Whether you like to refer to them as “walks” or “walkies”, we all know how much dogs like to go out for a stroll. Not only does it give them an opportunity to explore and have fun, sniffing and sightseeing to their heart’s content, but it also gives them much needed exercise, provides you and your dog with a method of spending time together and bonding, and it familiarizes them with their environment outside of the home. But if you’ve ever worked with a dog who is unfamiliar with the art of walking on a leash, be they puppy or senior, then you know that some dogs need some training when it comes to following your lead or resisting the urge to chomp on that piece of leather or nylon that connects the two of you.
Thankfully, teaching your dog to walk on a leash can be a simple and fun experience for the both of you. All you need are the right tools:
- A leash
- A harness or collar (though a harness is almost always preferred for latching a leash over a collar)
- Your time, patience, and persistence
Thankfully, we have you covered on all these supplies here at Chewnplay: shop our leash, harness, collar, and treats collections to get your dog ready to learn! Unfortunately, you’ll have to provide the time, patience, and persistence yourself.
Training Your Dog to Walk
It is important that your dog be leash trained. Not only will it make walks easier, but it is an integral part of being a responsible dog owner. We’ve all seen those dogs who are unruly on walks, pulling their owners down the sidewalk and stopping every few steps to sniff and explore. While sniffing and exploring are fine, and even important sometimes in their own right, it is imperative that your dog understands that you are in charge, that you decide when and where they may stop and sniff, and that they are to obey you. Not only will ensuring this dynamic keep your dog happy, as they naturally look to you as their pack leader, but it will also keep them safe. The outside world is full of distractions and potential dangers for your dog, and having a leash and their obedience is one of the best ways to protect them. You should absolutely have fun with your dog while training them in all things, but remember to be diligent by rewarding successes and correcting mistakes.
Start Him Early
A puppy can usually start learning to walk as soon as you bring him home. Ideally, you would begin indoors, where distractions and dangers can be limited before moving outdoors. Here are the steps:
- Introduce him to his collar, harness, and leash. Let him check them out with his eyes and nose.
- When he’s satisfied, put the collar and leash on. Make a quick check to ensure everything fits properly and that he isn’t uncomfortable while wearing any of it. Watch for his reaction and ensure he’s not being pinched anywhere by the buckles or fabric.
- Fasten the leash to the harness. Note that most collars do come with loops for a leash, but it is almost always preferred to have your dog’s leash fastened to the harness. It is safer, as it doesn’t put strain on his neck. However, some larger breeds or dogs who are particularly unruly may require special exceptions or collars. When in doubt, consult your veterinarian.
- At this point, stop and praise your dog for getting all dressed up! Especially with a young puppy, it is a good idea to associate his obedience with a tasty reward. Once you feel he’s ready, you can begin training him to walk.
- When he’s comfortable wearing all the equipment, hold the leash in your hand while taking a few steps. Consider holding a treat in your hand and rewarding him for staying right by your side as he follows along. Try to encourage your dog to walk only on your right or left side; he should not be crossing back and forth.
Note that he will likely not perform well right away. It is likely that he will either stand still, wander off, or chew on the lead. These actions are all normal, and this is where your patience comes in. Should he perform any of these actions, stop walking and use a treat to take his attention. Continue encouraging him to follow along by your side with the treat as the lure, then finally reward him with it once he is successful. Be sure not to associate the unwanted behavior with the treat reward! Make sure that you only offer up the treat once he has successfully walked at your side!
- Repeat and repeat until he is walking at your side without the need for the treats. An ideal walker will walk at your side without any significant tension in the leash.
Once your dog has mastered the art of walking indoors, it’s time to begin going outside. Get ready, because when some dogs take their training outside, it can feel like they’ve suddenly forgotten everything you’ve taught them! But don’t worry, because this is normal. The outside world is so full of new sounds, sight, and, of course, smells, that your dog can become quickly overwhelmed and distracted. But don’t get discouraged if he starts to regress. Simply keep showing him patience by correcting the mistakes just as you did when you were inside. And if it seems like he’s just not ready yet, don’t be afraid to take a step back and spend some more time training indoors.
Start walking in smaller and more familiar areas, like the parts of the yard where he goes potty. Continue to reward him when he walks at your side, and correct him when he gets distracted.
One common behavior that is often seen in puppies just learning to walk is the sudden stopper. Sometimes, dogs will come to a sudden halt while out on a walk and refuse to go on. They may start pulling backward in the direction of home, or they may simply refuse to move anymore in any direction. With puppies, this is usually a simple matter of inexperienced walkers, either showing some stubbornness in their refusal to walk by your lead, or confusion in what they should be doing at the moment. As always, correct the behavior and offer a treat as an incentive if necessary, and be sure to reward the successful behavior, not the behavior you are correcting. Be very careful not to associating this sudden refusal to walk with a tasty reward!
Be sure, however, to consider whether your dog is trying to tell you something by stopping like this. Make sure his feet aren’t hurting on the pavement, or that the collar and harness aren’t too tight or uncomfortable in some way. Always double check everything before even leaving the house.
Sometimes your dog might just be tired and ready to go home. Be sure to pay attention to your dog’s mood and energy levels before, during, and after walks. If your dog seems sick or unwell, always contact your veterinarian.
Sharing the Trail
Inevitably, you will eventually encounter other humans and dogs on your walk. While this is often a great time to say hi and socialize your dog, always be aware of the situation. Do not let your dog pull you toward them or run over to greet them. Even if he means well in this behavior, it can lead to serious problems. A common thing people will say when their dog runs up to another dog is: “It’s okay, he’s friendly!”
While your dog may indeed be the best friend anyone could ask for the rest of the time, that doesn’t mean others would agree. Maybe the unfamiliar dog approaching isn’t friendly, or at least isn’t friendly toward dogs he hasn’t met yet; maybe he will see another strange dog approaching his owner as a threat; or maybe the other person isn’t walking a dog, but is themselves uncomfortable around dogs.
Regardless of the reason, any meeting between your dog and another human or dog while out on your walks should be closely supervised. A good habit to establish is to make your dog sit and wait for the others to pass. Keep the leash short enough that if he tries to run, jump, or lunge, you can easily control him and stop him. Implement the “leave it” command, and praise him for success. If you have a bigger or stronger dog who you can not so easily control, consider stepping on the leash, with enough slack that it doesn’t pull him of course, so you can put your weight into it.
When the approaching stranger is near, then you may consider speaking with them and asking if they or their dog wants to meet the two of you. Do not be offended if they say no.
With the proper tools, time, and guidance, any dog can become the perfect walker. It is important to show your dog patience and be diligent in the training. As an important early step in bonding with your dog, this experience will help you to understand him better, allowing you to learn some of his ways of communicating with you and his habits, both of which will help in teaching future lessons for commands and tricks.
Remember to go at your dog’s own pace, and remember to always praise and reward them for a job well done. Your dog looks to you as his leader just like you look to him as your friend. By practicing these walks together, you will strengthen the bond the two of you share, and enrich yourselves during the time you’ll have together.