Getting a puppy comfortable with a leash
August 10, 2013 2:52 PM   Subscribe

My 3 month old shelter puppy seriously dislikes everything to do with his leash. This makes getting him out of the house....frustrating, and carrying him out the door will be ridiculous when he is 70 pounds. What am I doing wrong/not trying?

3 month old puppy Finlay is a english setter/labrador/dalmation mix. He's otherwise exactly like a puppy: happy, curious, goofy, trusting and loving.

- He's been with me now for 10 days, has become part of the family, knows we are his pack but since day 1 has resisted/feared everything to do with his leash.
- Wears a collar 24/7, happily
- The leash even making an appearance/getting dangled immediately changes his demeanor - he retreats and tries to hide, looks nervous
- He came from a shelter/foster situation with very loving and knowlegable handlers, no known previous issues.
- Happily follows me out the front door and in to the driveway (without a leash) when I pop out to the car for a minute and never strays more than a couple of feet
- Taken him, daily, to several different parks and places and he genuinely enjoys exploring is happy walking on a leash

It's....getting him on the leash, out of the house and in to the car or more than 20 feet down the block. I just now tried to take him for a mini-walk down the block and it was a pathetic display. It's not stubbornness or fear, it's almost sadness or 'please, please don't make me do this'. Once he's far enough away from the house, he's back to his old happy self.

I've tried treats
I've tried plenty of praise
I've tried calmly not making the leash a big deal
I've tried getting super excited about the leash "whoop whoop fin! walkies!"
I've tried leaving the leash near his dog-bed so it's around (he just chews on it).

I really, really don't want to drag him, that would seem to make the issue worse. I am VERY patient and dogs will be quirky, so if this resolves itself over time (as I assume it will...or won't), fine, no big, but what can I do to make 'THE LEASH' less of a 'thing'.

Thanks hive-mind!
posted by BlerpityBloop to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite say that he only does this near your house. Are you sure it's the leash that's the problem, and not something outside he has to walk by that may be freaking him out instead?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:14 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you tried having him on the leash but just hanging out in the house?

Get the leash, set it next to you on couch or chair or such. When he is calm and nearby, start petting him and just quietly/subtly clip the leash on and continue the calm petting session. If he's afraid of it dragging after him, have the leash attached, but him attached to you. Let him follow you around while attached to you, having it be happy and fun and occasional treats. That way it is all happening in a safe and positive environment.

Also perhaps try a different leash. If this one is leather, try nylon, etc.
posted by HermitDog at 3:14 PM on August 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Are you putting a leash on his collar or using a harness? I strongly advocate harnesses for safety, since they can't back out of them, and a harness like the Gentle Leader EasyWalk hooks in front at the chest and seems to make them less head-shy.

Ultimately, he'll grow out of it, but I'd say try a harness. Also, practice a training routine for getting out the door (as that might actually be the problem, doorway order is a hierarchy thing, and he may be struggling with you needing to go first or his foster family may have had to stop him door-bolting and now it's weird, who knows).

And yes, use it in the house. Do 5-minute sit-stay-shake or whatever practice with it on.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:16 PM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Don't want to threadsit, just want to add that Fin has zero problem following me in and out of the front door and down the driveway so long as he does not have a leash on. He's not scared of the outside world, it's the 'leash putting on and going out' process.

I just dropped the leash on his dog-bed and he curled up next to it. If I pick it up and try to put it on him he will cower away. I'll try just having it on in the house with praise and normal activity once he stops snoring.

Also, I'm debating getting a harness once he is full grown, but the reasons seem 'you can drag him easier', and i don't want to just drag him around right now.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 3:30 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like HermitDog's idea of having the leash on in the house.

