Q: I have a 9-week-old female Yorkie that refuses to walk on a leash. I may get her moving for two or three steps, but then she puts on the brakes and refuses to budge. Should I just be carrying her everywhere until she decides to walk on her own?
A: Leash walking seems so basic to us, but first-time experiences for a puppy can be overwhelming. Keeping in mind that leash walking is an activity you will likely want to repeat for the next 10 years or so, it makes sense to introduce it positively from the beginning.
Many owners of small breeds make the mistake of carrying their little one around — it is faster and easier — to the point that they are never leash-trained. This can be a problem down the road. A good way to introduce a puppy to a leash and collar is to begin in the home.
Choose a lightweight, soft material for a collar, and an equally lightweight leash. You can begin by leaving both on the floor for your puppy to explore on her own. Leave them by the food and water bowl, for example, so she is sure to see and investigate them if she chooses.
After that brief introductory period, place the collar on her in the house and allow her to adjust to wearing it. She may scratch at it or try to get her mouth on it — she may even decide she can’t move around while wearing it. Just give her a little time to acclimate; you can help by offering an enticing distraction, such as playing with toys or tossing a few tasty treats around her that she must move a few steps to get to.
Once she has adjusted to wearing the collar, which may take a few minutes or days, attach the lightweight leash to it, and let it just drag around behind her as she moves through the house.
Another acclimation period is expected here, so be patient. Allow her to investigate it any way she wants, including chewing on it. Once she has accepted its presence, gather a handful of treats, pick up the leash and simply hold onto it and follow her while she moves around the house, while praising her and giving her frequent treats.
As she becomes more mobile and confident while wearing the lightweight leash and collar, with you following along handing out goodies, begin to encourage her to walk with you in a new direction.
At this point, you become the leader, instead of the follower. Aim for only a few steps at a time, and offer lots of treats and praise to encourage her to voluntarily move with you. Do not pull her in the direction you wish her to go; treats and praise are incentives to move with you.
When it’s time to take your puppy outside, be prepared to go slowly again. Although she should be comfortable walking with you on a leash, now the presence of everything in the world is there to grab her attention. Let her investigate, while you follow along — be gentle and encouraging.
I suspect that if you proceed slowly and work to build her confidence, she’ll adapt quickly and truly enjoy leash walking.