Walking a dog is one of life’s pleasures and while my dogs and I look forward to our daily excursions, I am well aware that many people don’t feel the same. I have worked with countless dogs over the years who pull on the leash, bark at people, lunge at other dogs and generally make walking a chaotic and unpleasant experience. But with a bit of work and a whole lot of understanding, walks can become enjoyable again for both ends of the leash. Here are some ways to make walking your dog a walk in the park.
Stop the pull
The No. 1 complaint I receive from dog lovers is that their dogs pull, and they don’t know how to make them stop. Before I teach any dog the skill of loose-leash walking, I fit them with a no-pull harness, which takes the pressure off a dog’s delicate neck and instantly makes dogs and people feel happier. A double-ended leash attaches to the back of the harness by the shoulders and at the chest. When the dog pulls forward, his body turns around gently. It makes walking a lot easier and eliminates the damage pulling can do when the leash is attached to a collar.
Once both dog and handler feel comfortable with the harness, I work on their walking technique, because like everything else, walking well on leash is a skill that needs a lot of practice to get right. You can teach your dog not to pull by teaching him the Let’s Go cue. If your dog forges ahead of you, tell him, “Let’s go” in an excited voice, turn away and walk off in the other direction, without yanking the leash. When your dog follows and the leash is relaxed, tell him, “Good boy,” turn back around and continue on your way.
Get and keep attention
Once your dog is listening to you more, you can encourage him to pay attention to you by being unpredictable yourself. This means your dog never knows what you’re going to do next. Are you going to turn left or right? Are you going to suddenly turn in a circle? Keep your dog guessing so he doesn’t forget you are part of the walk as well.
Leash reactivity is a common behavior problem because some dogs feel restrained, frustrated and uncomfortable when they are on a leash, particularly in a social situation. Help your dog feel less agitated by bringing out his favorite toy when a person or dog he reacts to appears. For example, when your dog sees another dog in the distance and is curious but not yet uncomfortable, bring out his favorite toy or some high-value food and play with him or feed him. Doing various fun activities in the proximity of other dogs helps change the way a dog perceives another dog’s presence.
Dogs who lunge on the leash sometimes need a security blanket when they walk. This acts rather like a pacifier. These dogs find it really comforting to carry something that they love in their mouth for all or part of the walk, keeping them relaxed in the environment. A beloved toy might be all you need to help your dog relax.
Make it fun
Play a game with your dog when you are walking, such as the Go Find It game. Throw a piece of food on the ground and encourage your dog to go find it. Once he has located and eaten it, throw another piece onto the ground. This game encourages your dog to use his nose to seek out food, stimulating his seeker system and raising the levels of dopamine in his brain, making him feel good about what he is doing.
Keep walking comfortable and enjoyable by bringing a good amount of water if it’s a hot day. Feel the ground with your hand to see how hot or cold it is and be aware of your dog’s body language in different environments. He will tell you how he’s feeling.
Keep it calm
Don’t take your dog to a dog park if he is nervous around other dogs. Dog parks are good for social butterflies but not for introverts.
Walking doesn’t have to be a chore but walking well on the leash is a skill that you and your dog need to master. If there are places you can walk your dog off leash, make sure the area is safe and that you have a really reliable recall, so that your dog comes back to you even when there are a lot of distractions. Not everyone likes dogs and some people are scared of them, so be vigilant and empathetic.
And if your dogs are like mine, sniffing is more important to them than walking long distances, so you can share the walk by letting your dog have some time to sniff and then encouraging him to walk alongside you. Walking is like a dance. While you are learning the steps, you can tread on each other’s toes, but when you both know the steps, it becomes an enjoyable thing to do.
Positively Double Connection Training Leash; $9.99 and Positively No-Pull Harness; $32.99-$36.99. positively.com
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