Imagine taking your dog for a walk, getting some exercise and fresh air, and coming home to a pooped pup and a good mood. That is the dream, right? The reality is that walking the dog can be a super stressful experience for many owners who have perhaps just adopted a dog or never got around to training them to have good leash skills. In honor of the approaching National Walk Your Dog Week, let’s talk about some tips to have a well-behaved walking partner.
Practice Makes Pawfect
“Practice walking my dog?” you might ask? Yes! It might sound silly but, as with anything, getting your dog to listen to commands and be a polite walker, you need to practice. Choose an area with fewer distractions, as you want to be more confident as you work your way into longer and more adventurous walks or even hikes.
Accessorize Like a Boss…Or At Least a Caring Owner!
Choose the right collar, leash, or harness for your dog. Ensure that the collar fits correctly and that you can fit two fingers under but can’t slip it over the head. The leash should be no more than six feet long. If your dog is a puller, use a front-pull harness in conjunction with training. When walking your dog, you want your arm to be close to your body, and the leash will be loose. Walking this way is the goal of a loose-leash walk.
All Hail the Treats And Other Positive Reinforcement
Treats are a great way to train your dog to have good walking manners. Using treats is positive reinforcement, and training dogs with these incentives helps them to learn quicker and will remember longer. The easiest way to treat your dog is to fill up a plastic pastry bag with dog-friendly goo, wet food, or peanut butter. If your dog isn’t big on treats, then you can use a ball or a toy with a squeaker to get their attention.
Keep your dog’s leash in one hand and your other will have the treats or the toy. Start with your dog in the sit position, and take a step and say “come” or “here.” These commands will indicate the start of movement with you. Walk a few steps and keep your dog’s attention on you by squeaking the toy or letting the dog sniff the treat. After a few steps, stop and give a treat or toy. When you do this, say “good”, “yes”, or another word that you will use when your dog does the desired behavior. Continue to do this a few more times, going further in between stops each time.
Reward Consistent Attention From Your Doggo
If your dog starts to pull or turns towards another direction, removing their attention on you, stop, get their attention back on you, tap your leg, let them smell the treat, squeak the toy and go in the opposite direction. You can use the command “come” again. Take a few more steps, then stop and treat them. Refrain from pulling harshly on the leash, as dogs can feel the slightest tug. You want them to choose to come with you, and in return, you’ll reward them. Repeating and sticking with this process is where you need to be very consistent. If you let your dog start to pull, it will take longer to fix than if you teach them this method from the very beginning.
Commitment to Dog Walking Training is Key
Commit to 30 minutes a day of this training exercise. That’s nothing in the grand scheme of things! You can even split it into 15-minute walks twice a day. You’ll reap the benefits of remaining faithful and committed to the process.
What to Avoid Doing When Walking Your Dog
In the end, a dog that enjoys walking with you will be easier to train so it’s important to make the process enjoyable for them.
The American Kennel Club offers the following three things to avoid when teaching your dog good walking skills:
1. Don’t Rush the Pee Pee Part
Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that the amount of time it takes them to decide where to “go” can be crazy-making. But there is a method to the madness. As the AKC article notes, “It’s not just about relieving themselves, it’s about communicating with the world-at-large. Dogs use their urine to signal their presence to other dogs. And in turn, smelling other dogs’ urine tells a dog all about the other canines in the community, including their gender, age, and health.”
2. Don’t Rush the Smelling Part
Just as with the first tip, it’s all about the process for dogs. Similar to finding just the right pee spot, dogs like to linger where there are other dog smells, and we know this can be frustrating at times. However, rushing them by pulling or yelling “heel” detracts from their enjoyment and, in turn, could make them an impolite walker. Dogs have hundreds of millions of scent receptors in their noses, so stop and let them smell their version of roses!
3. Don’t Pull Repeatedly on the Leash
As we mentioned earlier, pulling is a no-no. Dogs will naturally pull back due to instinct, and this not only detracts from their training process but it can also hurt your dog’s trachea—particularly if you’ve got a small dog.
Once you’ve dedicated the time to follow the tips we’ve offered while avoiding the tendency to pull and rush, you and your dog will be wonderful walking partners. If you have any questions about how to keep your dog as healthy and happy as possible, give us a call.