“My dog won’t let me put the collar on without a fight! It’s such a struggle to even get out the door!”

The dream is for your dog to enjoy going on long walks with you, a faithful companion that’s by your side wherever life’s path takes you, and that adds more enjoyment than stress to all outings. Having a dog that constantly pulls on the leash, or fights before you even get out the door is frustrating. This results in fewer outings, dogs being left at home, and increased negative behavior because of unreleased, pent-up energy.

Walks are good for you and your dog. Moderate exercise can enhance our mood, connect us to our neighborhood and community, and reduce our risk for potential health problems. Long walks also benefit your dog’s behavior, helping reduce their stress and learn to behave in various settings.  Well behaved dogs spend their energy, curiosity and active time outside, so they can relax, cuddle and rest calmly inside. Doesn’t that sound nice? Getting their energy out in productive ways will guarantee a better behaved dog!  It’s really that simple.

The difference between a well loved dog and a headache dog often comes down to the amount of exercise they get, coupled with good routines, positive use of the crate and healthy boundary setting.  But adequate exercise is a key component to training a calm and well behaved dog.

How do we get our dogs to like walks?

The first step is to make positive associations with the collar and leash.

Introducing the leash and collar:

In the beginning, everything we do should build trust and connection. Take the first days of puppy being home to focus on the basics. Let her learn her name and incorporate gentle petting. Show positive association with all necessary routines, including putting on the collar and introducing the leash.

We want this step to be as enjoyable and welcoming as possible. It’s going to be a daily part of life with your dog for years to come.  Getting the collar on and bringing out the leash are often the first signals that a walk is about to follow!  At a minimum, we want the idea of the collar or leash to be as stress-free and easy as possible. 

(By the way, I’ve linked to some of my favorite collars and leashes above, but be sure to check out My Loyal Hound’s Shop page for the full selection of my favorite collars, leashes and other trainer-approved dog products!)

1. Have the collar and leash available for exploration

Make sure your dog has ample time to sniff and explore the leash and collar.  Have the leash and collar near your dog’s food bowl.  When your dog is happily resting, finger the leash and collar in your hands, clicking the latch or clip (not annoyingly, yet regularly) so your dog gets used to the sound without associating it with any other action related to him.

If your dog shows any curiosity, sniffing or looking your way, say “Good Puppy” to praise their interest.  At this stage, we are just having the leash and collar around for exploration and not necessarily something to put on and off.  Obviously, you will put the collar on for outings, but then follow these instructions to give your pup time to interact with the collar and leash. 

If he wants to nibble on the collar or leash, have a treat at the ready to entice your dog to choose the treat over chewing the leash/collar.  Do not encourage nibbling the collar or leash, but rather praise for sniffing, licking or even non-interest.

2. Get your dog used to coming when called and pet

Before meal time, take a few high value treats or some of your dog’s kibble and call her to you, “Puppy, Come!”  When she comes to you, give her a treat and gently touch the top of her head.  Move away, or let her lose interest and repeat, “Puppy, Come!”  When this game feels like it is gaining momentum and your dog is happily coming to get the special treat, you can begin to pet him/her on the top of his head.  This stage alone might take a few days to really master.  We want our dog coming to us happily when called, treated generously for coming and allowing us to touch her head and neck area.

While mastering this stage might take a little time, don’t get discouraged if your dog is reluctant to come when called.  Keep your energy loving and the practice of teaching your puppy her name upbeat.  The name of the game here is connection.  So, take time each day to work this activity.  If there is only one thing you teach your dog, it is to love her name and to come when called.  That is the most important training there is, and all your time invested in teaching this will pay off!  I would play this game regularly for at least a week before moving to the next activity below.

3. Practice the game of “Collar-on/Collar-off”

In dog training, the term “desensitize” means to gradually expose your dog to something.  Desensitizing them to touch means they are not reactive at all to being touched.  Desensitizing your dog to the sound of the doorbell means they will have no reaction when the doorbell rings. This is because it has been used so regularly with no negative (or positive) consequence, that the sound alone does not warrant a response.  In the game “Collar on/Collar off,” we want to desensitize your dog from having the collar put on or touched.

