Training walks are not just for puppies and dogs in-training. Training walks are important for trained dogs too! This post will focus on new puppies and dogs in-training going on their very first training walks with their owners.
What exactly is a training walk?
This is not a walk for exploration and exercise like a loose-leash walk is for. The point of this walk is to work on our training and leash manners. We want to remind our trained dog and teach our dog-in-training the proper rules and procedures while on leash. This is an excellent exercise of the mind and is a bonding experience for the walker and the walkee. I genuinely enjoy training walks and you will soon find that you do as well.
When to Start, How Often and How Long?
A new puppy should be started immediately upon bringing the puppy home from the breeder or shelter. The sooner you get a leash and collar on your new little guy the better it will be for both of you. Get that 7 week old puppy out for a walk!
An untrained puppy or adult should be taken on training walks every single day, preferably twice a day if possible. These walks can be combined with loose-leash exercise/exploration walks if you want. So long as you provide an obvious transition point to the dog there is no problem with doing both types of walks in one outing.
Training walks are quite brief for the new puppy or dog. Small puppies may only be willing to do 5 minutes at first but by the end of the first several days the puppy should be taking a 10-15 minute training walk (hopefully twice a day). An adult dog can build up to about 20 minutes if desired after about a week, depending on the dog’s individual progress.
Components of the Walk
- You’ll start by maintaining a fairly short and firmly held leash, making sure to hold the leash up so that the new puppy or dog doesn’t trip or wrap him/herself up in a dangling leash. You do not want the leash tight or putting pressure on the puppy’s throat by the collar. You just don’t want a dragging leash tripping your dog. So the leash should be gently slack but not dragging around or totally loose like it might be during an exercise walk. Keep the leash short.
- Walk the puppy on your left hand side. This is the standard side one walks a dog on.
- Try to keep the puppy as focused on you as possible. You want him to look around and enjoy himself but the point of this walk is for the puppy to pay very close attention to you, your leadership, cues and so forth. You can get and keep the puppy’s attention by talking to her, kissing at her, whistling at her and encouraging her to look at you.
- Practice heeling. You don’t want your excited puppy to pull on the leash. And you don’t want a reluctant puppy to master the art of non-violent protest by sitting or lying down and refusing to budge.
- Practice having the puppy sit (and hopefully look at your face) whenever you stop walking.
- Practice ignoring distractions like prey animals, other dogs, other people and passing cars or crowds. Puppy cannot sniff around and yank on the leash or go crazy to meet new people. The puppy can only sniff a bit if she needs to potty and you’ve asked her to “hurry up” or “go potty” (or whatever your phrase is).
- Practice “asking permission” to be released from the training walk to play. Puppy should sit and look to you prior to you unclipping the leash or allowing the puppy to play with other dogs.
- When being greeted by other people the puppy should sit politely on the leash and not ask for attention or receive it by being overly excited or crazy on the leash. If your puppy is doing this and won’t calm down then remove her from the situation. Fun visit ends because she didn’t listen. This will quickly help her learn to calm down when she is asked… trust me. She’ll learn because that’s a tough consequence for little puppies!
- Puppy should sit at the curb before crossing a street (while you’re stopped, looking both ways), sit anytime and every time you stop moving and sit before being allowed in the house at the end of the walk (or unclipped from the leash, etc.)
When There are Bumps in the Road
Some puppies really want your attention during a walk and will actually jump in front of you, usually facing you, and hop up onto your legs in an attempt to get your attention. The challenge is that the puppy does this while you’re walking, getting herself under your feet and tripping you or getting herself stepped on in the process.
Other puppies simply walk right through your legs and under your feet or otherwise cut you off with hardly a thought.
These puppies always seem hell-bent on causing you to break your neck falling. Or worse… you could break the puppy’s leg stepping on her by mistake.
How do you stop this puppy? You walk right “through” her.
- Keep your knees straight and try to slow down enough that you can avoid crushing the puppy underfoot.
- You’ll kind of goose-step like that with the idea that when puppy crosses in front of you she’ll be scooped up by a foot and pushed off to the side without harm to anyone.
- Puppy won’t like being booted out of the way and will quickly learn to knock it off.
