Walk on a Leash Properly
We have all seen them—the dog owner who has his or her dog on the lead and the dog is straining and pulling. You secretly want to help. The dog may be choking from pulling so hard and the owner is left to pull back, to shout the pet’s name and a command. This will never work. Period. When it comes to walking on the leash properly, you want to start slowly, just like you do with other commands. I trained a pup once that was so young, she was frightened of the leash. What worked, though, was to put on her collar and leash and let her wander around the house while wearing them. As the dog got more comfortable, she calmed down and I could hold the lead and start working with the actual walking-on-the-leash exercise. You want all the tools you use for your dog to be comfortable for him. Sometimes this takes extra time; if it does, patience is key. Remember that dogs are unique and, just like children, sometimes need more time to get used to new things.
Once your pet is used to the collar and leash, put it on him and have him sit or heel next to your left leg. When you start training on the leash, begin in a location with few distractions. This may be a spare bedroom, the kitchen or even a hallway with no furniture. You want your dog to get the basics of the training, so eliminating distractions is critical. Once he gets it, you can escalate to a more public location or a location with more going on. Start by using the “sit” command. Have your dog take the proper form, which is sitting at your left side, parallel to your leg. Of course, a small pup can be a little sloppier, but as your dog ages you can make the form more precise. When your dog is in the right form, use the command “let’s go.” This tells your dog it is time to move. Start with your left leg. If your pet walks in front of you, gently use your left leg to push him back into form. Start by walking back and forth in a straight line. Don’t give any other commands. Just use “let’s go” to get to the end of your line. When you get to the end (which should be about 10 to 15 feet away, but can be longer if you have the space), turn your pet around and start again. Each time you want to “reset” the exercise, use the same consistent commands and guidelines.
After your pet learns to walk in a straight line, you can start working in a bigger area and turning. This is when your pet should be paying close attention to where you’re moving. If you lean right, he should start to go with you. If you lean left, the same. Again, if you are going left, use your left leg to gently ease your dog back into form. When you see that your pet has mastered walking on the lead inside, it is time to increase the difficulty. Here is an example. You’re in your yard practicing and you start your dog heeling next to you in the right form. You say “let’s go” and start moving. Your pet follows and then you both see a squirrel. You sense that your dog is losing interest in you and the leash and may rush in the direction of the squirrel. Pull out the treats you have, put them in front of your dog’s nose and say something to get his attention. I like “pay attention.” The direct command coupled with the treat should be enough to get the dog’s attention back on you. If you notice that the squirrel makes it impossible to continue without repeatedly saying “pay attention,” end the training. This is a sign that your dog is not ready. Return to the house with minimal distractions and go outside again during the next training session.
As your dog masters the walking-on-a-leash training, you can increase the difficulty by going to a street. I like easing into it by taking a dog for a walk on the street in the early morning, when there aren’t a lot of people out. You can also try this later at night. Again, ease your dog into more activity around him as you train. If your dog isn’t responding well, end training, take a step back and try again later.
One common issue with training on the leash is pulling. You must let your pet know that pulling or straining is not acceptable. If your dog starts doing this, have the treats ready to get your pet’s attention back on you. Again, if this doesn’t work, end training and take a step back to the basics. If your pet is a chronic puller, you may want to purchase a harness with water bottle compartments on each side. Put half-filled water bottles on each side and start practicing. You’d be surprised at how this can give your pet something else to focus on when walking. He’ll feel the added weight on his harness and focus more. Remember, though, to always train at the level of your dog. You can’t expect a puppy to get it right in a busy setting. You must work with him consistently and patiently, just like you do with all other commands.
Another option for chronic pullers is to immediately turn in a different direction. Let’s say you see your dog rushing toward another dog coming at you. Turn your dog around and continue moving in the same direction. Try to get the distraction out of your dog’s eyeline. As he starts walking in the other direction, praise him and continue training.
“Stay” is another skill with which you want to spend some time helping your pet. This skill takes consistent and gradual work. Start by getting your dog to sit. When he is in position, firmly say “stay.” Take one step back from your puppy but try to keep his attention on you. You can do this by holding up a treat, which should encourage your dog to keep his eyes on you. As your dog is watching, take another step away from him. Stand still for a moment, then encourage your puppy to come to you with the “come” command. Use an upbeat and playful voice to get your puppy to rush to you. This shouldn’t take much. Likely, your pup is ready to rush to you the minute you move away on your first step.
