Taking your dog for a walk is one of the most common activities you will do with them as a pet owner. It not only provides exercise and potty breaks, but it’s also a great bonding opportunity between you and your pup. Teaching a puppy to walk on leash politely can seem daunting, but we’ve broken it down into 4 simple concepts.
1. Find the right size of collar and leash
Frequently, when a littler is born, a small ribbon will be tied around their neck. This is good for two reasons: Firstly, it's a way to tell puppies apart if the ribbons are different colors and secondly, it's a way for a puppy to get used to having something around its neck. Once you bring your puppy home, having them wear a soft and lightweight collar will get them used to the idea. And no need to break the bank on these first collars, as your puppy grows, you will most likely need to get new collars until they reach full grown. The best rule of thumb when sizing a collar is to make sure that you can get two fingers between the collar and your dog’s neck.
2. Practice indoors or your own backyard
Making sure that your puppy gets used to a leash in a safe environment will make training polite walking outside much easier. The last thing an owner wants, is to have their dog scared of equipment they will most likely use daily (and must use in any area where there are leash laws). Begin by having your puppy walk around the house, under your supervision, with the leash attached to their collar. As they get more comfortable walking without paying too much attention to the leash, give them treats and praise.
The next step would be to start holding the other end of the leash and keeping it relatively short. Making sure the leash is short, but slack, walk your pup around the house or in a backyard. A comfortable walk on leash means that your dog is next to you (if you’re thinking of training them for agility or competition, then the dog should always be walked on your left side) and when you stop walking, they sit. Make sure to reward (or click and treat if you’re clicker training) and as you start walking again, they join you at your pace. Gradually, let out a little more leash so it’s not so short. Giving them some safe room to explore on a slack leash will make walks more fun.
Dogs are naturally curious and will pull to get to the object of their curiosity. If the dog begins to pull, stop walking and wait for them to return to sitting next to you. Then reward, reward, reward! Pulling on leash from a puppy may not seem like that big a deal now, but your dog will get bigger and stronger. Training not to pull on leash is much easier now, than trying to retrain a dog that has been pulling to get what it wants. Polite leash walking is not only more pleasant for us as dog owners, but if your dog ever needs to be walked by someone else, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your dog is polite and won’t drag their walker around.
3. Walk outside in different environments with different distractions
Once your veterinarian has given the “ok” for your puppy to venture outside, usually after their vaccine schedule is complete, be sure to safely expose your pup to new environments. Making these first few times on leash outside are short, will set them up for success. Their attention spans are pretty short, so short walks are best. As they master walking on a slack leash, are great at sitting next to you when stopped, and know not to pull, start to vary the environment they are exposed to. Bring your puppy to a friends’ house, have them walk down streets from quiet to busy, and explore different neighborhoods. Varying their exposure to people, sounds, and smells, in a safe way will help build their confidence on leash. Some dogs will feel more comfortable exploring because they are on leash. Being tethered to you can make them feel protected
4. REWARD and Have PATIENCE
You’re most likely potty training at the same time as leash training, so make sure to have plenty of rewarding treats and plenty of patience on hand. Catching your puppy making good choices when walking on leash should get a reward. If it looks like your pup is sniffing out a good spot outside to do their business, give a little extra leash. This will reinforce that this kind of exploration is good. Once they do their business, praise and reward. As your puppy gets better at walking next to you with a slack leash, you can space out the reward. Eventually, walking comfortably on leash will become second nature to your puppy.
Photo by Silvana Carlos on Unsplash