Puppies aren't born knowing that they should walk nicely next to you!
It can be a frustrating endeavor to teach your puppy how to walk nicely on a leash. Luckily, there are many tools and tricks you can use to help you through this process!
The Opposition Reflex
First and foremost, it is helpful to understand why puppies pull while walking on the leash. Dogs have a natural instinct to resist pressure called the opposition reflex. This makes sense if you think about a dog in the wild getting snagged on something and needing to free themselves. They would pull away from what they got snagged on instead of sitting there in a vulnerable position.
Of course, puppies do not know that the leash is for their own safety and their natural instinct is to pull away from the pressure. Try to keep this in mind anytime you begin to lose patience while practicing leash work and training. It can be very easy to either give in to the pressure or add more resistance to our end of the leash.
“So what do I do?”
Always make sure that you have a firm grip on the leash while being careful that you are not adding pressure to your dog’s collar. I like to have my left hand as close to the clip as possible but relaxed at my side. Remember that the more pressure your dog feels, the more they will instinctively pull in the opposite direction.
We want our puppies to learn that no pressure= the reward of walking forward! The more consistent you are with your training, the quicker your puppy will learn that not pulling gets them where they want to go! Think of the game Red Light/Green Light. The second your puppy starts to pull you get a red light and you have to stop walking. When your puppy is walking without pulling you have the green light and you can continue on your way! If they continue to pull you'll need to stop and redirect them back to your side or go in the opposite direction and reward them when they return to your side.
“Help! My puppy keeps tripping me and walking all over the place!”
You ideally want to teach your puppy to walk on your left side. According to traffic laws we are supposed to walk against traffic, which would make the left side the safest place for your dog. Always make sure to reward your dog by the seam of your pants on your left leg, not out in front of you. This is teaching your dog that the “reward zone” is on your left side and will encourage them to remain there.
“How can I make this fun?”
One game you can play with your puppy is the Figure 8 Game:
Start off with two objects, like cones or chairs, which will serve as your barriers.
1. Stand in the center of the barriers with your puppy sitting on your left side.
2. Say “Let’s Go!” and begin walking around the left barrier. Give your puppy a food reward when they are walking at your side without pulling.
3. Continue back through the center of the barriers and around the right barrier. While walking around the right barrier, lower your body and pat your leg to get your puppy excited about following you.
4. Stop in the center again and reward your puppy for sitting on your left side.
Walking on a loose leash is no easy feat for your puppy or for you! Be patient with your furry friend and with yourself. If you are struggling, ask yourself if your puppy is ready for the environment you are in. Remember that this takes time and is not something you will conquer in a week!
What difficulties have you run into when you teach your puppy to walk on a leash? Let us know in the comments below!