It was two weeks after my last set of vaccines, and my world was forever changed. The moment I felt that cool grass between my toe beans was exhilarating, confusing, and pretty tingly. I wanted to run in every direction at the same exact time!
But my parents kept holding me back, like I was the bad pup in this situation or something! Umm, excuse me, was I the one withholding this world of opportunity away from you for four months and two weeks? No, I didn’t think so. Gotta give me some slack here, humans. It was all so new to me!
We started our first walk off slowly, or so I thought. Then some distant part of my subconscious heard my mom take a very deep breath and stop. It took a moment for my mind to catch up to my body and realize that the sniffs up ahead would have to wait, cause mom was suddenly turning back. We only took four steps before she stopped again! And turned left. Three steps. Stop. All these new sniffs were pulling at my attention, but mom was keeping me guessing and my puppy brain only had the capacity to pay attention to her! It helped that she had treats in her hand at every stop!
That first walk didn’t last long but I was exhausted. Between mom’s frequent changes of direction and my tugs or bunny hops towards the scents I wanted to sniff, 15 minutes was plenty long enough.
Every day we tried a slightly different walking route. For less outgoing pups, that might’ve made them stick by their human’s side more, but it just made me more likely to lead the way. @Maggie_leadtheway is my namesake on Instagram, yet my humans didn’t want me to do that in real life? Hypocrites.
Okay, maybe I’m too harsh.
Turns out it’s okay for me to lead the way so long as I’m not pulling my mom’s or dad’s arm out of their socket. Getting this lesson through my strong puppy head took repetition, patience, the right gear, and quite a bit of trial and error! Even after I became a good loose leash walker, my mom and dad still practiced the techniques to help maintain my solid foundation.
Since mom’s memory is much better, I’ll let her take the keyboard to quickly share what worked for us. You can also check out this reel to see my walking skills in action.
Hi Maggie’s friends and fellow dog parents! Maggie was a strong puller even when she was only 25lbs. We knew it was essential that we get it under control while she was a puppy, especially since she’s a standard size dog. Here’s what worked.
Pick the side you want your dog to walk on and make sure they always walk on that side. At least while they’re initially training (you can loosen up on it as they get older). My fiancé and I are right-handed, so Maggie walks on our right side.
We started teaching Maggie the command “stop” on our second walk. That means she stopped, sat down, heard the marker word, received a treat, then waited until I wanted to walk again. While we waited, I would stand to the left of her. As I took my first step, I would say her release word (“okay”). If she started pulling again, I would say “stop” plant my feet, and start all over again. Humans are likely to lose patience faster than puppies, but it will be worthwhile so stick with it!
Keep them guessing. For Maggie, frequent changes of direction worked better than trying different routes every time. The quality of the walk matters more than the length of the walk. To make it more interesting for you as well, you can set checkpoints that are increasingly farther away from your home and do “laps” between your home and the checkpoints. Reward every time a checkpoint is reached without pulling.
“Right hand side, right hand guide” is a saying we learned from the amazing @mango.thedoggo's mom, who used to be lead trainer at the Zoom Room. If your dog walks on your right side, have a treat in your right hand that will guide them forward. This will help your dog realize that good things happen when they stay by your side!
“Watch me” is initially taught as a seated command, but you can incorporate it into your walk as well. That’s because your pup can’t be ahead of you if they need to watch you. At first, Maggie would stop walking when we said, “watch me”, but over time she learned that she could walk and watch at the same time!
Collar: we use a Wolfgang Man & Beast martingale collar (code: MAGGIE10) because it is all fabric meaning Maggie’s fluff can’t get caught when the collar tightens. Martingale is good for dogs who pull, and works best for our collar/harness/coupler setup (discussed below)
Harness: some dogs absolutely hate having a harness go over their head. Maggie is one such dog. After a lot of searching we finally came across this PoyPet 3 buckle harness with a handle and front/back clip. It has been life changing! Easy to get on and off, easy to adjust to the right size, padded, and convenient with the handle.
Leash: the “traffic handle” is a must-have because it provides better control (it’s a second handle closer to the attachment point to your dog). We love the six-foot stunt puppy everyday leash because it has a traffic handle and an adjustable handle that can be extended to fit around your waist. I have seen people get retractable leashes or 10-foot leashes, and the issue with these is that they limit your ability to control your pup’s pulling.
Coupler: we learned that attaching to both Maggie’s Martingale collar and harness improved her walking, and helped distribute the force in the situations when she still did pull. Initially we used two leashes, then we used a leash with two attachments, but the coupler was life changing. It’s intended for walking two dogs, but we repurposed it and may be starting a new trend. Attach a 12 inch coupler (like Stunt Puppy’s) to your 6 foot leash, then attach the coupler to your dog’s collar and harness.
You may need to experiment with what constitutes “high value” treats for your dog. For Maggie, string cheese was a game changer. We would let her nibble a little bit at a time and then she knew good stuff was nearby, so she was motivated to stay close.
We also highly recommend “Grazers” from Bocce’s Bakery because they come in three flavors and don’t go bad as easily as string cheese does
An easy-access treat pouch will also make life so much easier. We prefer the snap closure of the Ezydog Snakpak
Ongoing walking tips
After Maggie learned that good things happened at our side and stopped pulling (most of the time) we started to give her some freedom. It’s okay for your pup to “lead the way” so long as they’re not pulling you in all directions. But that freedom must be earned.
As your pup grows up, they may become increasingly curious about the world. Maggie loves to lay down and just watch the world around her. As much as you might want to “get the walk over with”, let yourself sit down for a few minutes and see what your pup is looking at. But for those times when you need to get back home for a meeting, you may want to teach the “walk” command. You can also stand by facing them and say “ready?! ready?!” in a very excited voice then hop/run forward. Most of the time, this gets Maggie moving. Sometimes we needed to hold the treat in front of her to lure her too.
New training challenges will arise, like how to hold your pup back from jumping on people or kids who want to say hi. Remember that you always have the right to say no. But if you say yes, ask people to crouch down and try to pet your pup on their chest rather than their head.
Keep up the training even after your pup “masters” the walk because it’s the best opportunity to be present and continue bonding with your pup!
Remember, life is what you make of it, so take the lead, dood!