A lot of folks get a puppy and have these grand visions of having a SideKick for long walks around the neighborhood and hikes on the trails; that vision, unfortunately, doesn't often match what we get in the young puppy we bring home! So, it follows that leash walking skills are brought up as a concern and goal for puppies pretty often in group classes and private sessions!
When we're looking at a puppy versus an adult dog, I encourage folks to look at puppy walks a little differently than adult dog walks and to approach them from a number of different angles...
Puppies aren't familiar with the equipment.
Puppies aren't born with a collar, harness, and leash on, so it's worth it to put work into making sure each of these are all wonderful things in your puppy's eyes. Putting the equipment on, wearing it, and using it should all be fun, rewarding things for your puppy - and some puppies need a little more work on this than others!
A lot of people ask what kind of collar or harness they should get for their puppy, as well. The big thing to remember in this situation is that the equipment doesn't and won't teach your puppy how to walk well on a leash - that's your job. There are pros and cons to a lot of the equipment on the market and there's no one-size-fits-all option, but I'm able to make recommendations if you're looking for ideas!
Your puppy is still very new to the world.
Walking a puppy can be tricky! I often remind folks that their puppies are still new to the world - the great, big, wide world is so much bigger and encompasses so much more than your tiny house and yard or apartment, etc. This can be really intimidating to some puppies and your puppy may need some time to feel safe and expand their comfort bubble!
On the other hand, the great, big, wide world contains a lot of excitement in it to a puppy that's new to it all! This may mean that you have a lot of competition for your puppy's attention!
Regardless, I really recommend that the first few months of walks we take with our puppies focus on socialization and, overall, building confidence in the world:
Follow your puppy's lead - go where they take you (within safety, of course) to explore; pause when they pause; let them sniff and explore at their own pace and where their noses (and confidence) take them.
You may drive to a park and walk/explore there with your puppy - you're not tied to a sidewalk or path!
Take your puppy for a walk on a longer line, so they have more room to explore and move around; and there are usually fewer distractions/noises/scary things.
Introduce your puppy to things, places, people, dogs, other animals, situations, and experiences slowly and in a positive manner!
Walks don't have to be traditional walks right now.
Those grand visions I mentioned above may not be what your puppy finds fun! Going for a walk may not actually be going for a “walk” in the classic sense of the word:
It might be more of going for a sniff in the front yard or in front of the house;
It might be slowly making our way down the block;
We might let our puppy take the reins and decide which way we go, where we turn, when we go straight, or when we take the path less traveled (keeping safety in mind, though).
OR maybe we don’t take walks at this point – there are plenty of ways to get physical and mental exercise in our daily life; walks are just one option available to us!
To help your puppy start learning what you're looking for on leash, start by rewarding some small things:
Reward your puppy when they choose to engage with you - check-ins like eye contact or turning your direction when on leash; offer pets, praise, treats, anything your dog likes when they choose you over your competition!
Reward your dog for being nearby you - the more good stuff they get for being near you, the more they'll actually choose to stay close to you! Help your puppy learn that you're valuable in their environment and a source of rewards!
On top of that, start in places you're actually able to get these behaviors; work on building a habit of engaging with you in low-distraction environments (like at home, your yard, and quiet parks and neighborhoods), so that they're more able to perform in more distracting environments later on!
Remember: The walk is for your puppy, not for you.
When it comes to walks with a puppy, I would be very surprised if you were able to "get your steps in" each day. The walk is for your puppy to get some exercise - physical and mental - and start forming some positive opinions about the world you'll have them living in.
When it comes to walking skills, you have the rest of your puppy's life to work on all that - go slow, be patient, and try not to expect too much too soon from your puppy!
Happy puppy walks and training!