Our 9 week old Lab puppy lies down or bites the leash when we try to take him for a walk. The more we pull, the worse it gets. We reach the point where we need to pick him up and start carrying him. Your advice would be much appreciated. – Nan B., Dallas, TX
This is a very common issue for a 9 week old puppy. The first thing to remember is, puppies are a “clean slate”. They come to us knowing nothing. They do not inherently know how to walk on leash, it’s our job to teach them that. What we don’t want him to get in the habit of, is learning that laying down is a good way to stop the walk and also learning that you will pick him up and carry him (as this is going to get difficult for you to do real fast).
The first thing I would do, is change your mental perception of what a walk should be like (at least for the next couple of weeks). What I mean by this is, the walk will not be a leisure stroll that you go on for 30 minutes. Rather, it is a training opportunity that may only last a short distance and progressively increased over time. You want short work sessions, which allow you to pattern good habits of walking on leash.
Short frequent training sessions are best with a puppy. Three short five minute walks per day, where your puppy is not laying down, but rather walking at your side – is far better than one or two longer walks that are sloppy and end with you carrying him back home.
How do I teach him to walk at my side? I would use a high value food item to lure your puppy into the “Heel” position at your side. If he deviates from that position, lies down, or starts to bite the leash, I would redirect him back into the “Heel” position with the food lure.
Keep in mind, this is a training opportunity, so we will be using many pieces of treats during each short training session. I would also use my movement and verbal praise to encourage him to follow. Pulling him using the leash will only encourage him to resist, as dogs have an inherent opposition reflex.
Lastly, make sure to have properly fitted equipment. Properly fitted means the dog cannot slip out of the harness or collar when he moves around or pulls back. I usually walk puppies on either a martingale collar or front clip ez-walk harness. I have found front clip harnesses to be much better than a back harness in which the leash attaches from behind. A back clip harness can actually exacerbate the dog’s opposition reflex, causing him to pull even more.
So remember, short frequent training sessions in order to teach and reinforce what we want (walking at our side on a loose leash) and preventing or discouraging what we don’t want (leash biting and laying down on the walks). Small incremental improvements over a short time will make a huge difference. I hope this helps get you and your puppy moving in the right direction!