Walking a dog looks so easy! It should be a walk in the park (literally), right? Oftentimes, walking on a leash is one of the hardest things new dog owners are surprised about. Here are tips and tricks to make sure you and your dog are safe and enjoy one of the most important bonding times you have together.
FIRST – IS YOUR PUPPY OLD ENOUGH TO WALK?
Until your puppy has his parvo shot, be hyper vigilant as this prevalent virus can kill your pup. We did not walk our puppy on the grass until he was 12 weeks old. When you first start walking your dog, remember… crawl, walk, run. Start with 5 minute walks and gradually ramp up 5 minutes at a time. Be careful not to over exercise your puppy and ensure he is getting the proper level of activity. Ideally, you vary the walks with indoor play where he is allowed to run in short sprints.
WATCH THE SIDEWALKS…
Always be two steps ahead of your dog (not literally). Keep your eyes on the sidewalk and learn to gaze ahead and ensure there are no harmful items your dog can eat. You’d be surprised at the surprises that people litter on the sidewalks! And… you may be horrified at how many chicken bones there are on the street.
We live in an urban area with a buffet of trash on the streets. By scanning ahead during walks, I have been able to prevent my puppy from eating chocolate, bones, and gum, along with a plethora of other items that would have been harmful to my pup.
It may sound tedious… but eventually, it’ll become second nature.
WALK WITH TREATS
When my pup was learning how to walk alongside me, I rewarded him after every successful block that he walked properly (without jumping, bolting, or running after someone). This reinforced proper walking skills (positive reinforcement). Training leashes can be particularly useful at this stage in your dog walking progression.
HARNESS VS. COLLAR
There are lots of different theories and recommendations on types of harnesses, but we opted to choose a harness in order to minimize pulling of the neck and throat. This is different for everyone and every dog, but do your research and find out what works best for both of you. Many puppies are perfectly happy with a well-fitting collar!
LETTING HIM EXPLORE VS. MOVING ALONG
When my pup became 6 months old, he was entering into puberty and wanted to sniff and “mark” everything! I used treats and positive reinforcement to distract him and move him along. When he was marking every pole and fire hydrant, I didn’t reward those with treats, but rather encouraged him to move along and then gave him a treat for every block he successfully walked. Another thing to remember about puppies is that they can require different leashes than adult dogs.
Understand why your dog is sniffing. Sometimes sniffing can indicate nervousness, so try to understand why your dog is behaving a certain way. Do not jump to conclusions or use punishment in any way.
Another cause for pause is other dogs! Can your dog meet every other dog on the street? Where we live, we run into at least 3 other dogs on each walk. We let our dog say hello to everyone while he was in socialization phase, but also understand that your dog’s safety is first. Once, a homeless dog ran out and tried to attack my dog out of nowhere, and I had to scoop him up before anything bad happened – so beware! There are unsafe creatures out there, so be prepared to keep an eye out for them and to rescue your dog.
You should find the right balance between how much you and your dog should be allowed to stop and explore vs. keep walking along. Think of window shopping with your spouse… how many times should she be allowed to stop and look into the window displays vs. continue walking without pause? The world is filled with distractions, smells, and sensory overload. Have some empathy for your pup while ensuring that you strike that balance.