By Karen A. Soukiasian
Many a dog owner dreads the twice-daily practice of walking their dog.
Usually they are the one who created the problem, not the dog. Getting your puppy accustomed to walking properly on a leash will spare you a lot anxiety, and make walking your dog a pleasure.
Americans love their dogs on leashes, All dogs, no matter how obedient, well mannered, or how young or old, must be leashed when they are off their property and/or in public. To make sure we comply, we have oodles of inane leash laws.
Here’s the problem…on the whole, people don’t know how to properly walk their dogs.
The sooner you start, the easier it is. Don’t wait until your puppy is older, larger and like your teenager, ready to test and challenge you at every directive.
We suggest enrolling in a positive reinforcement, punishment-free Puppy Kindergarten in your area as soon as possible. Not only will you learn how to correctly walk your puppy, they will have the added benefit of learning to walk comfortably with other dogs.
The simple act of walking in a pack with other puppies helps to desensitize, and teach your puppy how to cope with other dogs while on walks. Being calm, and knowing how to deal with other dogs they meet, is one way to prevent what is known as “leash aggression.”
The first thing you have to do is acclimate your puppy to wearing a collar. Some take to it without any fuss. Others act as if the hangman just placed a noose around their neck.
For around the house, a well-fitted flat collar is fine. It should be snug, but not too tight. With a puppy, you should be able to comfortably fit a finger between the collar and the dog.
Until your puppy gets accustomed to their new bling, never have them wear it when unsupervised. Puppies have choked to death, either by getting snagged on something, or getting their foot or leg caught between the collar and their throat, if it is too loose.
For walking, a training collar is preferred. They are also known as modified choke collars or modified martingales. Basically, they are a flat collar, with a small piece of chain and a ring in the middle.
To be effective and not cause damage to the puppy’s trachea, the collar must sit snugly high on their neck, directly behind their ears.
To fit the collar properly, it must be adjusted so the two ends of the collar meet, when pressure is applied to the chain.
Attach the leash, to the ring. You will notice, by pulling up on the leash, the collar will tighten just enough to send a message not to pull; but not tighten enough to choke your puppy.
Your leash is like a telephone line to your dog. You are constantly sending messages to them…make sure your messages are simple, clear and without any apprehension. Be aware, your puppy will be watching you for cues. If you are relaxed, your pup will be relaxed.
Never, ever, use a retractable leash! If you have one, throw it away. Not only do they make walking your dog properly and under control a joke, you look like you’re casting them out, reeling them in and trolling, as if you are fishing.
First and foremost, they are dangerous! Most “reputable” retractable leashes will have warnings on the package or the device.
A 6-foot, preferably leather leash is what nearly all dog trainers recommend. Most dog training classes require a 6-foot leash, and do not allow the use of retractable leashes. A 6-foot leash offers the dog enough of a radius to explore or take care of business; yet, it still affords you control.
Now, you are ready to desensitize your puppy to their new look. Before you try to walk them with the leash…and because their first instinct normally is to park their butt and balk, allow them time to adjust to the weight and feel of the collar and leash.
Again, under strict supervision, attach your puppy to the collar and allow them to drag the leash around the house and yard. At first they may hesitate. Ignore them. Let them learn to cope with these contraptions they will be wearing for the rest of their life.
After you see that they are comfortable with their leash dragging behind them, without any fanfare pick up the end and follow them. You have just put a new “feel” on the connection between you and your dog. Do not pull on the leash…just follow them and then start to walk around them.
Little-by-little, you can gently apply a guiding pressure by pulling the leash…but go easy. Allow your puppy time to adjust to these new physical feelings and the mindset of being connected to you.
When there is loose leash, say your puppy’s name and tell them to “come.” You want them to associate their place is to be next to you when they are leashed. Without going overboard, praise them when they come to you.
The First Real Walk
Now, you and your puppy are ready to take your first real walk together.
Train your puppy to sit, before you put the leash on them. Many dog owners dread the thought of walking their dog, because of the pandemonium that occurs at the door, as soon their dog sees the leash. Train your puppy as soon as possible, if they do not sit, you will not put the leash on. They will learn to associate the faster they sit, the faster the leash is attached and the faster the walk begins.
This is also the time to teach them humans exit first. Make your puppy wait, until you have cleared the threshold, then give them the OK to join you.
By tradition, as a rule dogs are on the left side of the handler. This goes back centuries of hunters routinely holding their rifles in their right hand, and leading their dogs with their left.
Call your puppy to your left side. Relax the leash. Say their name, and tell them to “heel” as you step off on your left foot. Once they get the hang of the walking thing, their shoulder and your knee should be aligned, and ideally there will be a relaxed U in the leash, between you and your dog.
You may need to carry a few items of bribery the first few times you initiate the real walks. We suggest carrying a squeaky toy or even hanging a plastic bag of treats, where your puppy can see them, from your pocket or belt. They can be great “motivators” in keeping your pup moving forward, yet staying at your side.
Keep the walks short for the first few weeks. You always want to set your puppy up to succeed. The object of the exercise is for them to complete the walk and enjoy it.
It’s one thing to have to carry a happy 15 pound puppy home because you went too far and they are exhausted. But, you’ll look rather silly, carrying a 75 pound dog home, because they hate to walk, and refuse to walk any farther.
When you return home, make your puppy sit and wait until you enter the house first. Then say their name and tell them to “come.” Make them immediately sit, until you take their leash off, and release them.
When all that happens, you and your puppy have just had a perfect walk.
It’s also nice to surprise your puppy and walk with a friend and their dog now and then. It helps to reinforce the appropriate coping skills of meeting and walking with other dogs.
Bottom line: Puppy walks should be short and fun. It is precious time shared together. Talk to your puppy. Let them know when they are doing something correctly. That way they can make the association if they are pleasing you or not.
Should they accidentally mess up, you must make an immediate correction, then show them what you expect, and in a way they will understand.
Be patient. Take the time and make the effort now, and you will never dread walking your dog. These walks with your puppy will form the foundation for the bond of a lifetime.
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