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Are You Walking Your Dog Or Is Your Dog Walking You?

Our Australian Shepherd Cedar on a hike
Our dog Cedar on a hike.

Is walking your dog enjoyable? It should be a pleasant experience for both of you, but for many walking the dog can be a challenging ordeal, even more so if you're trying to walk more than one pup! We've all seen that hapless person being drug down the street by their dog, arm outstretched and testing their shoulder strength. Or, maybe the pet-parent is walking two dogs, leaning back digging in her heels as she yanks on their leashes, looking more like she should be a contender in the Iditarod. Maybe that person is you. That's okay! We've pretty much all been there at one time or another, and we're here to help. The above happens with the best of intentions. We love our pups, after all, and want them to be dogs - sniffing, pottying, exercising, and generally enjoying themselves. However, it can be stressful for the pup if he thinks he has to be the pack leader on the walk and be on high alert the whole time, marking territory or chasing anything that moves. You and your dog will find you both have a fun, relaxing stroll if you take control of the walk by not allowing him to pee on everything and not allowing him to pull or walk in front of you. Here is how you can work with your pup so you can walk your dog, rather than letting your dog walk you. There are several options to begin this type of training, but we'll go over two effective methods here. One option is to work on desirable behaviors while on a walk. And, the other is to introduce and reinforce good behavior at home. The best choice is to do both. One big question is the decision to use food treats as a reward for good behavior. Some trainers or owners use food as the primary reward system, while others prefer using petting, praise, and the work itself (the walk in this case) to reinforce good behavior. I like to use petting as much as possible and only bring out the treats when teaching more challenging tasks such as tricks. The walk itself is the reward, and I have found that pups like to perform. Every dog owner should assess themselves and their dog to determine which reward system is best for them. You'll need a short leash such as a slip lead or a Martingale leash and poopie bags to pick up any deposits along the way. Once you have the supplies, here's a step-by-step guide.

  1. Have your dog sit, then place a slip lead or Martingale leash on your pup. A slip lead or Martingale leash allows you to have safer control over the dog. For dogs who are strong pullers, a head halter or a no-pull harness can be helpful.

  2. Open the door and be sure that you exit the door before he does. This gives him a signal you are the pack leader.

  3. Scoot the collar/leash high on his neck. This is the best position for training your pup and getting his attention.

  4. Walk down the street, stopping randomly and asking him to "wait." The wait should only be several seconds at first. Pet him and praise him when he waits.

  5. Also, while on the walk, change directions a few times. Go in a circle, try a figure eight, turn around and go the way you came. This is especially helpful if your dog is pulling you. Simply go the opposite direction. Again, when your pup does what you want him to, reward him that very second to reinforce that particular behavior.

  6. Once back from your walk, be sure you enter the house before your pup does.

These are several ways you can slowly begin to work with your pooch while on a walk. Training is new to the pair of you, so don't ask too much too soon; go in little, quick spurts, and stay positive. After the pup is responding, learning, and paying more attention to you, you can begin to teach your dog to "heel." To do this, follow steps 1 through 4 and begin your walk. Tap your left hip and say, "Rover, heel." The very second he walks at your left hip and looks at you, pet and praise him. Reward him every couple of steps with the praise "good heel." Continue in this fashion until heeling is second nature. It's also essential to have a break or release word you always use to let the pup know he's done working and can play or otherwise do what he wants. A word like "okay!" is a great one but choose any word you like as long as your consistent. The skills above can all be worked on at home as well. Begin to teach the heel command inside, then go into the back yard, then the front yard, eventually progressing to a short walk and finally a long walk. This method is perfect for dogs who are very excited and pull a lot. The idea is to set them up for success, and starting in a small space for very short periods of time will accomplish that. Training your pup may seem like a lot of work, but it can be a fun bonding experience and will create a deep, trusting, relaxed relationship between the two of you. Working with the whole family to be consistent with the dog's training will create a long-lasting, healthy family relationship for years and years to come. Other commands that can be helpful while on a walk and everyday dog life for that matter are "leave it" and "watch me." Stay tuned for more training-focused blog posts!

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