Welcome back to part two of our “How to Properly Walk a Dog” blog post series. If you missed part one, you can check it out here. Part one covered the basics of dog walking etiquette.
Mastering basic dog walking etiquette is essential to be courteous of others and your environment. It also helps to keep you and your dog safe. Be sure to review it to gain a full perspective because each post in this series builds upon the other.
Otherwise, let’s delve into part two of our series as we provide actionable tips for “How to Walk Your Puppy on a Leash.”
While puppies are so cute and adorable, the puppy phase comes with its drawbacks. I remember I had a referral for a new client many years ago. She just had a newborn baby, so she needed help caring for her eight-year-old fur baby.
While she was happy about being a mother for the first time, she was often overwhelmed and exhausted. And to this day, I remember her saying,
If you want to know what it’s like to have a baby, get a puppy!
And her pearls of wisdom are the perfect segue into my first tip to help you gain perspective as you learn how to leash train your puppy:
A puppy is to a dog what a baby is to a human. They’ll teethe, have accidents, and put everything in their mouths. They’re also still trying to figure out how to work those new legs.
So you’ll have to employ quite a bit of patience with your pup during this stage because they’re still getting acclimated to the world.
The good news is that the puppy phase only lasts a few weeks, literally. Your puppy will become a teenager in roughly 24 weeks, and a full-fledged adult on their first birthday.
It’s bittersweet actually. But the sweet part is that the problems you’re experiencing during your dog’s puppy phase are short-lived. They won’t last very long, especially for a dog parent like yourself who takes their training seriously.
And one of the first things you’ll need to consider when you start training your puppy to walk on a leash is their age.
A good reference point for puppies to start leash training is after receiving all of their vaccinations. This should be roughly five to six weeks after you’ve brought them home, so the wait time is not long.
You can keep your puppy stimulated by teaching them basic verbal cues like “sit,” “look at me,” or “down.” But it’s essential to stick to your vaccination schedule and not expedite it because you want to get them outdoors sooner.
Health complications can occur if a puppy receives their vaccinations too soon and too often. So it’s best to do your research, partner with your vet, talk to other experienced dog parents, etc., to decide what’s the best course of action for you and your puppy.
But the goal is to ensure that your puppy has built up their immunity enough to protect themselves from disease and illness before taking them outdoors.
For puppies, I would suggest that you use a harness and a leash instead of a collar and a leash.
A harness is a safer option, especially during this phase, to prevent neck and throat damage. You can always switch to a collar and leash if that’s your preferred method, but only as your puppy becomes more adept at walking correctly on a leash.
Because puppies tend to pull and tug on the leash, therefore it’s best to work with a harness while their bodies are still developing.
To conduct your walks, you’ll need a standard leash which is four feet long. You only need a longer leash if you’re above average height. Otherwise, if your leash is too long, it will be too difficult to manage your puppy on the leash.
The next thing you’ll need before heading out is a small bag of high-value treats. This means something that your puppy goes crazy for as opposed to his usual treats. The treats are only used as training wheels. Once your puppy becomes fully trained, you can eliminate bringing them on your walks.
When you’re training your puppy, you want to keep them focused as possible. Puppies have very short attention spans. So, it’s ideal to work on training right before one of their meals, or in other words, when they’re hungry.
With a healthy appetite and your treats as a lure, it will be much easier to leash train your puppy because they’ll be more focused during your training sessions.
Also, because of their short attention spans and growing muscles, you want to keep the sessions short and sweet. To learn how much exercise a puppy needs, you can read our post here. Otherwise, a brief 20-30, minute focused training session is adequate.
Further, to maintain focus, it’s best to eliminate meet and greets when you’re trying to teach your puppy how to walk on a leash. People always want to stop and say hello to a puppy. But you can just advise others that you’re training your puppy or that you’re late for an appointment, etc.
The general idea is to relay to others in a polite way that you’re busy. You want to keep the sessions focused on training instead of confusing your puppy and making them think it’s playtime.
When you are training your puppy to walk on a leash, you’ll need to take control of the walks. This simply means that you are responsible for determining where you’re going and when you’ll make a stop, not your puppy.
While it’s perfectly fine to let your puppy enjoy their walks, it’s best to hold off on the fun walks where you allow them more freedom until they learn proper leash manners.