Maybe you could try leaving it on after you come back from a walk for the rest of the day, then just start putting it on and taking it off at random times not necessarily connected to taking him for a walk, and if his fear is connected to being dragged out of somewhere once, that might desensitize him.
posted by jamjam at 4:02 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could make the leash a play thing? Tie a rubber band around it and toss it. If he brings it back he gets a treat. After a few rounds of fetch, clip then treat then take it right of. Rinse and repeat as needed until the clip on process is fun for him.
posted by MayNicholas at 4:06 PM on August 10, 2013

My dog went through this as a young puppy. It was when the leash was attached to his collar that he would cower and pull away. I changed collars so I was pulling less directly on his neck. I used a harness instead. That helped a lot and also he learned in time (10 days is not a lot of time) that if he sat to be leashed good things happened; treats, praise and trips. If he did not sit to be leashed he got nothing.

If I pick up his leash he sits. If I walk towards the door he sits. I never, ever have to chase him to leash him up.
posted by cairnoflore at 4:10 PM on August 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Make a super short leash out of a piece of rope and a snapswivel - like 5 inches long - and leave it on him, it will be too short for him to chew, but you can occasionally hold it. Then gradually make it longer, over the course of days if necessary, so he can get used to it.
posted by 445supermag at 4:41 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a long shot, but he might relate going on the lead to going to new scary places. He went on the lead one day and ended up at a new house with a new family, and while he loves you all now it was a big change for the little guy. Honestly I'd just keep up what you are doing, eventually the realization that leads mean happy fun walk time will outweigh any fear. I'd avoid justifying his fear in his mind by over reassuring him in anyway, if that makes sense, and just keep acting like it's no big thing. As you say he's fine going in and out your house normally, and doesn't seem to mind it once he gets going so I don't think it's fear of the outside or of walking on the lead.
posted by wwax at 5:33 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

It also sounds like it might be hurting him a little to put the leash on. Definitely try a harness, or a different collar, or change the way you put the leash on, or loosen his current collar a little bit. Though it may already be that he's associating putting the leash on with ouchy pinching.

Does he act the same way when you put the leash on in the car or elsewhere outside the house?
posted by billybunny at 5:39 PM on August 10, 2013

Even good, kind owners make mistakes. It's quite possible that your pup's previous owners pinched him once or twice or even accidentally choked him when putting the leash on and now he can't shake that. I'd try a harness or a lead leash even though he's so small.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:27 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Harnesses do make it easier on the dog, it's not to more effectively pull them! Every dog pulls at the leash sometimes, it's not like you can anticipate when an awesome squirrel or biker or other dog will come whizzing by. The leash connected to a collar concentrates force on the dog's neck (a former roomate's dog would pull so hard she would choke herself, a collar goes right across the windpipe). The harness distributes the force across the chest and shoulders which are less painful places to have lots of force applied. The aforementioned self- choker got a gentle leader and a harness, and everything was better. Your pup may have been dragged in/out of a house on a leash, and the harness might make that less stressful.
posted by holyrood at 6:30 PM on August 10, 2013

Definitely get a harness. Maybe you are having some confusion over different types of harnesses, there are indeed some specialized harnesses or things that look like harnesses with handles meant for a human to grab easily. They will probably be for a special purpose of some sort: life vests for hunting dogs with a handle in case you need to pull the dog swiftly from water, police or military dogs, assistance dogs may have a harness with handles so the dog can help someone reposition themselves.

It will be much easier to train him to be on a leash with the appropriate gear now than to wait until he is fully grown, you should be able to get a harness for around $10 for a small dog. If he strains against the collar, get an anti-pull harness. Of course this is all much cheaper than any vet visits he might require from injuries due to pulling against a collar.

DO put the harness on him and leave it on for a bit at various times so he does not associate it with the leash. It sounds like you have no intentions of dragging him around, but for future readers, dragging or otherwise forcefully moving the dog is not going to be helpful if you find yourself in the OP's situation.

You don't mention what type of leash it is or if you have more than one, but it's possible that his fear is associated with a specific type of leash (flat, round, chain, auto-retractable, etc.). Something to try would be a different type.

