Puppyhood is definitely the time to start teaching polite leash walking skills. If you do it right, they learn that walking happens by your side, not pulling your arm out of its socket while forging ahead searching out the next squirrel!
Some puppies need to be acclimated to their collar and leash, and other puppies may not mind at all. Start by putting your puppy’s collar on for short periods of time and playing with their favorite squeaker toy, or while they are eating. Try for 1 minute and then take it off. Repeat. Same for acclimating to the leash.
Here’s how to start teaching your dog to walk by your side.
- Start by implementing a ‘Walk-and-Pay’ system. For every step or two you take, give your dog a piece of dry food, hot dog or cheese. Literally- EVERY step or two, no matter what your dog is doing. Very quickly, your dog will recognize that all the rewards are coming from your side, and not the environment. Don’t be boring, either. Talk to your dog… praise, praise, praise. Here is a video of what Walk-and-Pay looks like once the dog has interest in staying by your side.
- You can also put the treat by your foot. Take a step, place a treat on the ground near your foot. Soon your puppy will start watching you instead of walking ahead.
- The leash should be loose, not taut. Being restricted tightly on leash can make some dogs feel trapped and result in reactivity and insecurity. If your puppy goes to the end of the leash, please do not jerk or forcibly tug him back. Use your voice, your movement, food, a toy, etc to keep your puppy’s attention. Jerking the leash could seriously hurt him or her and it might make your puppy want to run away from you, the opposite of what you want! And- it is not an effective technique as many puppies will learn that they are supposed to pull and feel pressure on the leash, and that you will just jerk them back when they need to come back. It’s much easier, and more dog-friendly, if you can simply teach your puppy what you want him to do in the first place- walk by your side. You need to become Disneyland for your puppy so nothing else will matter on walks!
We recommend the Freedom Harness for training and walking.
Commit to working on this now so that for the next 16 years of your dog’s life you can enjoy walking together!
Judy Borsheim, MS, VSPDT