Follow the leader is a fun game to play with your small dog, and one that she will likely take to very naturally. Furthermore, it can be a great training tool for working towards general off-leash manners and other behaviors. Your small dog will learn to watch and imitate you, which is a useful skill for training any other behaviors as well. Leading your little dog through new environments encourages her to trust you as her leader. This is especially important for small dogs as they can be more prone to fear than larger dogs. Allowing your dog to lead will also help to instill confidence, and teach her to look back for you to make sure you are still near her. This will serve as a foundation for keeping your small dog close for the length of your relationship.
Your small dog will learn this game very easily when she is a puppy and her instinct to stay near to you is strong. If you’ve ever watched kids with puppies, you’ve seen how this game should go. Kids run from interest to interest and their puppy follows them. Then their puppy might be interested in something and the kid will follow the puppy. Kids and puppies pursue their interests together, which is how a person and dog should interact. Keep this attitude in mind as you play with your small dog.
If your dog is older, you may need to provide more suggestion at the beginning until she gets the idea. All dogs feel the desire to follow their human, however, and playing games like follow the leader are a great way to build a bond that will keep your small dog close. If your dog experiences anxiety, have plenty of yummy treats available to make training rewarding instead of scary. Food eliminates a fear response.
Motivating your small dog to follow you with lots of treats, toys, and affection will teach her that if she follows you closely, you will lead her to wonderful things she would not have found on her own. Since you don’t know if you’ll find anything good or not on the trail, make sure you bring lots of interesting things to drop for your dog to discover. Don’t just motivate with treats and toys, bring lots of novel stimuli with new smells, sounds, and textures to teach your small dog the joy of discovery and exploration. Your dog may experience anxiety along the way, especially if you are leading her through new or challenging terrain. Make sure to always be attentive to your dog, and provide plenty of affection and comfort her so that she views you as a safe harbor in the anxiety of a new place, rather than someone who is dangerously leading her through risky areas.
When your little dog is the leader, she will have to learn how to lead a human effectively. Be prepared to pretend to try to climb through the little spaces she goes through, to teach her how to lead you in a way you can follow. When she sees you struggling, she should come back and lead you in a different way. If you are training off-leash, it is essential that your small dog has excellent call back training, or else train in a fenced area.