How to walk your dog is not only a highly debated topic but also what I find to be what most of my clients struggle with. There are so many different advice and methods out there making it hard for dog owners to chose which one to use. Leaving them to try different training methods often ending up with an unsuccessful ending, leading to frustration and giving up.
We’ve all been there and teaching a dog how to walk nicely is definitely one of the hardest tasks to conquer.
So what should you do? How should you teach your dog to walk nicely?
To begin with let’s rule out any methods or training advice that involves punishment or negative reinforcers such as yanking the leash or hitting the dog. Science has already proven time and time again that those methods do not work.
Then let’s look at the positive methods and reinforcers and let’s start by asking ourselves these questions – Are you interesting enough for your dog to stay with you? What does your dog gain from staying next to you? And are your expectations to the walk realistic?
Let’s start with the expectations. If your expectation is that your dog should walk next to you constantly during your walk then that would be highly unrealistic. Does that mean that your dog should be allowed to pull you around, no it does not. Imagine that you are visiting a museum, natural sight or something that you have been looking forward to, been excited about and maybe even dreamed about for a long time. However, when you get there you are told to only walk in a straight line. Not even being allowed to turn your head or walk closer to explore the sights more – would you think that was fun? Would you even come back to that sight? And wouldn’t you feel extremely disappointed that when you finally got to this place you weren’t allowed to explore it properly?
Now, let’s apply that to our dogs. Taking your dog for a walk is what your dog is excited about, it’s their daily museum visits if you will – soooo many great smells await behind that closed door and if this human would just open it faster so we can hurry and explore every little dirt pile or grass straw there is then we would be soooo happy!
And isn’t that what it is all about – making our dogs and ourselves enjoy the walk to the fullest? So why not let them explore? Why not deviate from the sidewalk and follow that smell? Why not let your dog chose the way?
But how to do that without having your arm pulled off you might ask? Which brings us to the next questions asked above – What are you doing to make yourself more interesting for your dog on your walk?
Are you bringing yummy treats that your dog will get every time they come and walk next to you and don’t pull the lead? A toy that you and your dog can play with and that might be used as a distraction should your dog find something more interesting in his or hers surroundings that will make them start pulling the lead?
Having treats or toys (whatever you find to be the best distraction tool for your dog) with you on the walk not only makes you more interesting for your dog to stay close to you, hence the lead stays loose. It also strengthens the bond between you and makes your walk more interesting for you both. But most importantly it makes your dog create a positive association with you.
Doing all these things will not only pay off on your walk but also when you are back home again as your dog is now nice and tired, ready for a sweet dream about the adventure you just had. When your dog is asleep he or she won’t get into trouble, and your house stays safe and undestroyed because you activated and stimulated your dog on the walk. Your dog is happier, calmer and so are you.
As 2018 was coming to an end I saw this quote on Facebook by the well-known dog trainer Suzanne Clothier:
“Perhaps our language needs to shift so that we no longer ‘walk the dog’ but rather choose, very deliberately and with loving attentiveness, to ‘walk WITH the dog’
Maybe we should take this quote and apply it on our doggie-walks in 2019