Here is how you play this game: Before mealtime and throughout the day, call your dog to you with special treats.  When the dog comes, you will put the collar on (click), pet your dog, and then collar off (click).  Walk around the house to a new location (and pause to let your dog lose interest in you) and repeat.  Call your dog to you again, treat, collar-on, pet with love, collar-off. Repeat.

There is no limit to how many times you can repeat this activity, or how often you should play each day.  The more you play, however, the more your dog will love his collar. Coming to you inside the house will become a joyful event for both of you!  Joy is a dog running to you joyfully (tail wagging) when you call his name!

Pro-Tip:  Never chase your dog to get the collar on.  Work on this game, and earn your dog’s trust. Once you have mastered this game and you feel your dog is ready to graduate to the next level, just leave the collar on (except for bedtime) so you never-ever leave the house without the collar.

4. Leash-on/Leash-off

You want to also work on getting the leash to be a fun and welcome activity that signals pleasant outings.  Begin this activity by simply laying the leash by your dog’s food bowl each meal.  Easy-peasy.  Just let your dog see and step over the leash on her way to her meal.

If you are using the crate (and I hope you are!), have the leash near and around the crate when your fur baby goes to bed.

Desensitize your dog to the leash as an inanimate and harmless object that holds zero value in and of itself.

When you’ve mastered “Collar-on/Collar-off” and you’re ready to commit to “Leash-On/ Leash-Off,” you’ll follow the same general steps for this activity. Call your dog to you, treat, pet, clip leash on, and take the leash off.  At this stage, your dog’s collar should already usually be on her during waking hours, so you won’t need to worry about putting the collar on. For this activity we are reinforcing coming when called. Work toward familiarizing your dog to the sound of the leash clicking on and off.

I know there are many more things to learn with walking on leash, teaching loose leash walking, door manners and socialization.  But I wanted to teach this lesson first.  Getting your dog comfortable coming when called will serve as a very solid foundation for all future training.  Raising a calm dog means they trust you and don’t startle easily.  All of the activities outlined in this blog will lay a solid foundation for future training lessons.

Most of my readers are ambitious, educated and highly motivated professionals.  The biggest danger I find when teaching my clients how to train their dogs is their desire to moving too quickly.  When I teach a lesson, I really recommend you work on that same lesson 5 minutes (or more) every day for a week (or more until the lesson is mastered). We are looking for a level of mastery that only comes from repetition and reward. But, I strongly discourage you from moving too quickly to the next lesson.  Dog training is not something we breeze through.  Taking time to really master each step, training consistently with calmness and patience will yield greater returns than cramming in too many lessons all at once, or not reviewing sufficiently.

Of course your dog will need to go potty outside before all 4 of these activities are fully mastered. This means you will put the collar on and use the leash regardless of mastery. Aim to move slowly and follow the steps outlined above as you prepare for your walks. Play the game a few times before you actually leave the house (if you can!). 

Practice Makes Progress

In addition to working on this when you actually prepare for an outing, over the next several weeks, use your “training time” to playfully introduce the leash and collar. Create positive associations and build trust by calling your dog’s name regularly and playfully around the house. 

If your dog seems fearful or reluctant with the collar or the leash, these activities might require more time to practice.  If your dog has no reaction and seems playful and eager for each of these activities, then (and only then) can you breeze through this. Begin to work on other training commands that might be more challenging for your pup!

Some older dogs, rescues for example, or dogs being rehoused need to practice these skills too.  This is not only valid information for young pups.  All dogs that are reluctant to come when called or don’t like collar or leash will benefit from these lessons.

I hope you found this helpful!  Please send me an email at andrea@myloyalhound.com if you have any follow up questions. I’d love to help you out.

How is introducing the collar and leash going for you? Let me know in the comments below, or join the discussion on Facebook or Instagram. What topic would you like me to cover next?

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