office workers or back-office workers

What contributed to the misunderstanding of the German Shepherd dog breed is the term 'working dog', and the fact that the GSD is a superior 'working dog'.

However, by their nature German Shepherds were bred to organize and manage large packs of individuals (originally a herd of sheep or other livestock, but equally possible a family with children) and to master unforeseen situations (whether dangerous or not). To stay calm and confident even when controlling a hundred sheep, of which 10 or more leave the herd in all directions, and at the same time (just imagine this once for yourself)!

This truly requires the character of a 'business manager', and the German Shepherd is one of very few breeds that can fulfil this role! - While say the Rottweiler's only natural response in stressful situations is aggression and unfocused biting, and where most other dog breeds simply duck or run away from (including the Boxer and Great Dane!).

German Shepherds have an unmatched ability to autonomously perform tasks that are evidently comparable with those a human business manager in an enterprise is performing. This is why many GSDs quickly show behavioral signs of boredom and get mentally and physically sick where they don't get enough challenges from their human carers - say because their human carers are exhausted after a long day of front-office or back-office work. neutral

And this is why many people make good dog owners but few make good GSD owners. To remain healthy (not to mention happy!), German Shepherds do need an incredible amount and variety of exercise and adventures.

While basic Obedience Training is crucial for every dog including GSDs, we must always remind ourselves that, having a German Shepherd, dog obedience training and hence leash training too are a two-way street, where we do no more than to ensure that our German Shepherd puppy learns to accept us as Pack leader - not to act like a despot trying to control front-office or back-office staff, like say with endless heeling and "By Foot!" calls.

If you need that(?) a different dog breed is the better choice.

If you seek a complete Leash Training Guide f, see the link, it's mine, so it's quality stuff. wink

If you prefer to see and hear it all in action, the professional top dog trainer Doggy Dan of course has fantastic videos on Leash Training too, see his online video training site (includes puppy training too).



  • Above is the 'roadmap' for GSD Puppy Leash Training; general Leash Training secrets you had already found in a prior Periodical
  • Although in some ways easier, leash training a puppy does offer specific challenges; crucial is that we don't get stressed out when our puppy initially treats the lead like a toy - the right leash introduction is the key to prevent this (see stage 1)
  • See above for the list of similarities of adult GSD Leash Training and GSD Puppy Leash Training; the key point here is: Never walk with a tight leash! Get rid of this issue once and for all by applying the recommendations explained above
  • Before you get the (next) GSD puppy, get a puppy-suitable collar f for outdoors, and a genuine leather collar f for indoors. And leave a collar on all the time
  • Start with Leash Training straight away when you get your pup
  • Undertake your (next) Puppy Leash Training in three consecutive stages as laid out above
  • At every stage, ensure that your pup experiences the leash training as FUN (as much as possible)
  • Always remember that the lead should only serve as physical restraint where the trained restraint (the Recall) is yet unreliable in the given situation
  • For successful Puppy Leash Training you need the puppy-suitable collar, a Long Leash f, and a Short Leash f
  • Crucial is how you use the collar and the leads: The collar to gently and slowly attach the lead and to perform the Collar Freeze and Isolation, the Short Lead to keep your pup safe (close to you) and to perform SSCD, and the Long Lead to let your pup roam freely within a safe space while you keep ultimate control that your puppy doesn't leave that safe space.
  • Undertake your Puppy Leash Training in as many different environments and situations as possible, because (even fully trained) dogs do react differently depending on the environment and situation. Bascially, we socialize our pup with a variety of environments and situations.

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