The attention seeker – when the puppy is doing this purely to get your attention and get pet you can help avoid this problem by never (ever) petting the puppy unless the puppy is sitting politely and not jumping all over your legs begging for attention. Frankly you should be doing this already but if you aren’t then get on it!
- During your goose-step-puppy-scooting walk you can stop every minute or so and wait for the puppy to sit next to you (not in front of you). You can use the leash to gently guide the puppy next to you if she sits in front of you.
- Pet the puppy and tell her how clever she is.
- Begin your goose-step walk again and then in a minute or so stop to pet her.
This really helps because it teaches the puppy to be next to you instead of in front of you to receive affection and it also helps because the puppy is getting the attention she obviously craves and needs. Keep doing this until the puppy seems happy to walk for longer intervals in between petting sessions and is getting scooted by your foot less and less.
If you accidentally step on your puppy’s toes do not feel bad or apologize to the puppy. Unless you’ve actually harmed the puppy and need to get to a vet do not stop walking. Keep right on going. Do not encourage or reward the puppy in any way. Pretend you didn’t even notice treading on your little fluff ball. She needs to learn not to get under foot. A little stepped on puppy toe is far better than the awful injuries that can occur to both her and you if she doesn’t get this naughty habit under control.
What do you do when your Gandhi puppy lies down on the leash in a pitiful display of nonviolent protest?
- If your puppy sits, lies down or simply locks up her legs and refuses to walk away from home you should turn to face your puppy, standing in front of her.
- Now walk backwards and encourage your puppy to follow you. Sound very excited and fun. Energy and a high pitched voice will go far here. Don’t creep slowly or walk slowly but walk or trot quickly to get a little momentum going.
- While walking backwards gently shorten the leash and reel your puppy in (towards you). Don’t drag your puppy in any way that could harm her but definitely do not take “no” for an answer. A gentle bit of pressure and a bit of speed and momentum will quickly get your puppy up and following you.
- Once you’ve got your reluctant puppy walking (mostly) and not being completely dragged down the road keep your pace brisk
Frequently switch directions and walk backwards, facing your puppy a few more times. The key here is keeping your puppy’s interest.
Many young puppies do not like leaving home to go on walks. Just keep making her go because eventually she’ll get over her stubborn behavior and start going crazy with excitement for her important walks! Here is a very good time to remember that you’re the boss here and your pint-sized puppy toddler is not calling the shots. She may not want to go for a walk but you didn’t ask her permission. This is non-negotiable. She is coming on a walk with you. And don’t worry – she really will be glad she did.
The Draft-Horse Puppy
Usually your no-go puppy suddenly springs to life when she realizes you’re heading back to the house. Then you might wish you’d strapped a harness on her so that she could just pull you home… because she is straining on the end of her leash in her excitement to get back to her squeaky toys and snuggly dog bed.
Other times your pup or dog is just so excited to be going on a walk that he is straining on the end of his lead trying to get wherever it is that he thinks he is going.
Either way pulling on the leash is a no-no.
What not to do
There are some trainers that would suggest what is called a “leash-check” be applied here. This is a sharp tug or snap of the leash that yanks on your dog’s collar and throat and gets their attention. It causes discomfort (a nice way to say pain). You do NOT need to “leash-check” your dog or puppy. There is absolutely no reason to do this and it can cause damage to the windpipe (and in some breeds this can lead to the collapse of the windpipe entirely due to strain on the cartilage there). So please don’t yank your dog around. We really have no reason to do this except, perhaps, in an emergency situation.
What to do
Patience is a virtue and one a dog trainer must possess. Here is the perfect example where patience will teach your dog to heel rather quickly and without yanking the dog around or causing any pain to the dog (or your arm).
When your dog is super motivated to go forward you can prevent her from pulling by reminding her that non-violent protests work both ways.
- When she pulls enough that the leash becomes taught simply stop walking.
- Look at her and wait. She might whine, cry and throw a bit of a fit. Eventually she’ll let the leash slack a bit and she’ll sit on her little tushy while looking at you.
- When she sits down (even if at the end of the leash) and she is looking at you then you may begin to walk again.
- She will nearly positively begin pulling on the leash within a few seconds. Simply stop and wait all over again.