Something else to try: instead of putting on the leash and bringing him to the car or out the front door, let him follow you outside or into the car and put the leash on there.
posted by yohko at 7:04 PM on August 10, 2013

I would also try a higher value treat just for leash times--like rotisserie chicken or hot dog slices.
posted by dottiechang at 7:45 PM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

My vote is for switching to a harness, plus having it on in the house, plus high-value treats, plus doing it all for an absolutely ridiculous amount of time cheerfully and without any expectation that it'll work. Dogs are really easy to train, and thus hard to untrain, and it sounds to me like someone trained this one to be scared of leashes or at least this leash. You have to be really persistent and above all keep doing the same thing the same way over and over, always rewarding only exactly what you mean to. Pick one new thing and go with it.

Also, what a cute little dude! Thank you for posting that picture. :)
posted by SMPA at 7:53 PM on August 10, 2013

If it's a pulling/dragging issue, try an EZ Walk harness. I use one with my 60 lb dog and it makes walks unbelievably easier than without.

It took my dog a few days to be willing to cooperate with putting the harness on, and even now it's not his favorite thing about walks. Luckily, my dog loves walks, so eventually the annoying harness was rewarded by getting to go on fun walks.

If your dog doesn't really like walks in the first place, the EZ Walk might not be enough. I would keep treating and praising, and remember that it takes a while to settle into a new home. My dog took about two weeks to get the hang of certain aspects of life with me, and now he does all that stuff like a champ. (stuff like walking up stairs, riding in the car, going to the bathroom on a schedule, sleeping in his kennel, etc.)
posted by Sara C. at 9:17 PM on August 10, 2013

Best answer: Patience. Patience as in you don't need to walk him and have nothing else to do. Have him sit. High value treat. Show him the leash. Treat. Do not clip it on him.

Repeat this until he can see the leash without losing focus on the fact that he's going to get an awesome small piec of roast chicken. Or a hot dog piece, or whatever extraordinary treat you're using.

And when I say repeat this, assume days of doing this game.

Then, progress each time with the leash a little closer. Don't try clipping him. Just get him used to "leash near = awesome." Be unhurried and patient.

One day, you'll clip the leash on, he'll tolerate it, and you'll give him another awesome treat.

Then just hang out in the house. No outdoors, just hey, this leash on you is totally normal.

Small changes, patience. And come down to his level when you attach the leash (as opposed to looming above him).
posted by zippy at 9:45 PM on August 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Have you taken him to puppy classes yet? It would probably be really helpful for a professional to actually see his behavior and help you through this. I was actually amazed at how great the class was at our local Petco. It was like $100 for 6 classes, and it was just great. I have a lot of experience with dogs but I realized that there was a lot I didn't know.
posted by radioamy at 12:47 PM on August 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, sometimes dogs are just weird.

My dog loves her walks, but hates having to put her head through the harness and always tries to dodge it. The body language seems to say "awwww, maaan, I gotta do this? Again? This is the worst thing ever!" Sometimes she'll even run away and hide in her bed; if I sit down on the floor by the front door and say "come on, buddy, time for a walk", she'll reluctantly slink over and let me put the harness on. Once it's actually on, she's perfectly happy.

She's also weird about going down the steps at the front door. Sometimes she'll bound down them happily, and other days I give up and carry her down them. Again, once she's down the steps, she's back to her happy bouncy self. I assume she slipped or something and scared herself years ago, and the memory stuck.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:42 PM on August 11, 2013

Sorry, coming back late but I just wanted to say that no, harnesses are not for dragging. They are for standing your ground, though, and for keeping your dog from slipping his leash and getting killed. Nobody here is telling you to drag your dog.

My dogsitters/trainers won't walk dogs on collars, and don't allow collars at all in training classes or groups, and strongly encourage customers not to use collars on unattended dogs (for a lot of the same reasons kennels and sometimes vets won't leave a collar on). That's mostly for safety reasons, but they also feel harnesses facilitate a lot more subtle communication between the dog and the person on the other end of the leash.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:03 AM on August 12, 2013

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