When your dog is ready, conduct the same training but move three steps away. Use your dog’s success with the activity to determine how far you move. As with all training, gradually up the difficulty by moving farther and farther away. If your pet rushes to you, correct him, put him back in the sit position and try again, a little closer. When your dog is doing a great job with “stay” in the house, it is time to move to other settings. Start in the yard. Because your pet will be off leash at some point, be sure your area is secure and that your pet can’t run off. A fenced-in yard is ideal. If you don’t have one, a closed-in tennis court at your local park can be a godsend. Yes, you might have to move around a bit if tennis players come and you may have to rush your dog off the court if he has to pee, but they are enclosed and safe. As with all other training skills, be sure to lavish your dog with praise when he stays and comes as you direct.
Crate time is another issue you will want to introduce to your puppy right away. The crate is the safest place for your puppy to be when you’re not around. Your puppy won’t hurt himself and your home will be fine. It may take some time to get used to, though. Place the crate in a carefully selected place. You don’t want the crate to be in a cold draft, for example. Introduce your pet to his crate carefully so that he always associates it with being a happy area. Put a treat in it and let your pet find it. You can also try to feed your pet in his crate. You want to ensure that your dog knows how wonderful his crate is.
The amount of time your pet spends in his crate will depend on your schedule. As long as you are giving your pet adequate training and exercise, you shouldn’t have a problem with your pet being inside his crate for a few hours at a time. You will know pretty quickly if he is spending too much time in the crate. If your pet is super-hyper or destructive, you may be keeping him in the crate too long. If this is the case, try to either change your schedule or get additional help from a friend who can step in and let your dog out for a mid-day run.
What you’ll also notice is that as your dog gets used to the crate, he will seek it out if he is tired or if things in the house are too chaotic. Sometimes your pet will go to his crate just to relax. This is a great sign that he is taking to his crate perfectly. In fact, sometimes when your dog is an adult and well-trained, you can leave your house and not even close the door to the crate. Your dog will know confidently that you will be back and he will just chill in his crate until you return.
One of the main reasons you have a crate for your dog is that puppies are naturally conditioned to not eliminate in their space. Most puppies get this right away. When you start housebreaking, you want to decide on a few things:
- When you plan to feed your dog
- Where your dog is supposed to eliminate
- Your entire routine for your pet
Look at your schedule and come up with a pet schedule. Note what time you’ll be feeding your puppy in the morning, afternoon and night. Usually a pet must eliminate about 20 to 30 minutes after eating. This is just a general rule, though; you should pay attention to your puppy to see what his body schedule is like.
You should also pick a place where your puppy will eliminate. This may be by a specific tree or a square of grass. Choose an out-of-the-way location that you can easily clean as needed. It is important to separate “pee time” from “play time.” This is because you want your puppy to know that when it is time to eliminate, it isn’t time to chase a bug or chew grass. He has a job to do at this time and he needs to focus on it. I like using a command at this time. Let’s say your pet ate at 7 a.m. You know that he will have to pee some time around 7:30 a.m. Pick up your puppy, take him to the designated area and give the command. I like “go do it.” Keep your puppy at the designated pee area until he eliminates. Give him time to finish. When he does, praise your puppy and take him directly back into the house. Remember that this isn’t play time. To reinforce this, you can put your puppy into his crate when you return to the house. Even if this is for only five minutes, it clearly separates play time from potty time. After the five minutes are up, you can let your puppy out to have some fun.
Obviously, if your puppy eats at 7 a.m. and then has an accident in the home at 7:15 a.m., you know that he needs only 15 minutes after eating to be ready for a potty break. Change your schedule and get him out sooner. The contrary is also true. Some puppies (in particular older ones) take 40 minutes to get ready to go. You just have to listen to your puppy’s needs and work around them.
Know your schedule so you can set up a routine. When you come home, you will probably feed your puppy again so take him out a half hour after eating. Do the same thing with a five-minute “break” in the crate. Repeat this at night. If you are consistent, you should see your puppy start to “get it” within a few days. Of course, every puppy is different, so it may take a little longer. Work with your puppy patiently and consistently so he understands what he must do.
Remember that when it comes to housebreaking, your puppy will make mistakes. This is natural. This is also why you should keep your puppy on a tile floor rather than carpet for the first few weeks, until he gets used to his new schedule. If your puppy does have an accident, never discipline him. You want your dog to understand that eliminating is great. It is exactly what you want him to do. You just want him to do it in a specific place. When your puppy has an accident, it is also important to clean the smell. Often puppies smell their pee and think, ‘Oh, yeah—here’s where I pee!’ That smell reminds them to do it again! You want to eliminate all odors with a good 1:10 dilution of bleach to water. You can also use Nature’s Miracle with water. They both will clean the mess and eliminate the smell so that reminders are long gone.
When it comes to housebreaking, there is absolutely no room for “rubbing his nose in it,” spanking, yelling, harsh words or anything negative. You can easily teach your dog that eliminating is bad. All he’ll do at this point is try to hide his mistakes and this causes an entirely new problem. Your puppy will associate you with punishment and not trust.