When you think of the perfect off-leash dog, you typically see one that follows their owner and will come when called. Do you notice that the owner does not often ask the dog to recall? Most of the time, the dog simply stays within the eyesight of the owner and follows where they go. Most trainers will agree that a solid recall is important, but it is often overlooked that you need to teach your dog simply to follow you in public.
Puppies naturally follow their pack or their humans. That’s why it is best to capitalize on this natural instinct when they are young and further develop that instinct into a lifelong habit. Below we outline steps on how to teach your puppy to follow.
Things you need
- Collar (we recommend a no-slip martingale) or secure harness
- 50ft long leash
- Kibble and treats
Always be aware of your surroundings and how long of a lead you are giving your puppy. Make sure they don’t wander towards cars, the street, or any other dangers. Also, be aware of birds of prey for small dogs.
Step 1: Teach the game
- At a quiet time of day, place your puppy on the 50ft lead on the sidewalk in front of your house. Start walking away from them.
- As the puppy follows you, praise them enthusiastically. Treat them when they are near your legs.
- Once they reach you, turn in the opposite direction and repeat the praising and treating as they follow you.
- If the puppy is not following you, continue to walk away until you are at the end of the line. Try calling their name making kissy noises, and praising the puppy if they turn towards you. If they still haven’t followed you, give a small pop of pressure on the leash until they head in your direction.
- Once the puppy reaches you, give a treat and then turn in the opposite direction again.
Step 2: Practice in a park
- Follow a similar protocol to the above but with the additional distractions of the park setting. Start in an empty field or somewhere with lots of space.
- Place the puppy on the 50ft line and walk away from them.
- Praise as the puppy follows and offer them a treat when they reach you.
- Then turn in a different direction and continue repeating above.
- Use their name or kissy noises to encourage them to follow, as needed. You could also run or play with them if it encourages the following.
- If they stop following you, continue to walk away until you are at the end of the 50ft line and say their name. Praise the puppy as they turn towards you.
Step 3: More distractions
- Once the puppy has learned the game of following, you should move closer to other distractions, like people walking a trail or a squirrel in a tree.
- This time as the puppy reaches you and you give a treat, continue walking in the same direction and treating the puppy again as you walk by the distraction.
- Continue to encourage the following and treating the puppy as they are near you and not following the distraction.
- If the puppy goes towards the distraction, instead move in the opposite direction until you reach the end of the long line. Then give a pop of pressure on the leash as needed to keep the puppy moving.
NOTE: It is essential that you are carefully monitoring the amount of leash the puppy has, to keep them safe and so they don’t run anywhere unwanted.
Some people might enjoy a puppy running up to them, but not everyone does. Make sure you follow social etiquette in addition to safety. If the 50ft line becomes too much when in closer proximity to distractions, downgrade to a 10 or 15 ft line that is more manageable.
We recommend practicing the above with your puppy about 3 times each week until they are reliably following you. Then cut back on the exercise to about once a week to every two weeks. For more information on raising a happy, well-behaved puppy, check out our other puppy articles.