Your New Puppy – Harnessing the Joy of Loose Leash Walking

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By now, you might be sensing a trend in this Inquisitive Canine series of Your New Puppy blog posts. When it comes to teaching basic cues, house-training, or any skill, pet guardians can start by taking the time to lovingly teach your puppy what you want him or her to do. If that means cooperating while getting dressed in a harness and walking nicely next to you while on a leash, then those are the behaviors you’ll want to teach. Easier said than done? We’re here to help with walking tips for new puppy parents.

Leash Walking Puppy - Inquisitive Canine

Before You Walk Puppy on a Leash for the First Time

Your initial concern might be when to start leash walking your new puppy. So, it’s a good idea to double-check with your veterinarian to confirm the appropriate distance and time spent walking, based on your puppy’s age.

Then, start slowly. Getting baby Fluffy or Fido used to just seeing a leash and harness – without trying to use them as tug toys – is a step in the right direction. 

What To Do If Your Puppy is Biting or Chewing the Leash

Trying to dress a puppy in a harness and leash him up can often be considered cross-training! Squirming. Playing. Flopping over. Many times, making you giggle! But sometimes it can be frustrating too — after all, your goal is to get him out to walk and often potty as well! 

How do you make it a little easier on yourself, while keeping it comfortable for your puppy? A simple, yet practical, approach is breaking the process down into smaller steps: 

Step 1. First, teach your pup to “Sit” or “Stand,” depending on how the harness goes on, as this will be the behavior you want while dressing him. As you practice cuing “Sit” increase the duration, a few seconds at a time, until your pup can hold the position for as long as it would take you to get him dressed and leashed up. Once you have this down, you can move on to the next step. 

Step 2.Second, help your pup develop a ‘positive conditioned response’ to the walking equipment. In other words, he gets excited when his outfit appears. (More on how puppies learn by association in the next post of this series.) 

Bring out the chosen items – we recommend a well-fitting harness and flat leash. 

Watch as your pup looks at and investigates the gear. Looking and sniffing are the objectives. If he chews or bites at an item, gently take it away, trading him for a piece of food. (It’s okay. You’re not rewarding him for mouthing; you’re rewarding him for trading and then leaving the items alone while you dress him.)

With the leash and harness in sight, give your puppy a few treats. Then hide the gear. The flow of treats stops when the gear disappears. Repeat a few times until your inquisitive canine is delighted by the appearance of the walking equipment. Once you have this positive conditioned response, you can begin getting him dressed. 

Step 3.Depending on how many straps and how it fits, start with getting your pup dressed in the harness one anatomical area at a time. For instance, if you have to lift a paw or encircle the body, complete one motion, treating your pup for sitting and staying for that specific motion. Repeat as needed until the harness is completely on. 

Then remove the harness and repeat the exercise. To avoid frustration – for both you and your puppy- you might need to prompt your pup by holding treats in front of his nose, delivering one at a time, keeping him focused on staying still and not wanting to play with the walking gear. (Playtime comes after he’s dressed!) 

Step 4.With the harness securely fastened, ask puppy to continue to sit or stand. Reward him for staying, while you attach the leash. Once that is complete, the final reward is getting to go for a walk, even if it’s around your living room or backyard! 

Step 5. That’s right. Begin teaching the leash walking basics (more on that below) inside your home, with few distractions. Teaching young pups to walk on leash in and around your house is a good stepping-stone to full-fledged walking out and about.

If your pup is still trying to teethe on or chew the harness or leash, you can increase the rate at which you’re delivering treats, increase the value of the rewards (instead of kibble use small pieces of cooked chicken), or provide a chew toy for him to put his mouth on instead.

Most importantly, practice a few times throughout the day, keeping the sessions short so your little guy can stay focused and engaged, and neither of you becomes frustrated or bored. The more you practice, the more smoothly and quickly each step flows into the next. 

