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We’ve all seen those dogs. The ones who zig-zag every which way on their walks. Those who mark on every tree. Those who drag their owners down the street. It begs the question: Who’s walking who anyway?
Prevent these unfortunately common situations from becoming your situation by leash training as soon as you’re able to take your puppy for walks. While it may seem simple (hook leash to collar and walk, right?), you’ll soon find that walking in a straight line at a normal pace is not a natural habit for your active puppy and it’s as new to him as everything else being introduced into his world.
By following these steps, you’ll be on your way to walking your pawfect pooch down the street with ease and confidence.
1. Choose the Right Leash and Collar
Make sure the collar is the perfect fit by asking for professional help with sizing. It’s important that it’s not too tight nor too loose. A good rule of “thumb” is to be able to fit two fingers between the collar and your pup’s skin. You may want to consider a harness instead of a collar to avoid neck strain from leash pulling. A harness is a good option for dogs with pushed-in faces that often experience breathing, trachea/throat problems, or have elongated, slender necks such as Pugs, Pomeranians, and Greyhounds respectively.
As far as leashes go, there are a variety of materials and lengths available, so to make the right decision, you’ll want to test them out at the pet store with your dog present. A few things to consider – nylon leashes which are the most common may cause “leash burn” if you have a strong dog that pulls suddenly. Leather leashes are stronger, provide a natural give, and will soften with time. Chain leashes, which are an inexpensive choice, can be dangerous if a strong dog pulls and the leash is wrapped around your finger and could injure you or the dog if the weight of it falls hard on you or him. Retractable or “flexi” leashes are designed to give dogs more freedom, but can be dangerous for a puppy as they provide the owner with much less control. “Reeling in” your pooch fast enough in an emergency is a challenge. Plus, the instinct of pulling the leash when your dog does something wrong could give you a severe rope burn if you were to grab that thin cord. We strongly advise against a retractable leash for a puppy in leash training.
The length of the lead is also a factor to consider when choosing the right leash for you. If you live in the city, a 4-foot might be long enough to allow your dog to do his business while keeping him close to your side. If you live in a suburban setting and have a bit more space to walk, you may want to choose a 6-foot lead.
2. Introduce The Collar and Leash
Slip the collar and leash on your pup while he’s doing something positive such as feeding, playing or getting pet. This way, the puppy associates the collar and leash with positive activity. If the dog resists, use treats or toys as incentive to getting him to feel more comfortable.
3. Take Your First Walk…Inside
Guide your puppy around your home so he gets used to you leading him around without all of the new smells and distractions of the outdoors. If you have a backyard, use that space as an opportunity to walk your pup outside to the spot where you want him to do, as opposed to letting him have run of the yard.
4. Teach to Follow
Getting your dog to “heel” is a gradual process so don’t expect it to happen quickly. Technically, the “heel” position is for your pup to walk along your left side at knee level. This is a bit ambitious and unnecessary for rudimentary leash training, so don’t worry so much about positioning as keeping your pup at a safe, comfortable distance. Hold the leash with a firm grip and double up any extra slack so it doesn’t drag on the ground. Make sure you have treats at the ready in your pocket to reward whenever your pup listens to you.
Once puppy is focused on the reward, say a simple command like “Let’s go!” – make sure it’s something you’ll remember to use consistently. Once he follows, give him a treat. You could bring it as close to right under his nose to get his attention. Continue to repeat this process in order to lure him into the pace and direction you want to him to go in.Once he’s performed this exercise several times well, offer the treats less and more intermittently.
If your dog pulls, quickly turn and walk in the opposite direction. You’ll do some stop-and-start at first, but eventually he’ll become accustomed to the rules. Reinforce the distance and pace you want him to keep by continuing to reward with praise and treats when he does follow. Some dogs may decide to sit or lay down rather than move. If this happens, call your pup and offer him a reward once he comes over. Never yank the leash toward you. Once he decides to walk next to you, offer him a treat.
5. Slowly Add More Depth to Your Training
Once your dog is walking well on a leash alongside you, you can work on other techniques such as “sit” whenever you stop, introducing the “heel” command, and increasing the amount of distractions in the surrounding area (if you’ve been practicing on your cul-de-sac, take him to a park or busy street).