- Eventually she’ll begin looking at you and sitting right away. She’ll learn that sitting and looking at you push the “go” button. And she’s motivated to go. Good. We’re making progress.
Once she begins sitting automatically when she sees you’ve stopped walking you can begin to get her to come back next to you and then sit down prior to starting walking again.
- You can call her to you but if she doesn’t come voluntarily you will need to reel her in with the leash. Aren’t leashes useful?
- Praise her when she gets to you and then wait some more for her to sit. (If she already understands the command for “sit” then you can use that at this point.)
If you’re having a hard time getting her to walk all the way to you then you can break it into steps.
- Start walking when she gets herself halfway back to you and sits.
- You can also allow her to walk back and sit directly in front of you (or even on your feet) instead of right at your side.
Remember we’re all about progress and things being easy and rewarding. We do not need perfection right away. We want to set short, easy-to-attain goals so that we have lots of wins as frequently as possible. It is far better to take baby steps to make things super rewarding and positive and fun for everyone involved (and especially the puppy or dog). Frustration and failure are absolutely not an option when training puppies and dogs.
Stick with this and before a week is up you will have a puppy that makes a darn good concerted effort not to pull on the end of the leash. Puppy will spend more time looking up at you and you can reward her attention by walking faster for her.
Within a couple weeks of doing this you’ll have a puppy that is fully heeling all the time. She’ll be walking right by your side without an issue during training walks. It is ok not to be “relaxed” and exploratory during these walks. Remember we’re exercising the dog’s brain, training and ability to learn and follow your leadership and cues. Puppy can explore later. This is a great exercise and joy in and of itself. It is just as rewarding for your puppy to train and communicate effectively as it is for you.
Puppy Won’t Sit
You’ve stopped at a curb or for some other reason and the puppy doesn’t seem interested in sitting down. She doesn’t understand “sit” yet and perhaps she’s too focused on a grasshopper or something up ahead on the road, etc. Either way she is not paying attention to you and she is not sitting down.
- Wait. Just wait it out. She’ll sit at some point. Or…
- Jiggle the leash around like a snake (do not yank) and make verbal noises to get the pup’s attention.
- When puppy looks at you call her over and pet her.
- Then just stare at her and wait. Patience is a virtue. Trust me, she’ll sit eventually.
- If you must end the walk and you don’t have the time to wait (should not be every walk or every day) then you can gently put the puppy in a sitting position with your hands then immediately praise the puppy for sitting.
- Another alternative is to carry treats in your pocket or in a treat bag and get her to sit for one of those. Don’t do this every time or she’ll think each time you stop walking it is to feed her!
Continued Training Work
Once you’ve introduced these ideas (introduce, not master) you can begin adding in left and right turns and 180 changes in direction. You can stop and then go unexpectedly and do all kinds of stuff to make the walk more interesting.
If you change direction and your puppy does not you will just keep right on walking. When the leash inevitably becomes taught the pup should notice your absence and scamper to catch up with you. If she does not you can do one of three things:
- Start jogging in the new direction. She’ll start running to catch up
- Stop and wait the same as you would for a leash-pulling puppy
- Turn and face her and jog backwards, encouraging her to follow you as you would for a “no-go”
Keep it Up!
Once you have a puppy or dog that is sitting automatically whenever you stop walking, is heeling voluntarily by your side, is walking voluntarily away from home (and hopefully with some enthusiasm) and you can make things exciting by adding sudden and unexpected left and right turns, full 180 direction changes, and all kinds of fun stuff to make the walk super interesting then you will essentially just keep it up.
Make the walk as tricky and challenging as possible. Walk quickly then stop. Then suddenly start walking backwards. What does she do? Take a left… no, a right, spin around. Now spin around again. Stop. Go. Cross a street. Stop and pet her. Stop and ask her to do other commands she knows verbally (like lay down or stay or give a paw, etc.)
Make your walk engaging mentally and physically and make it lots of fun for both of you. You’ll be able to do these amazing “keep it up” training walks in just a few very short months of ringing your new puppy home. And for many of you there will be mastery of these skills in 6 short weeks of daily 10-15 minute training walks.