Going for a Walk
Walking with your dog is an important part of everyday life. Dogs need daily walks for mental and physical stimulation, socialization, and bonding time with with their people. Puppies in particular need lots of opportunity to explore the environment; the whole world is brand new to them! Practice giving your puppy free reign to sniff, but do not let her move forward if she is pulling (this only rewards the pulling — “if I want to get on to the next thing to sniff, I’ve got to pull really hard!”).
If you want your puppy to follow you, prompt her with your voice, and then reward her with a treat close to your leg. As your puppy gets older, you can ask for more following and less sniffing, but while they are young, puppy walks should be at the puppy’s own pace (likely slow). Don’t get too caught up in thinking you are going to cover a certain amount of distance with your puppy. Leash pressure will be a relatively new sensation for your puppy to cope with; allowing her to set the pace will help acclimate her to the leash with the least amount of stress.
Bring treats with for every single walk outside with your puppy. You never know when you might encounter something new, or when you’ll need to practice your obedience skills.
If your puppy picks up something unsafe on your walk, practice saying “Trade ya!” and sticking a big handful of yummy treats in her nose. If the puppy doesn’t go for the treats, you can scatter them on the ground. If the puppy has a hard time with this, practice inside first by giving the random objects like socks and hats, then trading her the item for food.
Puppies and adolescent dogs have critical learning periods, also referred to as sensitive periods or fear periods. It is important that they are not just exposed to new things during this time, but that they are having positive or at least neutral experiences during their exposure.
Socialization is not just about having your puppy interact with all kinds of people and dogs. In fact, for most dogs, it is preferable for their socialization to be about being so confident and engaged with the human handler that they can see something without feeling the need to interact with it.
When your puppy is experiencing a new site, sound, surface, event, etc., it is important to read their body language. If they are fearful, give them enough distance from the new thing for them to be able to process the information comfortably. That means do a U-turn and coax your puppy away, even if they are stuck staring or barking in fear. If they are conflicted and moving back and forth towards the new thing, give them time to think about it. Reward them for whatever effort they put forward. Scary things can become un-scary when paired with food.
People: It’s nice for your puppy to make new friends, but even just seeing all different kinds of people walk down the street is good socialization. If someone is meeting your puppy, make sure that they are not being overwhelming with their greeting. Ask the person to be calm, cool, and collected when saying hi. Sometimes it is helpful to just have them feed the dog a treat instead of petting them, since the average person tends to become over-excited about greeting puppies. Over-excited strangers can scare a puppy OR make the puppy develop a habit of being overly excited and out of control during greetings.
Other Dogs: There is a huge amount of benefit to allowing your puppy to play with other dogs, from exercise and enrichment to learning good social skills and life lessons from animals that “speak their language”.
Finding controlled settings for your puppy to meet other dogs, like organized puppy socials, private lessons with a trainer, or becoming buddies with other puppies in your neighborhood (particularly if you or they have a backyard!) is the way to go.
Meeting dogs on-leash tends to create frustration, overarousal, or fear, and many dogs end up becoming “leash-reactive” largely due to meeting other dogs on leash.
Likewise, taking a puppy to a dog park can easily lead to them being bullied by out-of-control dogs, traumatize them during their sensitive learning period, and cause them to develop behavioral problems.
SEEING other dogs on walks and learning that they are not going to bother them is great socialization for a puppy. Practice rewarding your puppy for seeing other dogs and looking back at you. This is great for practicing getting your puppy’s attention.
***Pet sitters: Meeting other dogs on-leash should be avoided, as it is an unnecessary and high-risk activity for puppies.***
When to Refer to Training Program
If problem behavior in a puppy seems to get worse instead of better, you can refer to DANW’s training program.
If a puppy’s parents expresses frustration or not knowing what to do about their puppy’s behavior, you can refer to DANW’s training program.
If a puppy’s behavior makes you feel “in over your head,” you can refer to DANW’s training program.
If you suspect a puppy’s behavior might be abnormal -- from extreme fear to extreme overarousal -- you can refer to DANW’s training program.