This is one of the most difficult areas of training to master for both you and your dog. We often meet owners of adult dogs who feel that their dog is overall well-mannered and has long since mastered potty training, crate training, etc. but is still nearly impossible to walk with on a leash!
Often, owners are inadvertently allowing their puppy to practice bad leash manners as a smaller pup is easier to manage even if they are pulling or otherwise avoiding heeling. But when this little puppy grows to be a 70+ pound dog, their poor leash manners that were once easy to overlook are suddenly a glaring problem!
The key to avoiding this situation is to start leash training while your puppy is still young and stay firm and consistent.
The overall goal is for your puppy to learn to be calm and relaxed on the leash in any environment. We often start simply by putting a harness on a young pup and letting him get used to it inside for a few days. Once he is comfortable in the harness, we will attach a leash and let him drag a leash around the house for a few days until it becomes rather boring and nothing to be concerned about.
Always keep an eye on your pup if he is wearing his leash and never leave him crated with a leash on to avoid him becoming dangerously tangled.
This practice of wearing his leash around the home ensures the leash is not some exciting trigger that gets the dog in an excited and distractible headspace before the walk even starts! We recommend continuing to sometimes let your pup wear his leash around the house even when you aren’t going for a walk.
If your pup is only exposed to his harness/leash for exciting adventures, he can sometimes start jumping and acting distracted, not following commands, etc. before the walk even begins which will only create more excitability and distracted behaviors on the walk.
Once your puppy is used to his harness and leash, you can start with short walks (less than 5 minutes) outside. Puppies have short attention spans, so once he begins to lose focus, it is time to take a break. It is time to teach your puppy to “heel.” You can use a treat as a lure to get your puppy walking on the preferred side of your body and in a straight line. Give him the treat every few steps and very slowly lengthen the time he is able to heel without a treat.
Once your puppy understands the command to heel, you can practice longer walks. If he begins to pull, simply stop the walk and correct him to heel, sit, or otherwise redirect him in some way. Do not begin walking again until the pup has regained his composure and his focus is on you. Sometimes this makes for long walks that don’t get you very far at all! It can be slow and tedious, but the consistent training will pay off.
Allowing your pup to pull, even if it seems harmless, is reinforcing this behavior. He feels he is pulling to get to whatever interesting thing he wants to see or sniff. You want to make sure that by stopping and waiting any time there is tension on the leash, that you teach him the only way to walk forward to see/sniff exciting things is to stay at your side.
And don’t forget to have a little fun, too! You want to make sure your dog is focused and responsive on the leash, but it’s okay to let him sniff, too! You can linger at the fire hydrant for an extra minute or two. Allowing your dog some freedom to sniff and explore will help him enjoy walks and overall build a positive bond between the two of you. He will learn that listening to you and respecting the boundaries of the leash leads to fun exploration, extra sniffs, and the occasional treat!
Correcting your dog during leash training and other training activities
We have spent some time discussing how to get your dog to do various good behaviors such as going potty outside or heeling on the leash. But how do you appropriately discourage your puppy from unwanted behaviors such as jumping or nipping? It is important to let your dog know when you are displeased with something he is doing so that he can learn proper manners and be a positive addition to your family.
First of all, you need to get to know your particular dog. Many doodles are sensitive and intuitive by nature (thanks to their Poodle heritage) so would be overwhelmed by harsh correction. If your dog startles easily to loud noises and/or lays down or rolls on back when scolded, then he is a sensitive soul and light, quick verbal correction is likely enough to teach him to be well-behaved.
Sensitive dogs often respond well to positive reinforcement and simply “ignoring” any unwanted behavior. For example, if your dog jumps to get your attention, simply turn the other way and completely ignore your pup. When your dog settles and/or sits, then reward with praise and affection!
Another example is nipping, puppies often use this behavior to get your attention and try to instigate play. Saying “no” or “off” is a start, but it is often much easier to redirect your puppy to a behavior that you do want him to do. Giving him something to do to replace these negative behaviors is key to helping him understand what you expect from him. So again, we recommend ignoring the nipping but redirecting your pup to “Sit” or even to go get a favorite ball and then reengaging with him with a toy or giving affection only when he is doing the desired behavior.
We always recommend starting with the most gentle form of correction. If you have tried ignoring unwanted behaviors and/or a gentle verbal correction a few times and it seems to be having no effect, then it makes sense to move on to other stronger forms of discipline.
Returning to the case of unwanted jumping, a more stubborn or even more zealous dog may continue jumping over and over again despite being ignored. In this case you may need to up the ante by moving your dog to a different room or otherwise physically separating yourself from him until he settles, and you can try again. It will also likely take more than one try!
But be consistent. If you firmly separate your dog each and every time he jumps on you, even the most stubborn pup will learn that he can only be with you when he has all four paws on the ground!
Another correction option is a brief “startle correction” for your pup. Timing is everything when it comes to disciplining a dog—yelling at him after you’ve found he chewed a shoe will only cause confusion and anxiety or him. When you do catch your dog doing something in the moment, a “startle correction” is often beneficial to get his attention. The very second he starts going for the pile of shoes, is the moment to correct.
Yelling or screaming at your dog is unnecessary. As mentioned previously, some more sensitive dogs will respond to any type of negative verbal command. But if your doodle is a little more resistant, then a louder correction may be helpful. An example would be clapping your hands loudly while saying a stern “No!” The idea is not to frighten your dog, but to immediately grab his attention and give a slight startle. If your dog cowers, then the correction was too strong.
In conclusion, it is up to you to teach your puppy what you expect from him. Many doodles respond well to simply ignoring negative behaviors and rewarding positive ones. Make sure you are timing your corrections at the exact moment of your dog’s negative behavior. And finally, redirect your dog by giving him a positive behavior he can perform to replace the misbehavior.
Jenna and the JLDD Team