Walking your dog is an everyday necessity, but a new, untrained puppy can sometimes make walking a chore, when it should be a pleasure for you both. Do you have a puppy that runs right to the end of the leash, zig zags, pulls full steam ahead, or even stops dead? Many puppies start off their first leash walking experience with too much excitement, and not enough focus. They're only puppies after all! Everything is a brand new experience for them, so keep that in mind when you run into any unwanted behaviors during your training. These are normal initial behaviors for any dog learning to leash walk, and can all be remedied through maintaining engagement and channeling that endless, youthful energy into a fun and successful walk.
Are you ready? Before you get started, make sure you have the following:
● A properly fitted collar or harness. A growing puppy requires weekly equipment fit checks to make sure nothing is too loose or too tight while they develop.
● A 6 foot, non-retractable leash
● A treat pouch filled with low, medium, and high value food. Start with kibble for less distracting places that your puppy knows well, and save your puppy’s very favorite foods (e.g., hotdog, chicken, liver) for times when you really need the extra incentive to gain their attention.
● A hungry pup. A food motivated puppy is a training-motivated and successful one; so skip feeding from the bowl and take their meals to go! You’ll be feeding it throughout your walk, encouraging your pup to see value in being an active participant in the exercise.
Got everything ready? Let’s get started! The first step in teaching leash walking to any dog is creating engagement. So how does one do that? If at any point you find your puppy on their own agenda and losing focus, don’t worry. Distraction is totally normal, and bound to happen many times while your dog is still learning. When you do run into any of the unwanted behaviors, here’s how to get your dog back on track.
First, start by seeing if you can gain their attention without any distraction. Have your puppy on a leash, and try this next exercise in your home or a familiar area for the first time around. Take a piece of food to their nose, and draw it up to your eyes as you call their name. Then, feed and reward as soon as you are given eye contact. You can mark the eye contact with a clicker or words of affirmation. This teaches your puppy that his name means he should look at you, and if you have eye contact, that also means you have their attention. This same sequence (food to nose, up to eyes, praise, and feed) will then be transitioned into motion while doing it on a walk. This will draw your dog back to you when they are too far back or forward, or inattentive during a walk. Before you know it, voila! Loose leash walking.
Besides just going through the physical motions of teaching loose leash walking, as the human of the partnership, it’s your job to guide and teach by creating an exciting and rewarding training experience. You must be excited in order to create engagement with your puppy, because the goal is to be rewarding them! Acknowledge and reward good behavior and effort as much as possible so your puppy learns that leash walking is the BEST thing ever. To get to that mindset, you need to be more interesting to your puppy than squirrels, bicycles, other dogs, and the many other stimuli found in the outside world. Don’t forget that engagement is a two-sided conversation between you and your dog. You are both active participants in the chit-chat, and if you want your puppy to pay attention to you, you have to give them a reason to do so. Doing the same exact walk around the neighborhood every day? That’s not only boring for you both, but can easily put you and your dog on “autopilot” mode. If your dog could walk the route blindfolded, you’ve done it too much. Even something as simple as walking your usual route in reverse can help keep your dog interested, and going off property or changing route is even better. Not only that, but exposure to new places and objects is an important part of raising any puppy. If you’re unable to change location, make the act of walking itself entertaining. Walk backwards, forwards, do a circle, jog, or anything you can think of to prevent your walk from becoming mundane. All of these things will help you become the invigorating and inventive leader your dog wants you to be.
Now that you have the basics on how to start leash walking, get out there and do it! Don’t forget that with young dogs we must be patient, consistent, purposeful, and motivating. Reward at every opportunity you get. Eye contact, slack in the line, and good engagement should always be acknowledged with food and verbal and/or physical praise. This, a full treat pouch, and a creative mindset will have you and your puppy well on your way to loose leash walking like a pro!