Puppy walking on a leash

What is the best time of day to train my dog? Should I train him before or after his walk? My problem with training him before walking him is that he is too excited to pay attention, but I worry that he’ll be too tired after.

Getting to go on a walk is often the most exciting part of a dog’s day, so it’s no wonder your dog is exuberant when walk time comes. It’s essential, however, that he display calm behavior before he is rewarded with a walk and that you teach this behavior throughout the day, not just at walk time.

We like to think that we are the ones training our dogs, but they are often training us at the same time. Dogs learn from experience what works to get what they want. If barking, whining, pawing, jumping, spinning or other excitable antics result in a walk, your dog is very likely to repeat this behavior in the future when he’s ready to hit the pavement. In this way, many dogs have inadvertently been trained to be hyper, because that’s what gets them the most attention, while calm behavior goes unnoticed — and is thus less likely to occur. 

Use the “Learn to Earn” Approach

One of the most critical concepts a pet parent can teach her canine is that calm behavior will ultimately reap the biggest reward. To do this, many dog trainers advocate a “learn to earn” approach: The dog must do basic behaviors to receive a reward, whether it be attention, praise, play, treats or walks. This approach works well for highly excitable dogs because it allows a pet owner to reward calm behavior and ignore unwanted behavior, such as pre-walk hyperactivity. 

Training begins the moment you and your dog get out of bed in the morning. For instance, when you let your dog outside to potty in the morning, ask him to do a “wait” at the door rather than bolting outside (but keep in mind that if he hasn't been outside since bedtime the night before, he may really need to relieve himself and may have a harder time waiting patiently, so make this a very short wait). He also can be asked to sit before you pet him, which may cut down on jumping. Anything your pet wants to do or have should be given only after the dog displays calm behavior.

Use the same approach when you get ready to take your dog for a walk. Ask your dog to do a behavior, such as a sit, while he has his leash put on. Treat your pet while he remains in the sitting position to make this easier when you are first training. The dog will learn that the leash is only clipped on when he remains in a sit. Since the leash is associated with getting to go out on a walk, for some extremely excitable walkers, the clipping on of the leash is reward in and of itself.

Keep Your Pet Calm By Keeping Yourself Calm

If your dog starts acting excited and jumping when you get the leash out, simply wait until he calms down and then re-prompt the sit. The more low-key and quiet you can be, the more easily your pet will calm down.

The next step is to begin walking toward the front door. If your dog starts jumping, pulling, vocalizing or showing other excitable behaviors, simply stand and wait for a calm behavior from him, like all four feet on the floor, sitting or going into a down. This should continue all the way to the door. You can also use treats to reward your dog for walking calmly at your side in a heeling position; this will give him an alternative behavior to do in place of excitable antics.

When you get to the door, teach your dog to exert self-control by having him wait at the door. The “wait” at the door is best taught in a separate training session when the dog is already calm, but once it is learned, it should be employed when the dog is let outside on walks. If you haven’t yet taught “wait” at the door, you can simply stand by the door and wait for calm behavior, such as a sit or a down, and immediately reward by opening the door to go out on your walk.

Exercise Patience

Remember that you are training your pet even while you’re out on walks. You may be inadvertently training your pooch to pull on the leash by allowing him to move forward when the leash is tight. When your time is limited, it’s often best to use a management tool like a front-clip harness or a head halter that will lessen pulling and won’t reinforce the behavior for the dog until you have the time to teach your dog to walk on a loose leash. If your dog has never learned to heel or walk on a loose leash, it’s best taught when the dog is already calm, just like any new behavior, which likely will be at the end of a walk. 

Though the end of his walk may be best for teaching advanced training concepts, it’s critical that your canine learn to display calmer behavior all day in your home and before his walks. The more calm behavior is reinforced, the more likely it will occur and the better able he will be to respond to training at any time of the day, even before the walk begins.  

Your ultimate training goal is to have a well-behaved and calm canine whether you’re at home, on walks or out in public places. It is essential that you emphasize each day that calm, well-mannered behavior pays off in your household. We are always training our dogs, whether we realize it or not, and most of the time our training isn’t done in a structured training session, but in simple everyday interactions.