We just started our 4 week skills course on leash walking and it got me thinking about just how important it is for the human set appropriate expectations for dog walking.
The expectations many pet parents come into our training classes with is outdated. They imagine having a perfect stroll with their loyal always attentive dog heeling at their side. Their dog never straying from their position during the walk. Calmly and emotionlessly passing by a variety of stimulating things.
Today, we know so much more about a dogs physiology and mental needs. So understanding how your dog operates will help you be more forgiving when they lean into the leash to smell something or pull you down the street to the dog park. (You would do it too if you were a dog.) Your dog is learning and behaving in a manner that benefits them. That's it and defiantly not being pack leader.
Dogs are not trying to dominate you or control the walk they are just do what was reinforced. (Reinforcement meaning the dogs is getting something they want or need in return for a specific behavior, i.e. pulling.)
I want to mention now; Withholding reinforcement is punishment! This is not a good way to solicit the behaviors you want. It's easy to think if they get reinforced for getting to smell that stinky spot on the ground then we should try and make them walk and wait to smell the stinky spot. Yes, that can work but no it's not the most effective method. However, there are exceptions to every rule and in some unique environments I might choose to use this approach, but do so sparingly.
Restricting your dog and forcing them to behave in order to gain access to things they want creates frustration. Frustration can quickly lead to aggression. Here lies one of the hypothesis I have for why we are seeing an up tick in leash aggressive dogs.
So the secret sauce to creating a calm, attentive, and respectful leash walking dog is (drumroll please) sniffing, and lots of it.
I feel like a broken record when I tell people, let them sniff!
Here is the thing you need to understand. Dogs are designed to explore and absorb information about their environment through their nose. Where humans rely on eye sight, dogs rely on oder.
When you step foot in new territory, you need to give them time to sniff and move about as freely as possible. Sometimes I will call this the permitter check. Sniffing also helps lower a dogs anxiety and brings them to a learning state of mind.
Okay, so I let my dog sniff but they still pull me around.
Here is my list of expectations and guidelines to follow when you take a dog on a walk. I know that some of these are easier said than done but do your best to keep them in mind when you head out on a walk.
Walk your dog with no agenda. -- This walk is a dog walk. If you want to hike to see the view you should probably leave your dog home. Your goal is to make your dog comfortable and that you both enjoy the walk no matter what.
Make sure you’re prepared. -- Harness, treats, poop bags, spare leash, toy, squeaker to name a few useful items.
Count steps not distance. -- A small patch of grass on the side of a road might be enough space to satisfy.
Circle and U-Turn - Instead of walking in straight lines expect that you will need to circle your dog around or pace back and forth using U-Turns.
Let them sniff - As long as they are not dragging you to sniff far off places but sniffing around where you stand let them sniff as long as they want. Only moving forward when they are ready to check out the next section of ground. Sniffing can also be used as a reward for nice leash manners.
Do not pull your dog - This is critical and sometimes easier said than done. Pulling on your dog makes matters worse. I tell clients to lead by example. If you don't pull your, dog your dog will stop pulling you, kind of and in conjunction with the rest of the training protocol.
Respect your dogs emotions - Some dog have no problem and truly are confident but the rest of our dogs have concerns about new environments. The extreme emotional display being aggression but no less important is the dog that pants, or even just flicks their ears. If there is something your dog is worried about respect their emotions and move away from it DO NOT pull them closer. A concerned dog is not a cute/funny dog and no they will not just get over it. Moving to the next point.
Team work! - You are sitting in the drivers seat. Be a kind driver and let your co-pilot help navigate. If they need a pit stop take one, they want to go a different direction to avoid traffic, go. Learn to listen to your dog and work together while out on a walk. This walk is for the dog after all, right?
Remember these are just guidelines and sometimes you will need to bend the rules to ensure that everyone including your dog is safe. However, if safety is not of concern than I recommend you review these rules frequently and keep them close at mind if you are going to have enjoyable leashed walks with your dog.
If you are interested in getting help in teaching your dog to leash walk politely or maybe it's too late and they already have some reactivity - Contact Kind Animal Services today. We offer classes or can work with you privately to help teach both you and your dog how to better communicate and work as a team.