It’s no secret that walking is beneficial for dogs and humans alike, and is a great way to socialize your pet, expose and familiarize them to new sounds and smells, and to bond in the process.
Whilst you might think it is as simple as just putting the leash on the puppy and taking them for a walk, there are many different things that need to be considered.
Firstly, puppies are not like older, experienced dogs. They tend to walk faster, and have an innate curiosity that leads them to get distracted, thus there is some basic training that needs to be implemented, if only to get them used to the whole process.
Before You Get Started
Some important things to consider before going for outdoor walks are the immune system and vaccination schedule of your puppy.
A puppy who hasn’t had the necessary shots shouldn’t be out and about in public, as they could be exposed to any number of external factors that could affect their health.
Similarly, a dog with a poor immune system should be given special priority when it comes to walking environments, including time of day, location, the busyness of the environment, and the vicinity to other dogs.
Remember, whilst exercise is important, it is not a blanket rule for every dog. Certain dogs will have special requirements and considerations to take into account, and it is important to adhere to these for the overall long term health of the animal.
Before you leash up and take on the great outdoors together, there are several handy tips and tricks you can do to make the whole process easier on you both.
Practice Using The Leash
One useful trick to getting your puppy used to walking with the leash, is to try it on them at home to let them get used to wearing it.
Younger dogs should have a snug fitting harness that will fasten on their back and provide ample support.
It is important to measure your puppy to get the correct size, making sure that it isn’t so loose that they can slip out and escape, but that it isn’t so tight that it becomes uncomfortable for them.
A good tip is to let them wear the harness and leash during indoor playtime. This will not only get them used to wearing it, but will also make them come to associate it with fun and affection, removing the anxiety in their minds.
Of course, one of the most important things about taking any dog into a public place is obedience. This is the best way to keep your dog safe, other dogs safe, and other humans safe, and is just an all-round important part of any dog’s training.
Verbal cues and commands are great ways to instill obedience in your puppy, and make sure they immediately respond to your commands.
This can be done with specific sounds, which you train the puppy to associate with certain rewards or sensations.
This can be as simple as creating a sound that the dog will respond to, and when they do respond, giving them a treat or snack. Over time this will make them associate that sound with food, and make them all the more likely to respond to it automatically.
This is useful for public places and leash walking, as you can get the undivided attention of your puppy in a manner that is subtle, quick, and effective, perfect for avoiding confrontations with other dogs, or for grounding them during busy or loud environments.
Similar to this is the “heel” command, which is a good command to teach your pet, as it brings them to your feet, keeping them close and accounted for.
A similar thing can be done physically. This can be as simple as getting them to walk to you whilst wearing the leash, then backing away further as they approach.
If you reward them when they eventually reach you, they will quickly come to associate obedience and closeness with treats or snacks.
Dogs naturally get distracted by their surroundings, so their wandering attention is nothing to be concerned about, but having these quick and easy behavioral tools at your disposal can really prove useful when the situation arises.
Once these commands and cues are established, and your puppy is somewhat used to wearing the leash and harness, try walking them around your house to get them used to maneuvering whilst wearing it.
Once again, reward their obedience and good behavior with treats and snacks, so that they continually associate this with praise.
Once they are more comfortable moving around in the harness and leash, you can then progress to outdoor use.
This could begin on your own property, walking your puppy around the yard and rewarding them for obedience. This will help them to associate not only the leash with treats, but also the act of wearing it outdoors.
Once this has been done, you could then proceed to parks or out in public for the first proper test run.
Employ the same cues and commands you have been training your puppy with, but remember to be supportive and understanding of any stress or anxiety they might be experiencing.
Afterall, this experience is totally new for them too!
How Far To Walk?
Obviously it is important not to jump straight into the deep end as far as exercise goes. Your dog won’t thank you for overexerting it, and gradual increases are always more beneficial as far as exercise is concerned.
Whilst there is no definitive answer as far as walking distance is concerned, the best way of knowing is judging by your puppy’s energy levels on any given occasion, and proceed from there.
But obviously, the distance a dog can walk is based on several factors, including heath, breed, and temperament.
Certain bulkier breeds have less stamina and are less keen on long distance walks, and small dogs with shorter legs will get tired quicker.
Whilst health is not necessarily a major concern as far as puppies go, any underlying joint or muscle issues can seriously affect the distances they can walk, so always be mindful of your dog and observe their posture and gait.
And lastly, temperament does play a part in whether your dog will be a champion hiker or a couch potato. Some dogs just aren’t keen on exercise, and others relish the idea of being outside.
The trick is to assess where your dog’s preferences lay, and then proceed accordingly. All dogs need exercise, but some don’t want as much as others.
The world itself is full of distractions and random occurrences, and theoretical training can only go so far.
Be it people coming to pet your puppy, other dogs acting aggressively, or the louder social environment, there are plenty of unknown entities for you and your dog to experience.
What If They Pull?
There could be many reasons why your puppy would pull on the leash. It could see a small animal (like a squirrel or bird), it might spot something tasty on the street as you walk on by, or it could get drawn into a confrontation with another dog.
If your dog seems hell bent on going the opposite direction, simply plant yourself firm and stop them from moving. Then repeat the training tactics you already practiced to reestablish obedience.
This sounds simple, but can be easier said than done when out in the real world.
What If They Lunge?
The best thing to do if your dog hurriedly darts towards something is to be proactive. Observe your surroundings, assess what your puppy might be distracted by, and work hard to avoid them where possible.
If there is another dog present, lift your puppy up out of harm’s way, or if the barking dog is in the distance, reestablish obedience with a verbal cue and try to move along.
The main thing to remember is vigilance. You are the master in this situation, and you are taking your puppy out into an unfamiliar human world, so in many ways it is your responsibility to meet them halfway and avoid unwanted confrontations or distractions.
What If They Bark?
Barking at other dogs whilst out walking can be a symptom of many things.
Poor training is an obvious reason, and it represents a lack of discipline set by the owner. Proper verbal and physical commands can help to remedy this behavior over time.
A lack of exercise can be another major factor. A dog that isn’t regularly exercised could be feeling lethargic, frustrated, or bored, and so their behavior can reflect this when out in public.
Try and regularly exercise your puppy to burn off steam, get some fresh air, and to socialize them, getting them used to other people and dogs they might encounter whilst out in the world.
Employ treats once again, until they become confident and comfortable going on walks, reducing these gradually over time until it becomes second nature.
If your dog becomes distracted by a small animal or another dog, the best thing to do is provide a better one. This could be done through a treat, or even attention, showing the puppy that you are the most valued thing in its life.
Whilst this may not work in every eventuality, with the proper training your puppy should gradually come to associate external factors as irrelevant, and be more focused on you, your expectations, and commands.
If you follow these simple tips and tricks and employ them in your walking schedule, then before long you will be amazed at the difference it will make in the behavior, loyalty, and temperament of your puppy.
With proper training, patience and an effective reward system, the benefits will soon present themselves, and the new behavioral traits will become second nature, for you and your puppy.
Remember, practice makes perfect!