Let’s Take This Outside

Great! Now that your puppy is acclimated to his leash and harness, it’s time to practice walking! After, starting indoors, begin to practice in a variety of settings under different conditions, so your puppy learns to generalize loose leash walking skills

  • Outdoors, continue teaching in lower distraction areas. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings.
  • If your inquisitive puppy is pulling on walks, he is telling you that either he doesn’t know what is expected of him; what he is pulling towards is more motivating or interesting than you are at the moment; or your expectations might not be aligned with your puppy’s age, energy level, breed or the selected walking location (too many distractions too soon?). Adjust interaction, motivation, environment and/or level of difficulty, as needed, to set your puppy up for success, so you can embark on walks that you both enjoy.    
  • If your puppy is refusing to walk on leash, first assess why. Is your pooch not feeling well? In pain? Is it too hot or too cold outside? Is pup scared of something? A “food test” can sometimes be helpful when trying to figure out if a puppy is stressed or not feeling well. Refusing to eat can mean he or she is physically ill or scared – animals (humans too) don’t often want to eat when they’re frightened or sick. Of course, address any health and/or emotional concerns before proceeding with the walk. Contact a veterinarian and certified behavior consultant if you are worried or not sure what’s going on with your pup.

On the other hand, if baby Fido is just planting his paws because he is bored, then simply increase the motivation. Use treats and toys to prompt him along and make it a game! Basically – be more interesting to your dog than the surrounding area.

  • A reminder: If food is going to be used for training, cut back on the amount fed at mealtimes and use the remaining portion for training. Another reason puppies might not want to eat, or be motivated by food during training, is if they’re already full!
  • Lastly, you have a new puppy. Fantastic! But, be prepared! (Gone are the days of just walking out of the house with your house keys.) Remember to bring poop bags, items to engage your puppy in interactive play (if the outing calls for it), food for training, water (or access to water) and of course a collar for pup’s ID.

Now you’re ready to unleash the fun and safely adventure outdoors with your inquisitive puppy! Enjoy this time together, learning, playing, and bonding!

Up Next: Your New Puppy – How Do Puppies Learn?

Wanna dig deeper? Here’s a guide to the resources mentioned in this post:

Your New Puppy – How to Enjoy Fun and Success While Training the Basics

For you and your new puppy, now is the ideal time to create a lifetime of good habits for everything. Enjoy fun AND success in training by incorporating lots of enthusiasm, praise and love!

Your New Puppy – Unleashing Adventures in Potty Training

When it comes to potty training your new puppy, do your best to be patient, consistent, and proactive. It’s your job to prevent accidents by setting her up to make the right choice about where to potty. This post takes you through that process.

Fido’s Homeschooling DIY Training Program: Loose Leash Walking

Take your inquisitive canine for a walk that is safe, fun and enjoyable for you both. A pawsitive approach to teaching loose leash walking is a step in the right direction.  

Fido’s Homeschooling DIY Training Program: Sit and Stay

The key to success in teaching any behavior is to start easy and go slowly. Also, remember to use the cue only once, then wait. If Fido doesn’t respond, think about ways you can help your pup succeed, perhaps by making adjustments in the motivation, environment and/or level of difficulty.    

Dog Training Dilemma – To Treat or Not to Treat?

Read this post for a heaping helping of expertise in dog behavior with a side order of pawsitivity, discussing the who, what, how, when, and where of using food for training your inquisitive canine.

Homeschooling Your Dog: Essential Training Concepts to Help You Succeed

Generalizing means taking skills dogs have grasped in one area and making sure they understand them in many other contexts. 

A Walk in the Park: Leash Walking Tips for You and Your Pup

In this guest post for Edhat, Joan Hunter Mayer walks pet parents through some of the common challenges they face: Why do dogs pull? What can you do if your dog is pulling? What dog walking equipment is recommended? How do you train loose leash walking? How do you bring these skills out into “the real world,” filled with distractions? 

Harnessing the Power of Motivation in Dog Training

By identifying motivators for your dog – every dog is an individual – and applying some basic learning theory, you can easily work training into everyday activities and have fun doing it!


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