Walk Your Dog Month: navigating your puppy's first walk
Taking your puppy for their first walk is an exciting milestone for both owner and pup. While your puppy navigates its first steps and sniffs outside in the unknown, owners should start right away on lead training their pup, in a fun and engaging way before it is too late.
However, teaching your dog lead manners isn’t always ‘a walk in the park’ and miscommunication between you and your pooch can lead to frustration from both parties.
To avoid being yanked one way to another Lorna Winter, dog trainer and co-founder of puppy training app Zigzag, has shared her top seven tips to help navigate your puppies first walk.
- Train ‘naked’ - the pup, not you!
First, start with puppy lead training inside the house and teach them that by your side is the right place to be. You can do this by having some treats in your left hand and your pup alongside you. Slowly walk forward with your puppy’s nose sniffing the treats in your hand. As they follow the treats with their nose, reward them by dropping them on the floor from time to time. We want them to associate walking beside you as good behaviour that will end with something yummy.
The key is to reward your puppy while you keep moving – don’t stop to give them treats as this will result in frequent stops on walks.
- Get dressed!
Assuming you’ve mastered the at-home work, it’s time to gear your puppy up. As you put the harness and collar on, this will feel awkward to them at first so you will want to take time and build this up slowly, whilst using treats to reward them. This way they will learn that getting dressed is nothing to be worried about, and will result in reward rather than any discomfort.
You can still start lead training a puppy indoors so that they become familiar but once you feel both yourself and your pup are confident and ready, it’s time to step outside.
- Attaching the lead
Attach the lead to the harness and practice indoors and in your garden, rewarding your puppy for walking next to you - try doing a few more steps between treats each time.
Keep your lead ‘smiley’: When the lead loops down loose, it will look like a smile between you and your dog. As long as the lead looks smiley, you’re on the right track. Have the lead in the opposite hand to the side you walk your puppy on. That way, you won't have to perform a contortionist act when handing them a treat.
- Start puppy lead training outside
Before attempting a walk to the park straight away, start with taking your puppy outside for a few short and simple lead walks. Outside, puppies will want to sniff everything. This can be quite distracting and will make it difficult for them to follow lead training. Some dog owners will find cheese or liver paste in a tube useful for lead training as you don’t have to bend down so far – a good tip for tall people and small dogs! Placing treats on the ground takes away the puppy’s need to always look up and they can focus on walking forward.
Dogs either like to walk very very slowly, or they like to walk quite briskly; regular human speed can be difficult for them to get the pace right. It’s important to go at your pups pace, which may mean speeding up or slowing down your own pace to match.
- Keep it short!
For the first few walks keep it short and sweet. There is so much your puppy is processing, from loud traffic sounds to new smells. It can be a huge task to complete even a small walk. So make sure you keep your walks short to start with and build your pooch up for longer strolls.
- Read the signs
It’s vital that in the early days of walking your dog you look for the signs of a distressed dog; sitting still, shaking, lead ragging/grabbing. Be mindful that your puppy may be anxious and don’t force them to do anything they don’t want to. Instead reward them with treats when they walk well and begin to head home when you can sense tiredness, frustration or agitation.
- Spice it up and change locations.
It’s very likely that you’ll want to take your puppy on walks other than to just your local park. When discovering new places, there are endless distractions that can make it difficult for your puppy to focus. To prepare for walking in new places, you’ll need:
- A puppy who has some idea that walking next to us predicts rewards and has practised that behaviour in easy locations first.
- Some high value treats to teach your puppy that engaging with us instead of everything else around them is worth their while.
- Owners should also avoid any distractions and focus their attention on their pup, as they will you. Phones away except for when taking cute pictures and videos!