Walking your dog
Dog owners believe that their dogs need exercise and usually maintain a fairly set routine of taking them for walks. This often turns out to not be enjoyable for both because it becomes a struggle to control the dog, even worse when there are more dogs. Some owners get dragged along the route; dread the thought of meeting another dog or walking past a gate where other dogs are barking. Others expect the dog to “heel” when they are supposed to be relaxed and enjoy the outing. Sadly, there are many dog parents who dread walks because their dogs actually walk “them” or display other bad leash manners.
For a dog, going for a walk is like going on a hunt with all the excitement that goes with it. If he pulls on the leash it is because he wants to decide on the direction and the pace of the hunt. The only reason for the pulling is because the owner is too slow to keep up. None of the many halters and gadgets designed to stop pulling actually changes the mind of the dog about who should decide on the direction or the pace of the hunt.
The notion that it is necessary to take a dog for a walk is a modern day myth. When “dog experts” continue to repeat these beliefs it becomes accepted as a fact. The problem that arises is that new and inexperienced dog owners, instead of first establishing a good understanding relationship with their dog, worry and feel guilty about the walk part more than anything else. This “need” to take a dog for a walk prevents people from realising how impractical it can be, for both dog and owner and how it can result in frustration, disappointment and loss of an affectionate relationship with their dog.
If you do not feel happy about walking your dog because it is raining or your shoulder is still paining from all the pulling, don’t do it just because you think you ought to. Stay home and play with your dog and you will both be happy. I take Memphis a few times a week to a place where he can run free, stretch his legs and sometimes play with other dogs. Running is exercise for dogs and walking is exercise for humans.
Walking dogs on a lead was first introduced during the 2nd World War to prevent dogs from walking on to unexploded mines. Our grandparents did not walk their dogs. We do not feel guilty because we did not walk our cat. Dogs for the blind or disabled do not suffer because their owners are unable to exercise them. Wolves sleep for 16-20 hours a day and are super- fit. Dogs will not often go for a stroll if we did not take them. They will not waste their energy on something with no apparent purpose.
The main reason we have problems with dogs is a result of a breakdown in communication. We are people, they are dogs. However, we are both group (pack) living animals and have leadership structures to lead us. In the wild when a wolf pack goes on the hunt for food, or goes into new territory, the leader goes first. The leader eats first and going near him can result in a nip or growl. His personal space has been invaded. Your dog understands this language; that’s why over 95% of dog bites occur when people approach dogs “without permission” invading their personal space.
Humans need to do the same to claim their leadership role. When you meet in the morning or return from work or shopping avoid making eye contact or talking to your dog no matter how much it tries to get your attention. The dog needs to see you as a leader and there is nothing to gain in pestering you for attention. Dogs will trust a human to be the pack leader but he must regularly remind them that he is still the one to be trusted by showing leadership.
This is difficult for us to do emotionally, but you will be amazed to see how quickly dogs adjust to this behaviour and how fast they start coming to you when called. Dogs are very subtle in their attention seeking, so be aware. Dogs need to know who is in charge. When you feel happy and in control then you are ready to take your dog for a walk. Memphis does not have the need to protect me on a walk because he knows that I am the leader.
Needless to say, the best way to develop a positive dog walking habit is when your pet is still small. As soon as your pup’s immune system is strong enough to protect him from communicable disease he is ready for walks with you and other members of the family. He should have his own secure flat-fitting collar and name tag, and should be accustomed to wearing it before you attempt to take him for walks.
Preparing for the walk
When some owners put on their walking shoes, take out the leads, use or spell the word “W-a-l-k” their dogs show behaviour that they are trying to take control of the walk. They bark and rush- about with excitement. You have lost control and must not go for a walk until the dog is calm and sitting down. Walk away or sit down and read a magazine etc. and wait for the dog to calm itself. Your dog is intelligent enough to know that it does not get what it wants with uncontrolled behaviour and needs to cooperate in order to get what it wants. By repeatedly fetching shoes and leashes, without going for a walk, soon gets a dog to remain calm in the house and you can begin the walk in control of the situation.
When your dog is calm and waiting to see what you do next, you are ready to take the next step. Attaching the lead may still excite your dog and the pulling may start again. Drop the leash or take it off, stand still or walk away in order to teach your dog a valuable lesson that he is not going to be in control of the walk.
I prefer, in the beginning, with a puppy, to attach the lead and start my walk indoors around furniture, down passages leading my dog by keeping him behind my legs to maintain the leadership role. All small openings, passages and doors belong to me. I go first! If a dog is not calm in the house he is never going to be calm outside.
When on leash the leader always goes out first. Get your dog to sit, start opening the door and shut it the moment the dog starts moving forward. Repeat this as many times as needed until he remains sitting and you can leave first.
SSCD – (Stop, Start, Change Direction)
In the yard or where you have more space, attach a longer 5m line so that the dog can feel free and not be as restricted as by a short lead. You are ready to start training SSCD with the dog walking freely, dragging the long line – so that you still have control in case he wants to run away. By stepping on the line you instantly retain control.
Call your dog to you and hold a tasty treat in your left hand so that he can get into the habit of walking on your left side. Walk a short distance away and the dog will follow for another treat. Stop and treat. Change direction and call him as you walk 5 or 6 paces away in a different direction. When you stop the dog must stop. When the dog comes to you, he gets praise and a treat. Change direction and repeat. The dog must begin to watch your body and stop when you stop and by changing direction you remain the leader.
Do NOT use your left hand to try and help the dog by stopping him. That’s why we use a longer line for the dog to work it out for himself. The left hand is only ever used to guide a dog to the left side of the leader.
Spending 3 to 5 minutes doing Stop Start Change Direction (SSCD) is a better mental and physical work-out than going for a long walk. SSCD must be done in a calm manner; no jerking is needed. Keep calm and don’t rush the process.
There is no time limit to getting it right. Bear in mind that dogs do not understand man-made things and may see anything as a threat or a distraction. Remember, if you do not have control at the beginning of the walk you can never expect to take- or regain control once you are outside the property.
At the gate, you go first. The dog sits calmly while you check that the road is clear of traffic and it is safe to venture to the middle of the road where we do a few SSCD turns. Next, we walk down the middle of the road because there are no smells there and the dog can attend to the handler. Close to the sidewalk is the worse place to walk a dog because there are too many messages left by other dogs. The dog will constantly be pulling sideways to see who walked there.
Do not have a destination in mind when doing a training walk. Think of it as spending time with your dog so that you can remind your dog that you make all the decisions. There is no time limit to getting it right, so take your time. Keep calm and don’t rush the process. This is a living, reasoning being we are dealing with here, not a household appliance!
Barking on the walk
If your dog starts to pull and bark when it sees something while out on the walk, he is trying to make the leadership decisions on the leash. You need to take calm and positive action. Stop, turn and walk away from what has interested your dog. Keep walking until the dog is calm enough to pay attention to you again. You can introduce some SSCD to remind him who makes the decisions. Then continue your walk or change and go in a different direction. A smart leader avoids a problem whenever practical and finishes any session with your dog doing what you want it to do, willingly and happily.
You cannot help your dog to confront his fears, e.g. the reason for the barking, if he still thinks he is the leader and you a subordinate. Only when the dog sees you as his leader and accepts his position in the pack, can you start to introduce your dog to these “fears,” little by little.
The same procedure as for the start must be followed on the return. Stop and sit at the gate. The leader goes first and the dog follows. Now is a good time for a hug, a drink of water and some games, “Tuggy” or “Find it” etc. and of course some treats as a reward for good behaviour.
For more on leadership see: janfennellthedoglistener.com