On/Off-Leash Training for your Small Breed Dog

You can start training your small breed puppy to walk with you and obey your commands early on in their life. Veterinarians recommend that you avoid walking your dog around the neighborhood or in parks until after he/she has had all of their core vaccinations. While some vaccinations can be given as early as 4 weeks, you can’t get a rabies shot until your pup is at least 12 weeks old and the final booster won’t be given until 16 weeks or so.

At just a few weeks old, as you begin potty training your puppy, you can start them on a collar and leash to get them used to wearing it. Then begin leading him/her out into your yard or area outside your apartment to the spot where you want him/her to go potty. Your dog will, likely, pull against the leash.

Walking on a Leash without Pulling

  1. When your dog tries to pull you toward something, just stop and stand still. Sooner or later he will stop pulling and turn and look at you.
  2. When the leash goes slack, give the dog praise or a treat. This will train him not to pull.
  3. If your dog is determined to continue pulling, when he pulls, simply hold the leash firmly and turn around and walk in the other direction. Your dog will have to follow. When he does follow, reward him with praise or a treat.
  4. When he/she does, turn and walk in the opposite direction. Reinforce the learning by rewarding your dog with praise or treats when he/she does follow.

Should you use a harness or collar to train your dog?


Dogs that pull and lunge should be using a harness. Pulling and lunging can strain the neck and throat with harmful affects over time. Small dog breeds such as Yorkies, Jack Russells, toy poodles and Chihuahuas are delicate and a collar can damage their necks. Breeds with short muzzles like pugs and French bulldogs also benefit from harnesses because of their tendency towards breathing complications and tracheal collapse. Harnesses come in two styles:

  1. Front-Attaching Harness. Typically used with larger dogs, this harness attaches in the front of the dog’s chest between the legs.
  1. Back-Attaching Harness. Many Small dog breeds do best with this type of harness, as it does not create the same pressure and tightening affect in the chest as the front-attaching harness. The harness has a clip at the dog’s back to hook to your leash.

Dogs can get out of a harness however if they pull or twist just right so it is good to look for a hardness that also has a collar connection, so that even if the dog comes loose from the harness, they are still tethered at the collar.

I personally recommend the WaggWalker by Bark Busters. We were recently introduced to this harness by our trainer, and it gave us immediate results against pulling and over excitement. A definite plus!

Advantages of using a harness

  1. They provide better control over your dog because it discourages pulling and jumping.
  2. Dogs with respiratory problems and neck injuries benefit from harnesses. Tugging and pulling on a collar puts extra stress on the windpipe and can provoke a severe coughing episode.
  3. Harnesses are great for specific breeds like Pugs who risk their eyeballs protruding from their sockets if too much pressure is put around their neck.
  4. It’s an effective training tool. They keep distracted pups focused if used properly for correction.

Disadvantages of using a harness

  1. Dog might not like originally like the feeling of the harness. Start early and allow them to get used to it. For small breed dogs, try starting with a thin cat harness and let them wear it around the house.
  2. A harness or any article of clothing worn for longer periods of time on a long haired dog breeds may cause matting of the hair under the arms in the belly. Regular grooming is a must.
  3. Back-Attaching harness may make pulling behaviour worse and the dog might not feel the owner’s guidance. To avoid this, keep the leash length shorter so that the dog is at your side while walking – never in front of you.


Your dog should always have a collar for identification purposes – to hold its many tags. Collars have also been traditionally used to walk and train dogs, however, as noted above, this is not recommended for small breed dogs. The fist step in finding the right color is to consider your dog’s breed and to measure the circumference of their neck. Generally speaking, take the measurement and add 1 inch for small dog breeds. Collars can come in different styles.

  1. The necklace-like collar is they type that most people are familiar with. Not only do these collars come in different lengths, they also will come in different widths. Thicker collars will provide more support making them ideal for strong dogs like bulldogs; however they also weigh more so they are a poor choice for very small breeds like Yorkshire terriers. If you are not sure, go with the collar that is the standard 1/2 – 1½ inch width.
  1. Martingale collar. For dogs that tend to slip out of their collars because of their very thin or very thick necks like Greyhounds or French bulldogs, the Martingale collar is often used. Martingale collars gently close around the neck when your dog pulls or backs up. Again, for smaller breed dogs, you can find a combination of the Martingale-style and a harness in the WaggWalker by Bark Busters seen here >
  1. Some people use a metal choke collar; however we don’t recommend this style, as it is harmful to your dog.

Advantages of using a collar

  1. They are convenient to slip on and off
  2. They can hold your dog’s identification, rabies and license tags.
  3. Some dogs find collars more comfortable than harnesses. 

Disadvantages of using a collar

  1. They are not ideal for training.
  2. Any pulling could increase the likelihood of a neck injury or tracheal collapse
  3. Pressure generated when dogs pull while wearing collars raises the pressure in the eye. 


Not only does the collar or harness make a difference, but so does the type of leash you use. Different leashes create different tensions and will elicit different reactions from your dog.

  1. Retractable dog leashes have an adjustable line, which allows your dog to decide how closely he will follow you. If the dog becomes distracted or leash aggressive, this can become quite dangerous.
  2. Standard Dog Leash. A standard leash typically attaches to a flat collar or can attached to a harness. The standard leash can be leather or nylon webbing and is what is typically used to train a dog.


Every dog wants to run unfettered by a leash, feeling the wind at his back. Small dog breeds need the physical exercise of running and jumping and playing. Certain breeds however, like a Basset hound or a Jack Russell Terrier, have a hard time staying close to their owner if they smell or see something interesting so you can’t just let them run off leash. Before you let your dog loose, you need to train him to stay close and follow the commands heel, stay and to come when called.

You can begin off leash training with your dog as soon as he is old enough to go outside on a leash. Always exercise your dog before you train him so he will relax during training. Most trainers will use a very, very long training lead. These leads are about 50 feet long and made of nylon webbing. With such a long lead, you can focus on interacting with your dog. If he starts to take off, you have plenty of time to react with the leash.

  1. Start in your backyard or other safe, fenced area and walk your dog on the long training lead.
  2. Before he gets to the end of the long lead, call your dog to you by name.
  3. Feed him a treat for coming back.
  4. Repeat the procedure several times until your dog is coming back on command.

You can use the same procedure to train your dog to heel and stay

Work on your leash management skills regularly with your dog. Practice holding onto one end of the lead when you walk with your dog through the woods or a park, letting the lead out when your dog wants to run, and then coiling it up, as you walk, when there’s less distance between you and your dog.

When your dog is ready and in a safe environment, you can let the long lead line drag behind him or take him off leash.

With the proper collar, leash and training, you and your small dog can go anywhere.