Training you puppy to walk on a loose leash is one of the very most important tasks to do with a young puppy before they have more size energy and strength. It is also one of the easiest. It is also important to explain “heeling” or the heel command is different than loose leash walking and I use a different command for each.
“Walk with me” is what we use to denote we are going for a walk and the rules of that game are that the dog must pay attention to me in regards to speed and direction. They have to adjust their body position relative to mine to prevent from pulling or lagging behind. They can be on either side as long as they are not pulling or lagging. It’s important you understand the philosophy that it is their job to pay attention to speed and direction, not my job to manage it. This is what makes walking fun. If I have to be keeping the dog in place and at speed the whole time I am not enjoying my walk.
Heeling is different. It is a competition style of walking where the dog must remain exactly in position on the left side regardless of change of speed and direction and its attention must be on me. They must be looking up at me. They must automatically sit everytime we stop. This isn’t a fun way to go for a walk for either of us for very long, but when you are heeling in an obedience pattern it is such a beautiful thing with flip turns and finishes and everything that comes with it. Heeling is generally done off leash and that is how I train it. But neither of you can keep this up for long it requires a lot of attention, and effort. I used to compete in many dog sports and I loved this, but I don’t generally teach it to my bird dogs since we don’t compete in obedience. I want their effort spent on finding, pointing and retrieving birds.
So with an understanding of what going for a walk looks like, lets talk about how to teach a young French Brittany how to do it.
Start as soon as you can. Start as soon as you get your puppy as long as you start this way. Work in a space the puppy is already familiar with and comfortable. You don’t need them trying to overcome stress and novel stimuli their first lesson. Start by running around getting the puppy to chase you and each time it catches you throw a big party for the puppy with lots of praise and affection in your “puppy voice” (high pitched happy energetic voice). Dogs are pack animals they don’t want to be alone so they will start to follow you just to be with you. Puppies only learn to run away from owners that chase them. Puppies are smart they know how to teach you games as well and their favorite game is chase. They want you to chase them because they know it’s a game they are probably going to win every time.
Next, clip on a leash and let the puppy drag it around. Walk around and have the puppy follow you dragging the leash behind. Stop several times letting the puppy catch you. When they get to you pet them a lot, talk in your “puppy voice” and tell them how good they are. After they are comfortable with this (for some puppies it is immediate others take longer they are all individuals and you must allow them to learn at their pace we can’t force it.) make the areas a bit bigger. Then you are going to pick up one end of the leash and encourage the puppy to follow you just as before. If the puppy doesn’t move, no problem stand still and keep calling the puppy. Do not pull or force the puppy. It is too easy to hurt their small little necks and counterproductive to building trust in you and this piece of equipment. Just stand still and wait. When the puppy gets back to you have a big party again. Lots of petting and praise in your puppy voice. If the puppy is out ahead of you trying to pull, same thing just stop and stand still. Do not pull the puppy, do not yank on the leash. The puppy will come back I promise. And when it does again have a big party with lots of praise in your puppy voice.
Then the areas just get bigger and different. Now here is the most important thing to understand. When you decide to go for a walk with your new puppy never decide “I am going to walk to the park and back” or “I am going to go around the block” Decide you are going to go work on leash walking. You may end up getting to the end of the driveway, you may end up somewhere totally different. The important thing is to work on two principles. 1) Don’t pull on the leash and 2) pay attention to where you are.
Each time the puppy makes a mistake either lagging or pulling, and trust me there will be a lot of those mistakes, just stop and wait. Don’t fight. Let the puppy explore and learn new sights and smells and sounds and textures. None of this can be or should be rushed. You are looking at the problem as a simple thing, a puppy pulling a leash in a world you already know and understand. From their perspective literally everything is brand new to them and must be learned for the first time. By patient. Be kind.
As you continue doing this several times over the next few days you will see improvement. Remember the goal is for the puppy to learn to pay attention to where you are going, not force them to pay attention.
Work in this way and it will be enjoyable for both of you.
Once you have that down you are going to start playing with speed and direction changing both of them until the dog is paying attention to you. I will try to get some videos up with this post so you can visualize what I mean.