Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Walking Your Dog: The Basics

Walking your dog nicely is probably the most popular reason that people enroll their dogs in basic obedience classes. They love the idea of walking with their dog. It’s great exercise and an opportunity to socialize with others. But after several sessions of getting pulled around constantly, the leash gets retired. Or, for those who have to walk their dog for potty breaks, it’s a chore that one must get through.

So, why do dogs pull? First, you have to understand dogs a bit. They repeat a behavior because it’s safe or rewarding; they don’t repeat a behavior because it’s dangerous and penalizing. When your dog pulls, he gets to move forward…bingo! reward. What if you stop? Don’t say a word (any attention is good attention to your dog) and be still. See what your dog does. Does he look at you as if to say, Hey, Let’s go? If he comes back to you, move forward. Every time the leash slackens, you move forward. Every time the leash is taut, you stop.

What about leash pops? Some may call them corrections, but a correction is something that corrects. Leash pops don’t correct, they just annoy dogs at best and hurt at worst. If I pulled your arm to come with me, would you naturally come with me? Probably not. We have an opposition reflex. So do dogs! If you pull them with the leash, they are hardwired to move in the opposite direction, not the direction of the pulling. It boils down to being a survival skill; getting away from the attacker who’s doing the pulling.

Besides why would I WANT to be by your side if you keep yanking and pulling me? How enticing is that? Make it safe and rewarding for your dog to be by you; not that your dog is near you because of fear of being jerked. And frankly, when I walk my dogs, for the most part I don’t care if they are glued to my side, in front of me or behind me. As long as the leash is loose, then it’s all good.

When you start your new walking ritual, start small and build upon successful steps. This begins with getting the leash on your dog when he’s calm. If he’s not, just wait. He’ll learn that when he’s calm the leash is attached and you will move forward. If he’s not calm, everything stops. Do not be tempted to tell him No, Stop It or other words you may use. You also need to remain calm. :-) Remember this is new to your dog; he’s built a habit that needs to develop into a different habit.

Once he’s calm with getting the leash on, proceed to the door. The moment the high excitement comes back, stop. Next step, open the door. Just because the door is open doesn’t mean that you HAVE to go through it. Wait it out. If it’s just too much excitement for your dog, close the door and walk away.

The first few days you may not even get out of your driveway. That’s okay. This is something new to both of you. If you walk a mile of constant stress, it’s not very enjoyable for either of you. But if you spend 20 minutes a day building upon successful baby steps, then in a month you may get to walk that mile of carefree strutting. A month or so is not very long when you consider the investment of being able to nicely walk your dog for years to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment