Taking your dog for a walk should be an enjoyable daily ritual that not only supports the development of a positive bond with your dog but also helps keep your dog mentally stable. All dogs, not considering breed type or size, need to be taken on daily exercise: walks, jogs, runs, bike rides, rollerblading, or any other means to get your dog moving. A dog, as an animal, is a walker/traveller by instinct. Packs of dogs get up in the morning and walk. Simply having a large back garden or taking your dog to your local park and letting them ‘run free’ is not going to satisfy their physical or mental energy. As Cesar Millan, says, "To your dog, your backyard is like a large fish bowl in which they are trapped. Fish swim, birds fly and dogs walk. Having a dog should not be about only fulfilling our human needs, we owe it to our dogs, to give them what THEY instinctually need."
To support a dog to become or to remain mentally stable, you, as a responsible dog owner, must take your dog for daily walks, to release both mental and physical energy. The appropriate way to walk a dog is to have your dog walking either beside you or behind you (to the heel), never in front of you. This may seem insignificant in a human's mind however, in a dog’s mind, it is significant. When a human allows a dog to walk in front, this is signalling to the dog that he is leading the human and dictating the walk. Dogs have an instinct to migrate and an instinct to be led by their leader. Teaching a dog to heel on a lead is the single most effective way to communicate who is the leader of your pack. Dogs are happiest when they can be secure about the pack order. Humans are happiest when their dogs are relaxed and respectful of their surroundings. When dogs are allowed to walk in front of the humans while on a lead, it is communicating to the dog that they are above the human in the order. When the pack order is not made clear it causes dogs a lot of stress and anxiety. A lack of exercise allows the mental and physical energy in a dog to mount up. This, coupled with allowing your dog to be the leader, can lead to many behavioural problem including, hyper-activity, neurotic and/or obsessive-compulsive behaviours, all of which are signs of a dog that is not mentally stable.
An unstable dog is not a happy dog. Excitement in a dog is NOT a sign of happiness. Dogs that act very excitedly when their humans come home are showing signs of a lack of exercise, and/or leadership and possibly anxiety. For a dog, excitement does not indicate happiness. In most cases it is a sign of a dog that is not mentally stable. When a dog is in an excited state, do not touch, speak or making eye contact with them as this will only reinforce their behaviour. Leave them, do something else then come and greet them when they are in a calm state. When we see dogs as human, it is difficult to accept a dog's excitement as not being a sign of happiness – we have to recognise that dogs are canines, not humans. Many people say that making a dog walk beside or behind them is mean or punishing the dog. Those who believe this are seeing the dog as having human traits. It is actually crueller to impose human traits onto your dog, not acknowledging and treating them as the canine animal they are. Once you can see your dog as an animal, with different needs than a human, you will have a better, more fulfilled relationship with them and they will be more contented in their life too.
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If you and your dog are having trouble with lead walking there can be several reasons for this. You: Are you tense? Are you tentative and unsure? Are you in a rush? Has it been a while since you last took your dog out? Was the last walk a bad experience and you are worrying the same will happen again? Are you unhappy with the whole process of the walk? Are you worrying you are ‘doing it wrong?’ Are you fearful of meeting another dog on the walk? Is it easier to just let him out into the back garden? Is it easier to have him dangling in the distance, at the end of a retractable lead – does he still come back full of energy and wanting more? Your dog: Does he shy away from the lead? Does he pull constantly when you are on the walk? Does he react nervously to any sounds or new experiences? Does he ‘lunge’ at other dogs or people? Does he pull away when you try to ‘lead’ him? These questions (and more) can all influence your daily walk with your dog. Yes, when you see others out walking with their ’perfectly behaved’ dogs it can be frustrating and off putting but, think, they too had to work with their dog in order to achieve this. If you have considered all these aspects and are still finding the walk too challenging, you will find the support you need here: http://www.caninecoaching.co.uk/121
As outlined above, getting a dog to walk properly on a lead can sometimes seem like an impossible task. You are probably thinking: ‘Why is it that everyone else’s dog can do it but I struggle with mine?’ Remember, your dog is your dog, with its own traits and ‘dogonality’ - it will take time and practise. When getting ready to walk your dog, call your dog to you to put the lead on. If they are reluctant to come, make a game of it – using the lead as part of the game – like a toy, gradually placing it at their side and on their coat as the game progresses – use any behaviour so they do not view the lead as a threat and instinctively want to ‘run’ from it. Do not be in a rush to get it over their head or onto their back if using a harness, this will only add to their reluctance. If they are already in an excited state, DO NOT be animated as this will only feed their excitement. Sit/stand calmly, don’t talk or stare at them. Gently encourage/allow them to come to you – this may take some time but will decrease every time you do this. After the dog comes to you, make a fuss, praise him if he has been reluctant to come and food treat. If he has been hyper, encourage him sit calmly before snapping on the lead or slipping on the collar. Retractable leashes are not recommended, as they give you less control. The way you leave your house and property is also important. You lead your dog out the door. If you put the leash on the dog and/or leave the house while the dog is in an excited state and leading you, you are setting the rules and boundaries for the rest of the walk –for your dog to be in an excited state and taking you for a walk!
