I don’t go for walks with my dogs. When I go for a walk it is so I can get a health benefit as I, like so many others, are trying to get rid of unwanted pounds. My dogs, however, don’t need to lose weight and are not interested in walking in straight lines at the same pace for 1 to 2 miles.
Many people do go for walks with their dogs. Some believe it is the “thing” we should do as a good dog owner (guess I lose my good dog ownership card). Others believe it is the best form of exercise (which it isn’t.) Those that do take their dogs often complain about the dog’s behavior, and I am saddened every time I see a dog being walked on a prong collar. This isn’t a discussion of why they are needed or why you shouldn’t use one. That is for another time.
Dogs naturally move at a faster pace than humans. Dogs follow their nose everywhere, sometimes leading them straight into trouble. These two reasons are often why going for a walk is a struggle for many owners. The third reason falls squarely on the human’s shoulders. Are your cues communicating clearly what you want? Do you use the same vocabulary every time to clue your dog into the behavior(s) you are expecting? Most owners aren’t walking with their undivided attention on their dog; a fifty/fifty partnership on the leash.
Want to be a be partner during walks? There are some easy changes you can make to get a better walk – Pace, Vocabulary, and Direction.
Changing up your pace on walks allows your dog to learn to moderate his speed to yours and teaches you to match your dog’s pace. In competition obedience we must learn to be fluid at slow, normal, and face paces. Working on a team approach during your traditional walk provides the following benefits:
- Your dog will learn to focus on you
- Your dog will have the opportunity to move at paces that are more natural
- Pace changes offer more variety for both you and your dog
When you think about how fast you are going, and if your dog is matching your pace, you are more invested in the walk itself. Transitions between paces allow you to also reward your dog for staying close, especially during slow pace, when his attention may tend to wander.
Abruptly changing direction is another way to create better loose leash walking skills. Once again if you have to think about where you are going to go, and whether your directional change will be 90 degrees, 180 degrees, or some other degree of change, you are more apt to be paying attention to your dog. Directional changes allow you to:
- Reward your dog for catching up to you
- Reward your dog for staying with you
- Teach your dog to pay better attention during walks
- Avoid situations that produce reactivity
Directional changes that occur when you are turning into your dog require your dog to slow his pace down slightly to avoid getting bumped or stepped on. Directional changes that are done away from your dog means your dog must change his pace to something faster if he wants to stay with you.
Having a vocabulary for walks is CRITICAL if you want your dog to walk nicely on leash. You have cues for sit, down, stay and come, right? What is your cue for walk forward? Turn? Stop for traffic? Don’t have them? No wonder your dog is confused! Let’s help you both by creating cues for the following behaviors:
- We are walking forward
- We are turning to the left
- We are turning to the right
- We are turning around
- We are doing a U-turn
- We are going to go slow
- We are going to go faster
- You are free to sniff, eliminate, investigate
- Stop when I stop
- Don’t move forward
- Walk right next to me
- Pay attention
- Come to the front of me
- Switch sides
- Leave that alone
- We are not greeting right now
- Drop whatever is in your mouth
Okay, so maybe you don’t need all of these. But which situations do you currently have on your walks? What might you need in the future? Your dog must learn EVERYTHING you want him to know in a distraction free environment (indoors) before you can put them into the real world.
Rewards on Walks
Did you know that your dog is getting rewarded whether you are giving treats or not? So you aren’t taking food rewards with you on walks? It is a good idea so that you can reward your dog in the position or location you want them to be in, on your left side, for example. But you can also use life rewards for some behaviors. Paying attention can earn the freedom to explore or eliminate. Coming to the front of you, with your dog’s nose lined up with your toes, can become a way to earn greetings. It is up to you to decide what your dog has to do to get rewarded. Make sure he understands the cue and has had LOTS of SUCCESSFUL repetitions before you expect it outside.
If you are going to walk your dog it should be a partnership, with both gaining some benefit. Add pace changes, directional changes, and make sure you have vocabulary that your dog understands to create a more pleasant walk for both of you. Happy Walking!