Walk time is the highlight of the day for many dogs – and also for many owners! It’s a time when you can not only give your dog exercise and the stimulation of new things to see and smell, but it’s an opportunity to connect with your dog in a special way. You can make every walk a new and fun adventure for the both of you, as well as enjoying some fresh air and exercise.
It’s a pity, then, that the daily walk is often a stressful time for both dog and owner. Pulling on the leash, not coming back when called, even aggressive behaviour – these and other issues can make a walk seem more like a duty than a pleasure.
However, even if your dog is well behaved, the chances are you are missing out on a valuable opportunity, not only to bond more closely with your dog but to improve its general behaviour and performance as well. Here are some ideas to help you take dog walking to the next level.
Firstly, remember that the walk actually starts well before you put the lead on and head out the door. It is critical you establish the right attitude towards walking for your dog. A dog is naturally a pack animal and is much happier when it is not having to make its own decisions. You will have a much calmer, more settled and relaxed dog if you can make it understand that you are the boss and that it need not ‘worry’ about deciding what to do in any situation. You do this by establishing your authority and by determining what your dog does and when – not the other way around. Far too many owners react to what their dog does in any given situation (including when and what it will eat, what it barks at and when it wants attention). If you react to a dog it will take it to mean that you approve of its behaviour – and of course, in its desire to please you, it will do more of the same!
An excellent time to establish your authority is when getting ready to go for the walk. Don’t respond to your dog’s excitement and rush out the door as quickly as possible. Be calm, put on your shoes and wait until your dog’s excitement dies down. Then you can put the leash on in a relaxed manner. By doing this you are sending a clear message that you will go walking when you decide, not when your dog does. Using such patience to establish your control is going to pay off later when your dog is off leash and you want it to come when called. You will now be the boss!
Maintaining this relaxed frame of mind is equally important on the walk itself. Maintain discipline and be sure to let the dog know that you are in charge of when and how you walk. “Free time” (including off the leash) should be your dog’s reward for good behaviour, not the result of you giving in because of frustration! If the dog continues to pull, gently but firmly remind it that you are in charge. You can usually sense when a dog is testing you and most will continue to do so until they realise that they’re not going to win. It’s just like with children – the ‘battle of wills’ is going to require some effort in the short term, but it’s going to save on more battles in the long run!
The message you leave your dog with at the end of the walk is as important as the one you give at the start. Finish as you began, on a positive yet calm note. Again, wait until the dog is calm before you let it off the leash when you arrive home. Give it a pat or a cuddle as a thanks for a great time. It will have it looking forward to the next one – whenever you decide that will be.
Like people, every dog is different, and some will take longer to get the message that you are in control. However, with a little bit of persistence you will find a noticeable improvement in your dog’s behaviour on walks – and it will become the fun time for both of you that it’s supposed to be.
For more advice and tips on training your dog the right way we highly recommend Brainy Dogs.