You and your four-legged best friend will spend a big portion of your life together connected by a leash, so you’ll both want to get off on the right (and left) feet when it comes to this all-important part of your everyday activities with each other. Here are some tips we’ve learned over the years:
1. Always be the boss
Although there might be lots of evidence to the contrary, you’re the boss. While we’re sure you have the smartest dog who’s ever lived, we’re also pretty positive that you’re more intelligent than your prized pooch.
Although dogs can be very stubborn and independent, they do love going for walks with you and want to please you, at least most of the time. There are different enticements you can use (any kind of treats or food usually motivates every living being), but Bella is a creature of habit, so once you start rewarding her for her behavior, she’s going to expect it all the time.
Be firm but gentle when you’re trying to get your pooch walking the way you want her to. A good way to discourage bad behavior is to stop, regroup and then start again, repeating this as much as necessary to get your point across. Dogs are strong-willed, but they’re also quick learners. Just because they don’t want to do something doesn’t mean they don’t know how to do it. Remember who’s walking who.
2. Make training a habit
Like we said, dogs are (absolutely precious) creatures of habit. They’re good students, and they’re also very good at remembering what they’ve learned. You should start getting Bella used to her leash while inside.
Chances are, your house is a lot quieter and a much more controlled environment than outside (especially if you live in the city), so take advantage of your living space to teach your pooch simple commands and habits that you’ll want her to adhere to outside.
If you want Bella to walk on the left side of you, start and finish by teaching her to do just that while taking her—on her leash, on your left side—around your house. Once she’s used to it, it will become second nature, and she’ll do this automatically on the street.
Simple commands like “stop” and “start” and “with me” and “heel” and “yes” and “no” are easily learned by all dogs, so definitely try to use those when teaching your pet what to do and not to do. She will pay much more attention to you talking to her inside as opposed to outside, where all the action it.
If Bella starts learning “wrong” behaviors, it’s going to be harder to stop her from doing them than it would be to start off teaching her the “right” ones. While inside, show her how easy it will be to walk outside on a leash. You want Bella to be easily portable. You want Porta Bella.
3. Be firm, but don’t get frustrated
No one likes to be yelled at, and this is just as true for dogs as it is for humans. You can get your point across by being firm yet friendly. It’s best to have Bella’s full attention when you’re teaching her.
Like we said earlier, there’s less distraction inside than there is out, so your house is the best place to teach your dog new tricks, even if these tricks are as simple as stopping and starting. Dogs feel very comfortable in their homes, so use this to your advantage.
You can be firm while correcting your dog and her bad behaviors and not hurt her feelings. And you can get your point across without resorting to yelling or screaming yourself hoarse. If Bella does something wrong, tell her that immediately so she recognizes why you’re disciplining her.
Unlike humans, dogs won’t understand two hours later that you’re mad at them because they did something wrong while you were walking them.
4. Use your dog’s name only for positive reinforcement
One of the first words your dog will learn is her name, and you want her name to have positive connotations, so when you’re complimenting her for learning to walk on her leash, say things like “Good Bella.”
It also helps to give her a loving pet or scratch while you do so, so she knows you love and care about her. If you want to tell her that she’s doing something wrong, you might just want to say “bad” or “no” and not say her name when expressing this sentiment.
You want your dog to have a positive response to her name, so try to only use it when rewarding good—not pointing out bad—behavior. To start, try to say “Good Bella” every time she does something you taught her while walking her around. Positive reinforcement is a very good thing for dogs.
5. Use a harness or walking collar, not just their normal collar
Dogs pull. The simple act of them walking while attached to a leash makes this impossible to avoid. While not a huge deal if Bella is a small dog, the bigger she is, the more issues you’re going to have. If you can’t stop your pooch from pulling by using commands, you’re going to have to make some adjustments.
If you want your dog to wear a harness while you walk her (whether Bella needs to wear a harness is a discussion for another, preferably rainy, day), getting a harness that has a front clip might be a good idea. You have more control with one of these, but that doesn’t mean that you still don’t have to teach Bella what she should and shouldn’t do.
Oftentimes if your dog gets used to walking with her leash clipped to the front, you can clip it to the back after time, and she’ll walk in the same, disciplined way. If she doesn’t, just re-clip the leash to the front of the harness and try again. Dog school isn’t pass/fail.
6. How to keep your dog on a short leash, and why it’s so important
- Dogs want to sniff out everything. While walking your dog in the city, you’ll probably want to keep her on a short leash. Cats get all the attention for being curious, but dogs are right up there with them—and there’s a lot more for them to get into because they’re outside.
- Keeping your pup close keeps you in control.If there are 10 things on the street and only one of them is something you want your pooch to avoid, chances are that’s the one she’s going to try to get at. The closer Bella is to you, the more command you have over her.
- You can avoid badly-behaved pups and owners.Walking a dog is like driving a car or riding a bike in that you only have control over what you do, not what everyone else is doing. It’s usually best to assume that others aren’t going to do everything they’re supposed to, so having Bella right by your side will help you react quicker and keep her safe.
- Avoid the buffet. In the city, there’s a lot of stuff Bella shouldn’t be eating, and her sense of smell is much better than yours so she’ll know where the food is before you do. By keeping her by your side, you’re leveling the playing field.
7. Stay positive while walking
Walking your dog should be something you look forward to. It’s one of the reasons you have Bella in the first place. She gets you out and about and meeting new people and pooches and getting exercise and sightseeing. The list goes on and on.
But if you’re constantly fighting with Bella because she’s misbehaving, your special time with her outside is going to seem more like a chore than a privilege. Taking the time early on to train your dog to walk on her leash the way you want her to will save you lots of frustration and wasted time down the line.
Like life itself, teaching your dog how to walk on a leash is always going to be a work in progress. There are going to be ups and downs and things that happen that you can never predict. And that’s part of the fun of having a dog to walk around with. If you stay positive, chances are Bella will stay positive, too.
8. Let your dog be themselves
One of the reasons you got a dog is because you love her winning personality. So while you want your beloved pet to behave on her leash, you also want Bella to be herself while you’re walking her.
You want her to listen and obey you while on her leash, but you also want her to be who she is. (After all, you chose Ms. Bella, not Mr. Roboto.) She isn’t going to do everything you say, and usually this isn’t a bad thing. So just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you can’t adapt to what she wants to do as long as it doesn’t present any major problems.
Most of all, have fun! You’re lucky to have your dog, and she’s lucky to have you, and it’s probably one of the reasons you brought her into your life in the first place.
Enjoy your time together outside. But there’s one rule you always need to follow while walking Bella in the city: Keep her on her leash!