Every now and again around my home town I spot a thing of beauty: A dog and its owner walking together, relaxed and enjoying the day without anyone’s arms being yanked from their sockets or choke-hacking sounds. How lovely! Are you like me, in having thought at some point in your dog-raising history, that this is a thing of myth and movies? If so, lets share a few ways to help ease leash-training, to make walking the dog a happy time.
Walking the dog is about more than muscle
From the first day your dog arrives home the act of exercising together strengthens your bond to each other. Despite imagining a picture-perfect walk with your new dog or puppy, first-times are rarely perfection. So, we’ll need to set our sights on a couple of goals:
- Healthy exercise time
- Safe exploration and socialization time
- Development of a behavior routine
- Pack bonding and general pooch love
It can be debated to an extent, that allowing your dog to run in the yard, or at the dog park gives them loads of exercise. But what is this level of exercise missing? Our intelligent, furry friends may be keeping limber- but walking together exercises their social and discipline skills too. Walking the dog broadens the dog’s understanding of their place in the pack amongst people, strangers, children and even other animals. Playing and running in a dog-realm like a park or yard is ‘playtime’. So, although the dog may get sufficient physical exercise in the yard, a confident walk together will grow their mental and behavioral intelligence too!
Setting Up For Success
Have a great route in mind for your walks? Even for the spontaneous at heart, having a general plan of where you’ll be going, how much time you have, how busy the route might be, will make a good head start in the direction of a comfortable walk. Consider teaching your dog a couple of cues; like “Let’s Walk”, “heel” and “free walk”. These will set an understanding for when you need them to be ‘all-business’ versus casual time to explore the tempting smelly spots. I take a fairly casual wording with my dog, using “keep close” as our cue to turn off your nose and watch for me.
Crowded sidewalks aren’t always every dog’s cup of tea. Getting to know your dog’s comfort level as well as your own can alleviate the stress of a busy route. When you stop to shop windows, or chat with other people- does your dog get restless or go with the flow? These experiences can certainly be an exciting mental stimulus for some while a pressure cooker of stress for others. When starting a walking routine be especially aware of your dogs comfort zones, this is your bonding time after all – and they are learning your cues and preferences too! If your dog is fearful or anxious around strangers or other dogs that you’ll need to cross on your walk, consider ‘practice walks’ of walking with a small group of folks that your dog is familiar with. Plan for your friend(s) to join you at a particular point in a quiet route every now and then, a pleasant surprise of extra people to soften the blow.
Whether your walk is a hustle, meander or a bit of both, wherever you go: be mindful of your manners.
- “No Dogs” means no dogs.
- Be prepared to pick up after your dog.
- Know the dogs-on-leash policies of public areas your walk will cross through
- Be aware of any harmful vegetation, or chemicals you may cross
- Prepare for the weather and temperatures of the ground – this may mean booties or balm for the pooch.
- Get to know what you and your dog can handle. Challenge yourselves, in speed or distance but don’t torture. Have water with you and rest periods as needed.
- Know when to go home
Using Treats with a Walking Beginner
A little guide on how to train beginner walking habits by using treats as a lure.
- Start with your dog at your side.
- Hold the treat in your hand, at about the height of your waistline.
- Start walking forward as you give your “let’s walk”, “heel” or “let’s go” cue.
- Praise your dog when they respond by starting to walk with you
- Periodically reward the calm walking with a bit of the treat. In the beginning you’ll be rewarding them pretty often as reinforcement. As they become more confident the treating will lessen.
- Let your praises become the reward, and the enjoyment of the walk.
- Start this process with a short distance, and progress to attentive heeling as you walk further or toss in a few curve balls of changing direction or stop and go.
- As your dog improves let the treating come when introducing a new skill such as stop and sit.
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Stay tuned for more tips next week!