Getting Puppy Used to Collar and Lead

Before we start to actually handle or train our puppy/dog, we ourselves need to learn the art of lead handling.

Believe it or not, handling a simple thing like a lead takes a large amount of skill itself.

Dog leads are the most common tools used by dog owners. Learning how to introduce them and how to use them correctly will make life easier and happier for you and your dog!

Dog obedience training or any normal everyday activity with your dog would be impossible without this tool, especially because they are required by law in most places.

A lead is one of the most used (and abused) tools in the history of the dog/human relationship.

The purpose of the dog lead has evolved through history however, even today just like a thousand years ago its primary job is to keep our dog within a given proximity to us,  preventing the animal from running away or performing some damaging/dangerous action to himself or to the environment.

A dog lead is one of the first tools that most dog owners encounter during their interactions with their dog. For many, from that point on, this tool becomes a life-time nightmare and a constant reminder of unpleasant walks while being pulled all over the place. But there is another side to that coin.

The dog on the other end of the lead has his side of the story as well.

One of the first mistakes that people make starts before we even put a lead on our dog. Most dog owners tend to forget, or they are not aware of the fact that our dog does not know why he needs to be next to us.

For some reason most of us expect that as soon as we put a lead on our dog, he will “clue in” to what the purpose is of it, and that they can move right along to dog obedience training.

First of all, most dogs naturally feel uncomfortable in our close proximity. They are aware of personal space, their own, that is, as this is a particularly important part in a dog’s world, just as it is in ours.

So being on a lead interferes with their perception of what is and is not acceptable as far as personal space is concerned.

The second thing is that it is completely unnatural for a dog to walk at our pace, following us at a certain distance.

Third, there is no reason for a dog to walk on one specific side of us.

As mentioned above, for some reason most of us simply expect our dog to figure out this huge dilemma of where to place himself, mostly on his own and normally, of course, if he is not fast enough in figuring this out most dog owners tend to “help” their dog by using that same lead in such a manner that the dog ends up associating the tool as something potentially unpleasant.

COLLAR TRAINING

I find it extremely useful to train my puppy from an early age to accept me running my hands all over their body in a calming manner especially around the neck area, as I usually find that otherwise the can become extremely fidgety or inquisitive when you try to introduce the collar.

One of the best ways to start the lead training experience right, is to slowly desensitise our puppy to the collar. Help them learn that the collar is a positive thing that gets put on before a fun outing. Here is how I desensitised my dog to wearing a collar –

  • First, I get some food that my dog really likes.
  • Then I ask them for a Sit, show him the collar and
    reward.
  • I keep repeating this until he gets comfortable and is looking forward to seeing the collar.
  • Next, I briefly touch my puppy with the collar and treat him for staying calm. I repeat until he is comfortable with this new step.
  • Then, I drape the collar on his neck and reward. I repeat until he is relaxed and comfortable.
  • I continue doing a little more each time so that the collar becomes more and more familiar, in a positive way.
  • If I observe any kind of stress from my dog, I back off, and go back to the previous step. This ensures that collar training sessions are always fun and rewarding.

Note that the snap sound made when fastening a collar can sometimes startle a dog or even a puppy. A useful added step is to have some snap sessions. First, I snap the collar without it being on my dog’s neck, treat, and so on. Later, when I snap the collar around his neck, he will already be comfortable with the sound.

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 the puppy will have enough to deal with getting used to a completely new environment and family.

You could begin training your puppy to get used to a lead and collar from their 3rd day home, and many people do, but there is not really any need to hurry into this stage of training.

I recommend waiting until they are 10 weeks of age.

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

And during house training you do not need to lead them outside; they are so small at this age that you can simply scoop them up and carry them.

But by getting them used to a collar and lead at 10 weeks old, they will be comfortable wearing them by 12 weeks when you can start to gradually walk them outside in the back yard.

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

My response to this question is do not be in a hurry to get out on long walks with your puppy. Too much physical exercise in the early stages may prove fatal towards your puppy’s health. Speak to your vet about the growth plates to understand more about the puppy’s physical development process. You can also ask your instructor for an information sheet on this subject. 

So, going back to the question, some take hours, some take days, and most will be comfortable by the end of 2 weeks if you take care to introduce them to it methodically.

So, by starting at 10 weeks, you have a full 2 weeks ahead of you to get them used to it, one week for a collar, then another for the lead before you really need to use them and that’s ample time, but, does not matter if it was to take longer as there is or should be no hurry.

 

INITIAL LEAD TRAINING

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

You will learn to avoid developing bad habits that lead to pulling later on and develop good habits that will help in future training. Personally, I do a lot of my training in the first few weeks without actually fully introducing the lead until approximately two – three weeks prior to me actually planning towards my first possible little stroll with the puppy. I know and appreciate that a lot of people have a huge hang ups centred around the development stages 3 and 4, therefore trying to get their puppy out on a lead to meet everything that life is going to throw at the puppy, hoping to have a balanced puppy as a result.

Can I just say, this is not necessarily going to be the case, there is no rush as often, rushing into trying to socialise your puppy to certain stimuli and environments too soon could actually have the adverse effect on the puppy.

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

To start with, I use a ridiculously small lead; basically, it is just the clip with about two to three inches of lead attached to it with no loop. The reason for this is to allow the puppy to adjust and become comfortable with the weight of the lead being attached to the collar without risk of the puppy becoming tangled or caught up around obstacles such as furniture around the house or even get their little paw caught. This prevents the puppy panicking and becoming worried about the lead being attached.

With this small lead, yes, I attach it to the collar and allow the puppy to wander around the room on its own for a very short period of time to start with (2-3 minutes building up to 5-10 minutes), then gradually leaving in place for slightly longer periods of time.

I have also found it quite useful to introduce some simple verbal commands after a few days of the pup wearing the small lead, for example.

“Lead on” – as I attach the short lead and “Lead off” – as I remove it.

After two to three weeks of using the short lead you can then progress to replacing it with a normal length lead. As previously stated, use a lead without a loop in the beginning, cut the loop off a cheap one or use a short rope from a hardware store and do not tie a loop in the end.

Do not Hold the Lead, Let Your Puppy Drag It Around

Once you have attached the lead, 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, that is only normal puppy behaviour and reaction.

Any excitable energy from you can project on to your puppy and you are 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 little obedience commands you may have already taught them, i.e. sit, down or offer them food or a toy and it will redirect their focus and attention away from the lead.

As Always – Take It Slowly

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

Attach it for 10 minutes of each session during the first couple of days, then 15 minutes of each session for the second day, 20 minutes for each session 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 lead.

Now you are approaching the stage where you can start to pick up the other end of the lead.

Picking Up the Other End of the Lead

Once your puppy is comfortable with the lead and dragging it around, you can now pick up the other end.

Do not try to walk your puppy, or start leading them around on the lead. They are not ready for this yet and will probably pull and fight against it, possibly even finding a new fear of the lead.

Instead, lightly hold the lead (just resting gently over one finger – the is no need to wrap the lead around your hand or hold on tight as if on a white knuckle fun fair ride) and simply just follow your puppy around, keeping the lead slack for them as you both go along.

You want to make sure the lead does not go tight in order to avoid your puppy pulling on and straining against the lead. 

It pays to have a pocket full of treats so if this does happen you can gain their attention and lure them toward you with a treat.

Ideally, practice this twice a day but remember to supervise the puppy at all times whilst they have a normal length lead attached.

How you control your dog prior to leaving the house to go for a walk, generally determines what sort of behaviour you can expect on the walk.

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