When I was growing up, my family got a beagle puppy when I was ten. She passed away when I was seventeen and shortly after, my parents got another beagle puppy. My mom was very consistent about walking the dog and she would go almost every evening, even in the rain and snow. But we never taught either puppy how to walk on a leash. What was there to teach? You just clipped your puppy to the leash and started walking. No worries if the dog was 10 feet in front of you, pulling you down a hill or zigzagging. The walk was supposed to be fun for the dog, right?
In the months leading up to when we got Zara, Chris and I watched a bunch of Dog Whisperer shows and also read Cesar Millian’s How to Raise a Perfect Puppy. If you’ve seen the show, then you know Cesar is a huge proponent of a proper walk, where the dog is walking beside the human and the human is determined the course of the walk. When some properly, it looks so effortless and relaxing. We wanted our puppy to walk like that!
Naturally, it was not Zara’s instinct to walk by our sides. When we first got her, she didn’t even like to walk. I think this was mainly due to the fact that it’s winter and she was scared of all the outside stimuli (cars, buses, etc.). Once she started wanting to walk, she would bolt ahead and pull us along.
We knew we’d need a harness, so we got an Easy Walk harness because our friends had good success with that. This type of harness has a clip for the leash in the front, across the dog’s chest. When they pull, they are forced to one side or another. They can’t yank as hard if they were pulling with their neck. Zara was not a fan of the harness as first but she doesn’t seem to mind it as much now.
Loose leash walking is one topic we’ve discussed in puppy kindergarten class. To teach the puppy, you hold the end of the leash in one hand (I use my left) and use your other hand to control the amount of leash the dog has. The dog should only have a foot or two of leash. The dog walks on the side opposite the hand that is holding the end of the leash. For me, that’s the right.
To start, you use treats to give the puppy when it’s walking slightly behind you. You start walking, and as the puppy follows you, you give it a treat. If the puppy starts pulling ahead, you can switch the direction you are moving to get it behind you again.
Zara does pretty well with this when I have treats. She tends to walk beside me for the first 10 minutes or so and then she’ll get distracted or scared and start pulling ahead. Lately, once she starts pulling, I stop and say “back.” This is (hopefully) teaching her that pulling doesn’t get her anywhere. It’s definitely still a work in progress, but she’s getting better. It’s really important for her to be a good walker because Chris and I are going to run with her when she’s older and we can’t have a zigzagging and pulling running partner, especially since the trails around Arlington are heavily used.