Take your dog to the front door and open the door. Make the dog sit quietly; do not allow the dog to lunge at or pull you out of the door. The dog needs to see you are the one who decides when it's time to leave. As soon as your dog is sitting quietly lead him out to walk. It is recommended that the collar be far up on the neck, giving you more control over the dog. If you are unsure of or are unhappy with your lead set up and want some advice, you could ask your local pet shop or give Canine Coaching a ring, they are happy to advise on all matters canine. A body harness is not recommended for walking dogs. Harnesses were designed for pulling—weight pulling, sled pulling, etc. Harnesses go around the strongest point on the dog’s body, making it difficult to control the dog. Using a slip lead and keeping the lead high up on the neck, the same way they do in dog shows, will give you more control with less effort. There should be no tension in the lead. Do not allow your dog to pull and do not constantly pull on your dog. Breath calmly and relax – the more tense you are, the more tense your dog will become.
The lead should be short and hang loose. If the dog starts to pull, correct him with a quick snap (tug) on the lead, up and to the side, drawing his attention back on to you, then hold the lead loosely again (a very quick tug). If the dog starts getting too excited and you are not able to keep him beside or behind you, stop and make the dog sit. Wait until he is calm, then start again. Do not call to the dog when you start walking again, just start walking. Pack leaders do not call the pack to come with them, the pack instinctually follows. The dog needs to learn he is following you, and tune into you, the person walking the dog. Do not praise your dog for walking calmly. This only creates excitement and you are more likely to pull your dog out of his calm, submissive state. The dog should not sniff the ground and relieve himself where he pleases; his job while walking is to concentrate on following his owner. The person walking the dog decides when the dog is allowed to sniff or urinate, not the dog. It is okay to allow your dog to sniff around and do his business, but only when you decide. The dog needs to see you are leading him, not the other way around.
If you pass a barking dog or other distraction, keep moving forward. If your dog averts its attention to the distraction, give a tug on the lead to avert attention back to the walk. If the tug does not work you can also use your foot, not to kick the dog, but to touch him enough to snap his attention back on you. If the dog is pulling, stop and make him sit. Correct any excited behaviour from the distraction with a tug, and if that does not work you can also use a firm touch to the neck using your hand as a claw. Do this as soon as you see the dog starting to avert his gaze toward the distraction, or as soon as you see a look in your dog's eyes that tells you he is going to begin barking or growling. Timing is everything. This must be done right before the behaviour happens. You do not want to wait until it escalates. If you wait too long before correcting a dog (we’re talking seconds), the dog may not even hear you; he will be too focused on the distraction. When correcting your dog, match your dog’s intensity. If these strategies are not successful, please contact Canine Coaching. They can work with you to find a better strategy.
Walk confidently, at a good pace, keeping your shoulders down and your head held high. If you find it difficult to relax your upper body, let your arms drop to your sides and shake them lose. You are out on a walk and your dog is coming with you. Dogs can sense tension or lack of direction. Walk proud, be a strong, confident leader. A dog will sense this and respond to it. Notice in the photo how there is no tension on the lead. Some people like to have their dog sit when they stop at crosswalks. Sitting down is not always necessary as long as the dog remains calm.
Putting a dog backpack on a dog is another good way to make the walk more meaningful and challenging for your dog. It gives the dog a job to do. Put a couple of water bottles in the pack to add some weight. The dog will get a better workout, and it will also slow him down a bit, making it easier to walk. This is a good idea for some of the more active breeds with high energy levels. If you are going off to work for the day, the dog should be walked before you leave the house. This will put the dog into a resting mode during the time you are gone. Dogs should also be walked before eating, fulfilling the dog's instinct to work for food.
Sometimes bad weather prevents us from getting outside and walking our dogs. Even on these days dogs still need to release energy. Teaching your dog to walk on a treadmill is an excellent way to do this. While getting outside and walking is best, a treadmill can work as a substitute when that is not possible. It can also be a very good bonding experience for both owner and dog as the dog exercises side-by-side with the owner.
Dogs, of all breeds and types, that are taken for daily walks, and that are made to walk beside or behind the owner, are less likely to be destructive, obsessive, have separation anxiety and/or aggression issues, among many other behaviour problems. Dogs with higher energy should be taken for longer, more vigorous walks, some two or more times a day. For a dog, walking is a primal instinct. Fulfilling this need in your dog will make for a happier dog and happier owners.
Here are some questions to consider before lead walking your dog:
What type of lead am I using and does it help me manage my dog’s behaviour?
Is my dog calm and in a submissive state of mind before I put their lead on?
Who exits the doorway and/or gate first (leader position), me or my dog?
Who leads on the walk - does my dog follow me, watching me for direction?
Am I consciously interacting with my dog before, during and after the walk?
Do I walk my dog to heel or do I think ‘they won’t ever be able to do that’ or ‘I want my dog to enjoy their walk so I won’t make them do that?
How often do I walk my dog?
Do I allow my dog to smell where and when it pleases in a ‘pulling/hyper’ manner?
If you need support with any aspect of your walk, contact Canine Coaching
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