Walking your dog at a “heel” position is to have them walk by your side instead of in front of or behind you. While most dog trainers will emphasize that you place your dog on your left side, it really doesn’t matter.
This “left-side” rule derived from hunters and their dogs. People theorized that since the hunter would carry his gun in his right hand and have his dog on his left side, that dogs should be walked on the left.
But a key oversight with this theory is that hunters don’t walk their dogs on leashes. Their dogs are off-leash. How else would their dog be able to retrieve the game if he’s tethered to a leash?
So the moral of the story is that either side is fine. It’s just important to do what’s most comfortable for you to manage your dog.
Quick Tip: However, if you can utilize either side, alternate by placing your puppy on the curb-facing side as you conduct your walk. This makes it easier to train your puppy to use the curb when they have to use the bathroom. You’ll be able to guide them to the curb quickly.
Further, you’ll get a two-for-one out of your training sessions. And part one of this series offers detailed instructions on how to curb your dog.
To take proper hold of the leash, you’ll need to use two hands instead of one. A two-hand method plus a heel position gives you ultimate control over handling your puppy, or dogs in general, on a leash.
This stance also evenly distributes the weight of your dog across your body, offering you more power to leverage if your puppy suddenly lunges or pulls forward.
While this is referred to as loose leash walking, in essence, you’re technically walking your puppy on a tighter leash because there is only about two feet of leeway on the leash.
I know it’s a bit confusing, so I’ve attached a picture of a perfect example of loose leash walking.
As you can see, this gentleman is perfectly relaxed. There is very little tension applied to the leash. This is where the loose-leash idea comes into play since the leash should not be tight between you and your dog, which would be the case if he was a few feet ahead of you.
His right hand is through the leash handle for safety. This prevents the leash from dropping from your grip. And his second hand grabs the middle of the leash, again to maintain more control.
He’s also utilizing a harness for his dog, which is excellent for helping to protect his dog’s neck.
Now that you have your gear and the proper walking stance, it helps to have a predetermined walking route in mind.
Your goal is to keep your puppy on his feet walking until you’ve reached your predetermined stops. You want to introduce a few quick stops along your route to practice some verbal training cues. You also want to allow your puppy to sniff to learn his surroundings. And naturally, you want to give them a chance to use the bathroom.
Next, load up your hand with a few small treats ready to go and begin to direct your walk.
Your puppy will naturally start walking and following your lead. However, once he becomes bored, which can happen in a matter of seconds, you’ll need to begin implementing your training cues.
Puppies tend to do more of a walk and flop instead of a steady stride. So again, be conscious of your timing as not to overexert them. But if your puppy stops walking prematurely, simply stand a few feet in front of them and start working the “touch” training cue.
The “touch” cue motivates your puppy to focus on a target (your open hand.) It also teaches your puppy “recall” training by coming to you to touch your hand with his nose.
While you can work various training cues during your walks, working with one training cue makes is less confusing for your puppy. It’s best to allow them to master one cue before you start introducing multiple training cues.
Also, the “touch” cue, in particular, is helpful for when your puppy flops down during walks. This is because it naturally raises them back to a standing position so that you can immediately proceed with your walk.
And once he hits the “target” (your open hand) with his nose, immediately dispense a treat from your other hand. It also helps to add some verbal praise along with the treat like “yes!” or “good job!” to “mark” it. This is positive reinforcement training and teaches him that he did a magnificent job.
You’ll continue in this fashion and utilize this training cue for whenever your puppy gets distracted or stops prematurely along your walking route.
For an added visualization, watch this video by Victoria Stillwell. She’s a prominent figure in dog training, and she does an excellent job of teaching the touch cue in this short video.
In closing, being patient and prepared, using short training sessions, and working with one training cue, keeps things simple for your puppy.
The easier it is for your puppy to understand your requests, the easier it is for them to comply. And more importantly, the key is for you, as the dog parent, to stay focused, repetitive, and consistent as you train your puppy to exhibit proper leash behavior.
Please join us for Part 3 of our “How to Properly Walk a Dog” series by clicking the link below. Next, we’ll provide you with actionable tips by teaching you how to stop your dog from pulling on the leash.