Four thousand three hundred and eighty hours. These are the number of hours you and your dog will spend together on leash if you were to spend approximately one hour a day on leash for twelve years, give or take a little. Of course I’m pulling these numbers out of a hat. Some dogs will hardly ever be on leash and some dogs will not see much free time. Not everyone is going to have a dog for twelve years either. But you get the point. There may be a significant amount of time connected together. So if you are going to be on leash together, why not do the best you can to ensure that these hours are going to be pleasant for both the dog and you.
A healthy approach to the journey begins with the intention of finding a nice balance while walking through life together. This can be challenging for some new puppy people because walking on leash is not necessarily something that will come easily for a new pup.
Lots of pups may offer up a tidy sit, give chase after us or love to play tug. Not as many seem to naturally trot along happily matching our pace and staying tuned in to us while on a leash. This is where the challenge can begin. How do we motivate and teach our puppy to walk ‘with’ us?
Let’s dub this sweet spot on the leash with our dog as ‘the zone’. It’s the place where the dog is ‘with you’ both emotionally and physically. Picture it the same as our moon and planet earth and the gravitational pull between the two. Our job is to give the puppy a reason to want to stay in that zone with us. This is no easy feat considering all of the other places and directions a puppy might want to go.
Some puppies pull, some lag behind, some just sit and not want to walk at all. Some want to eat everything on the ground while some want to chase and pounce on every leaf that rustles. Environmental factors can cause distractions too, the noise in a city, movement of traffic and hustle and bustle, the weather and even the temperature outside.
Beside a game plan for teaching loose leash walking, realistic goals and expectations are important. As are patience and a sense of humor! Rome wasn’t built in a day! The good connection that you build with your puppy will take time too.
There are some tried and tested motivational strategies that can be implemented with a new puppy to teach him you are worth paying attention to. Reinforcing the puppy for checking in and looking your way is potent. Any time your puppy happens a glance your way he should be met with big fan fare, a treat and/or a round of a favorite game. The glance at you by your puppy is often an under reinforced behavior. Try not to miss the opportunity to reward it.
Luring the puppy along with high value treats, reinforcing plenty for him sticking close by and stopping when the pup starts to pull, waiting for him to notice you then rewarding and off you go again are two other puppy friendly methods to practice. Running away from the puppy enticing him to chase and then playing a game of tug when he catches up is another worthwhile effort on leash.
There is a time to tune in and pay attention and there is a time to mosey along and smell the flowers and all the other interesting smells your puppy will want to investigate. Practice makes perfect. Keep on working with your puppy while he’s on leash with you. With some patience and perseverance along with your training you will find the balance on leash.