If you have a puppy or a young dog and you are finding leash walks challenging read on. You will find lots of helpful information here. It’s a bit long but worth the read. We have included some sample plans as well as a worksheet for you to plan your own walks.
I coach people in a bustling city. I specialize in early education. My students have mainly young puppies and adolescent dogs. They face common challenges along with having some common goals. In this post I want to discuss the goal of going for walks with a puppy or young dog. The challenges associated it, the complexity of it and ways to work toward a pleasant walk in the hood with your dog.
A Tricky Mix
Some of these challenges are unique to big city life. The complexities of a city create complexities to the training, which is already complex enough on its own.
Navigating condo life, picking your way through construction zones, and dare we talk about heavily dog-populated parks. Plus there is always lots of tantalizing stuff on the ground (trash!) to sniff and eat. Just thinking about it can be stressful.
Distractions created by the blend of visual, audible and olfactory stimulation is a master class in itself. Lucky for us our dogs are so adaptable they can learn to focus. The key word here is learn.
No matter where you live, each place will present its own set of distractions and challenges for a pup.
Walk Like A Puppy Champ
One of the things people look forward to doing with their new pup is going for walks. I live in Toronto and it is filled with great neighbourhoods and lots of green space for playing and hiking.
A constant goal of my students is to have a dog that walks well on a leash. This is also not what I call a puppy-friendly priority. I always say 6 feet of leash, a puppy and a sidewalk does not a good time make.
There are foundation moves to put in place in order to become proficient with more complex moves such as leash walking around distractions for a prolonged period of time. Read more on this here.
Top Two Tips for Teaching Your Pup Leash Walking
Presence of mind
You know what it feels like to have to concentrate on something with distractions around.
My hope is when you stop and think about what it must feel like for your puppy while he is out you have compassion and patience.
A Game Plan
Keep in mind that you are putting a foundation in place. Foundation exercises and ‘puppy stuff’ is what your focus should be.
Time out walking with your pup should be about your pup, not about getting somewhere fast. Your pup won’t be able to do this and you will get frustrated. Meet your puppy where they are.
A Game Plan Always Helps Get You Where You Want To Go
A game plan along with realistic goals, foundation moves and patience is key to you and your pup’s success.
Long Line or Leash?
Aim for short, fun walks with your plan organized before you hit the trail. Or, my favorite, a long line romp. This offers much more flexibility and ease. The puppy has the opportunity to run and sniff and meander. Mix in some fast, fun training and you have created an excellent time for your puppy and for you.
Stop To Smell The Flowers
Remember that sniff time for your puppy is essential for his soul to be soothed. A nice balance between sniff and ‘train’ should be your aim.
I also recommend walks that are JUST about the sniff. Relax and follow your puppy around don’t stress about how he is on a leash right now. You will get to there.
How Does It Look?
When your puppy is walking on a 6-foot leash what do you want that to look like? Picture it, make a plan and train for it. Keep your pup’s limitations in mind.
Is he on your left or right?
How often do you want him checking in with you?
Is he right beside you or is a little in front ok?
Walk Rules You Should Never Break
- Always take treats
- Never run out of treats
- Length of walk – keep it ‘puppy friendly’
Treats are for reinforcing behavior you want, for ‘socialization introductions’ and for trading for trash.
Take a few minutes before every outing to get your pup’s attention and interest in you peaked.
Fast, fun repetitions of sit, hand target, chase me or eye contact are good ways to get your pup ‘tuned into you’ BEFORE you hit the road.
Start with walk warm-ups inside and repeat them as soon as you go outside.
What Will You Practice On Your Walks?
Here are four ideas that will get you the results you want.
Play Connect The Dots
With the pup on the side you want him walking on say ‘lets go!’ and take ONE step.
Stop after the ONE step.
Mark with a verbal ‘YES’ or click as you stop.
Treat your puppy by the pant seam of the side you want him on.
Gradually adding more steps in between stops.
Walking backwards, dropping treats ‘Hansel and Gretel’ style
Like the kids in the story, drop a trail of treats as you walk backwards in front of your puppy. Periodically swing back around beside him for a few steps then back out to in front walking backwards. Keep repeating this.
This is you deciding ahead of time what you will implement in your plan. 5 sits, 5 hand targets, 2 downs, 3 reps of chase me, etc.
Sometimes I will just say to myself on the walk. Okay from here to the corner I will practice 3 waits. Mess around with this idea.
You will be implementing the winning combination of multiple, rewarded repetitions, in a short period of time. Training should not feel arduous and insurmountable. Regular repetitions of behaviors that you reinforce will start to look smart and be reliable.
Three Things Worth Thinking About
Your puppy may try and pick up lots of stuff from the ground.
Play Cash for Trash.
Your puppy WILL pick up things in his mouth. What is your game plan for this?
Don’t Invade – Go For A Peaceful Trade.
Monitor the surroundings your are walking and playing in vigilantly for dangerous items. Puppies explore the world with their mouths. They pick everything up!
Ignore the item if it is not dangerous.
Turn trade into a game by offering the off-limit item back again and repeat. If it is something like a leaf or bit of bark, grab another leaf, trade for this and repeat. The point here is that we are not grabbing for things all the time. This will create keep away or guarding behaviour that can be prevented with your good work.
The weather will affect your pup’s ability to walk and to focus.
Hot sunny days will get your puppy seeking shade and pulling out of the sun.
Windy days will have him chasing things that blow by.
Rain my have him not wanting to go out. Knowing that your pup may be affected by what is happening outside will help you prepare and deal with whatever comes up on the walk.
Meeting other dogs on leash is not advisable.
Playdates should be thoughtful, well-curated events.
Nothing fun can happen when a pup is confined to 6 feet of leash. Meeting other dogs on leash seems like a good idea in the moment but can lead to stress and unwanted behavior later on.
Keep it short if you are meeting other dogs on leash, the three-second rule is a good one. And be careful of adult dogs that do not tolerate excited pups.
Now you are all set to plan your next walk.
P.S. This is a reminder that we continue to offer You’re Lucky You’re Cute on demand. Our webinar is there to help you navigate puppy prep and the arrival of your new puppy.