There is nothing more frustrating and tiring than trying to control a Dane who pulls, drags, and shoves you around when on a leash. It is frustrating for me to see it, because it is so easy to prevent and correct. Like all other behaviors, walking nicely on a leash is easiest to teach as a puppy. I highly recommend you leash train your Dane right away, don’t wait for puppy class because they will be 40 or so pounds by 12 weeks.
Step One: as soon as your puppy is home, about 8-9 weeks old, put a collar on him or her. This gets them accustomed to the sensation of something on their neck. They may scratch at it, or try to get it off, but as long as it is not too loose, they can’t remove it themselves. They will get used to it, so resist the urge to remove the collar when they are fussing about it. If you wish, you can remove it once they are not disturbed by it, but mine never leave the house without it on! The little ones can be hard to get ahold of if you need to without a collar.
Step 2: When a puppy is quiety chewing a bone, or resting, introduce them to their leash. Let your puppy smell the leash and touch it (click/treat if you are clicker training), but don’t let them mouth it yet–it is not a toy, and they need to learn that.
To a puppy, everything is a toy until you teach them what is and what isn’t. A simple correction like “ahhg” or “tssh” with a frown or little a nose tap will usually be enough for them to return to the bone. If they leave it, click and treat. Later on, you may wish to teach them to find and bring it, but for an 8 wk old, it doesn’t go in their mouths.
introducing the leash to 9 wk old Kenai
Step 3: When you take them outside to relieve themselves, put the leash on them and simply go where they go with it. This is just letting them get used to being attached to you.
If there is somewhere they are going you don’t want them to go, like your flowerbeds, the neighbors yard, etc, simply get their attention and lure them back to you with a treat. Since I’m rewarding a service dog candidate for every bit of attention they give me and every time they come to me, they not only get a click, they get lots of treats.
“Old school” training would suggest a leash pop and “no”, but really I want the puppy to be following me, leash or no leash, so the less I have to use the leash the better. I’d rather reward attentiveness, not correct unless I must.
Do this everytime you go out until you think the puppy understands coming back to you. I play a “name game” alot, where every time a puppy hears their name and looks, they get a click and reward. But I don’t use it if there is a possibility they will ignore it.
Step 4: When the puppy listens to his name and understands, then you start teaching them to walk with you instead of you walking with them. This is still the first week or so, before they start wandering the neighborhood.
Begin when the puppy is calm, and the house is quiet. I always start in the house because there are fewer new things to distract their little noses, and when coming back inside after play or potty.
Put the leash on them, and use a treat in front of their nose to get them to walk beside you. You can say “heel” or “walk” if you like, but the less talking you do the better: it teaches the pup that when you do speak they need to listen. I let them nibble the treat or just follow it for a few feet, then click and give them the treat. We do it again a few more feet.
You don’t have to always have a treat in front of them once they are following you, just when they seem to want to do something else, and the treat will return their attention to you. If they move ahead, use the treat to move them back. Then click and give the treat when the are in the right position.
Anytime the leash is not loose and hanging, stop. Eventually the pup will realize they aren’t able to go anywhere, and look at you. You can either 1)click and make them come for a treat or affection, or 2) wait until the tension on the leash is released, then click and treat. You want them to learn that no tension is treat, tension is going nowhere!
Left or right side doesn’t really matter unless you intend to train for obedience trials, showing, etc. Personally, I train to the left side because I want to have my right hand free. Just pick the side you like and stick with it. Do this for 2-5 minutes several times a day, and always praise when they are walking without a treat, and session is done.
Again, choose a time when they are calm or just almost sleepy, put the leash on, and take them outside. Also choose a time when the street is quiet so there are fewer distractions. Remember you always go first or together, be it through the door or out the gate!
Puppies have a short attention span, and are very curious little things, so don’t expect to walk the whole block right away. Just walk a little, then go home.
Don’t let them off leash outside your own yard–it is much too dangerous. If you want them to smell and explore, then kneel down with them. That way they learn that there are times they can sniff, but when you stand up, it means to walk nicely on the leash. Do this for 15 minutes or so at a time, several times a day.
You are likely to encounter dogs when walking outside. Some will be inside a fenced yard and some will be on a leash. A fenced dog will probably be at the fence when you get there, and if your puppy is interested, kneel down with them to greet the dog. If they are frightened, don’t run away!
Simply turn your back to the dog, and let your puppy sit in front of you. Hold him if you have to, and he will calm down if you are calm. Eventually the barking or excited dog will quiet down, and then you can either greet or walk on. Of course, a really aggressive dog should be avoided.
Leashed dogs, if calm and friendly are a great exposure for your pup. They will sniff bottoms and such, which is how dogs get to know each other. The smell is the dog’s name, and in the scent is his personality and level of dominance. Let them be friends awhile, then move on, using the treat if you must to redirect the pup’s attention.
If an excitable dog approaches, and you know the person, you can gently ask them to calm their dog a little bit before they meet so the excitement doesn’t make your puppy misbehave. If you don’t know them, or the dog seems out of control, you can always say “I’m sorry, but my puppy is training to walk without greeting dogs for obedience class”. Most people will respect that.
Step 6: Gradually increase the time you walk, and shorten the times you stop and kneel down for them to sniff. Be sure to praise them quietly when they are walking with you instead of the treat. As they improve, chose times that have more activity outside to walk, and use the treat to return their attention to walking with you. By the time they are in puppy class, they will much easier to control, and will be ready to learn what you want them too, because they won’t be as distracted by the noise and presence of other puppies.
At about 12-16 weeks old, your pup will go through a phase of stubbornness and independence, so don’t be surprised if that sweet dear who went anywhere with you and never once pulled on the leash starts pulling like a sled dog! It’s normal.
The easiest and least frustrating way to stop this is a gentle leader. They will likely fight it at first, but it is self-correcting: anytime the puppy pulls on the leash, the strap around their muzzle tightens. It mimics the disciplining muzzle bite of an alpha dog, who will hold a dog’s muzzle if they don’t behave.
The gentle leader is not a muzzle, they can eat and drink and everything else. But it requires very little strength or effort on your part while being very effective at putting an end to the leash pulling. A child can walk a huge unruly beast with it!
It is an excellent and painless tool (unlike prong collars) to break all sorts of unpleasant habits in dogs of any age or size. Jumping, pulling, lunging, charging the door, crawling all over small children, refusing to move when told, that zig zag walk between your legs and around the shrubbery…
So enjoy your walks, and do it often!