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Canine Behavior/Puppy with fear of leash


Hi Jody,

I have a client with a 10 week old Scottish Terrier pup.
We have come to start doing recall but whenever you put her leash on her she bucks like a donkey and backs off. She refuses to do anything and hides with it on. The owner reports the few times he has tried to put her leash on her she does the same (buckarooing and pulling backwards).
Obviously I have said to him to leave it on her for short intervals when she is doing something she likes (e.g. eating or playing ball which she only does for a minute before becoming bored so not terribly useful) in order to desenitize her as she now has a negative association with it.
Am I missing something? Is there something else the owners can be doing until I  next go and visit to speed things up?
Thank you

Thank you for your question. Puppies frequently are worried about leashes and collars.

I would back up to just leaving the leash in view. Put it on the floor a few feet from where the puppy is eating or playing or cuddling. Allow the puppy to sniff it or even just look at it if that's all she's comfortable with. Praise and reward with treats for any engagement the puppy offers toward the leash.

NOTE - don't leave the leash out all the time or it will likely become a chew toy. But bring it out for 5-10 minutes at a time and allow the puppy to get used to its presence and praise and reward with tasty treats for any engagement. This is an excellent mealtime activity - make sure that there are super tasty treats thrown in with the regular food if feeding kibble. Reduce the regular food ration to account for the extra calories from the cheese and meat and such.

Then, I would use Chirag Patel's Boom Boom Puppy Power video as a guideline for introducing the leash (reaching to put it on, putting it on, having it on, etc). His video is actually a puppy concerned with her collar, not the leash, but the premise will be the same.

Once the leash is attached, initially you/the owner will take it off after just a few seconds. Then build up to having it on and tossing the teat a few feet away so the puppy is getting used to moving with the leash on, and this results in access to super tasty treats. Then, once the puppy is comfortable with having it put on and dragging it around, I lead into holding the leash with NO tension at all, and just following the puppy around so that puppy gets used to moving with a leash attached and human right near by.  Any time the puppy engages the handler during those exercises, praise and reward with super tasty treats. This will lead into loose leash walking exercises nicely.

If you're in a secure area, you can practice Come without the leash on at all. Set the dog up to be excited and eager to get to the person who will be calling and when the puppy is clearly ready to run to the caller, that person should give the preferred cue.

I play a Recall Relay game with clients. This takes 2 people. One person gently restrains the puppy. This could be simply a hand in front of puppy's chest or a finger looped through the collar or body harness - no pressure, just there in case the puppy tries to leave. The person who will be doing the cue moves away from the puppy while staying facing the puppy. While moving away, that person gets puppy riled up and excited. This usually happens with inviting talk. I say things like, "are ya ready???? Do ya wanna? Are you gonna????" with a playful tone/pitch. When puppy is actively trying to run toward me, I give the cue, "Fido COME!!!!" in a big, cheery voice. At the moment that I say the magic word (COME), the other person releases the dog. As puppy charges toward me, I cheer her on, "yea!!!! good girl!!!!" as I clap my hands playfully. When she arrives, we have a party. I praise continuously while dropping treats all around, petting, stroking and hooking a finger in the collar or harness with tons of treats and praise (yes I know I repeated the treats/praise in my description - cuz it's that important). This party should last a good 10 seconds. Then, I will gently restrain while the other person takes their turn.

The key is to get Puppy in such a state that you know her goal is to get to the person who is about to give the recall cue and then make it the most amazing thing in the world when she gets there.

You can also hedge your bets and take advantage of moments in life when she's off leash and moving around. Pay attention and when you/the owner are 95% certain that she will respond when you call, give the cue, cheer her on as she approaches and have a party when she gets there.

You can start in a small space like a bedroom and build up to larger spaces and then outdoor spaces as this will make it easier, especially if working off leash on this skill.

NOTE - often when trying to get a dog to recall to you (especially off leash), you need to be the most exciting thing in the environment. This means that the dog knows that awesome happens when they get to you (treat party and tons of praise). But it also can mean that you have to be animated. If I need to be more exciting than, say a squirrel, I will get my dog's attention and then take off running away from my dog with a Come command. Now the chase game is happening with me as the target. As soon as I see my dog has turned to run toward me, I face my dog and cheer them on and have a major party when they get to me. After all, they did just choose me over a squirrel!!!

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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