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How to teach your dog to walk nicely is not only a highly debated topic but also what I find to be what most of my clients struggle with.
There is so much well meaning advice and different methods out there, that it can be hard as a dog owner to know which one to choose. This ends with most of us trying out different methods and often ending up with an unsuccessful result. Along with 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?
Let’s first rule out any methods or training advice that involves punishment or negative reinforcers. This could be yanking the leash or hitting the dog. Science has already proven time and time again that those methods do not work (Read more here about why aversive training methods should not be used in dog training).
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?
- Are your expectations to the walk realistic?
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 then that would be a very hard and honestly very unrealistic goal to set. that would only cause frustration both in you and in your dog.
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 get 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!
That is 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 normal route 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 question.
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? A toy that you and your dog can play with? Or used as a distraction should your dog find something more interesting 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 not only makes you more interesting for your dog to stay close to you. 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 (Read more about positive associations here).
Doing all these things will not only pay off on your walk but also when you are back home again.
You activated and stimulated your dog both physically and mentally on the walk (Here is why mental stimulation is so important). 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. Your dog is happier and calmer and so are you.
This bring us to the final question.
What does your dog gain from walking next to you?
Well, we have kind of already mentioned it a little in the above. Your dog gets to have fun with you, your dog gets to explore the world with you and share the adventure together and your dog gets to feel that they are engaging not only their body but also their mind when they are with you. All this strengthens the bond between you and creates a higher understanding and communication of your relation from both your dogs and your side.
I saw this quote on Facebook by the well-known dog trainer Suzanne Clothier which perfectly combines what it means to walk with your dog and how you should think of a dog walk:
“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”