As a first-time dog owner, you can't believe how much your new pal has already enhanced your life. From those quiet moments chilling out on the sofa after a long day, bonding with your dog, to playing frisbee or running under the garden hose and laughing like a kid again, dogs truly bring out the best in us.
Have You Been Walking Your Dog Wrong This Whole Time?
But just wait until he takes you for a walk. That's when the real fun begins!
Or maybe you've had dogs for years, and as a seasoned pro, you have turned walking your dog into an art form. And you're sure your dog would agree. But is it possible you've been walking your dog wrong this whole time?
For both newbies and experienced dog people, walking your dog is like a box of chocolates — "you never know what you're gonna get." Dogs aren't robots, and even the most well-trained dog slips up now and then. One day your walk can be blissful, the next, it's chaotic. After all, you don't know what challenges lurk outside your front door. And depending on your dog's level of talent for sticking by your side, you might find yourself flying along behind your Great Dane as he chases a guy on a skateboard, or struggling to control the little maniac your Chihuahua morphs into whenever he sees the Rottweiler down the street.
Who's walking whom?
Does it really matter who walks in front — you or your dog? If you're worried she'll get the leg-up on you because her nose is jutting a few inches ahead, you could be wasting precious time better spent relaxing and enjoying the sights and sounds of your neighborhood.
The original "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Milan's mantra for dog owners is "be calm and assertive." Set rules, boundaries, and limitations for your dog; and always provide exercise, discipline, and affection — in that order. And his advice is to make your dog walk behind you.
While balancing this concept with reality, it makes sense that strict adherence to the walking rule depends on your dog in many ways. Let's face it: dogs want to move forward and investigate their world. It's only natural for them to be a little impatient. But is your Golden retriever trying to rule the roost by pulling on her leash?
It's quite likely you have at some point allowed her to pull you around, and a dog is a creature of habit. Dogs are astute observers of their people, and consistency is key when you have a dog. You have to keep the adage, "if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile" top of mind. But when it comes to human-dog relationships, Golden Retrievers are one of the unlikeliest candidates to challenge your boss status, so lighten up and take a good look at who your dog is.
According to Kim Brophey, who owns and operates The Dog Door in Asheville, North Carolina, dogs are truly individuals, and we need to look at the whole dog in relation to any of their behaviors. Brophey has developed L.E.G.S. (Learning, Environment, Genetics, and Self ) dog behavior program. Her trademarked approach to addressing canine behavior is logical, fun, practical, and based on sound science. In her latest book, Meet Your Dog, you can learn why your dog behaves in a particular way and begin to understand how his learning, environment, genetics, and self all work in tandem to create the individual that he is.
Consequently, being in charge doesn't mean being domineering or trying to overpower your dog. You and your dog simply need to get on the same page, not only about walking, but in every aspect of your daily life. Sure, you do need to make rules but you also have to stick by any rules you make. Therefore, walking your dog, like any part of the human-dog relationship, is what you decide it's going to be.
Practicing for the walk
Cesar Milan tells you to walk in front of your dog and use a short leash. He also reminds dog owners to give rewards when the dog has reached the optimum state of mind by allowing him to relieve himself and sniff around. On the other hand, there is a whole community of dog behaviorists, trainers, and dog lovers who feel that dogs do not need to be dominated to teach them polite manners. Collectively, they suggest, "Dogs are not pre-programmed to understand that pulling on a leash or barking at neighbors is rude. It's your job to train your dog to walk politely on a leash and to keep his feet on the floor. Just like teaching children and zoo animals, providing your dogs' choices is the key to teaching polite behaviors." It's imperative you associate good things with the desired behavior.
When it comes to the walk, be a hero now and then, slack off and give her room to sniff the environment. Then, go back to the "walk." Just remember, whatever you decide your walk experience should be, practice makes perfect.
If you're a first-time dog owner, plan and prepare for your first walk around the block or on a city street by practicing in the park or your backyard. If you've adopted a rescue dog, you will soon learn about his insecurities or, on the other side of the spectrum, how stable he is. A few sessions of heeling practice will inspire your dog to walk smartly on your maiden voyage.
A basic part of any obedience training arsenal, heeling is taught in many ways. Ultimately, the most effective way is the one that works for you. Like many training exercises, treats tend to motivate dogs to perform beautifully. Dogs who are inclined to take control may do well with a head halter or other proven-safe and humane collar. Everything depends on your dog's nature, genetics, environment, and learning — and your confidence.
Think positive thoughts, stand tall, chin up, and move forward briskly. Inspire your dog's confidence with your own. But keep it light, lively, fun, and challenging for the best results. Move forward, circle around trees, bushes, poles, whatever is stationary, always encouraging your dog, never reprimanding him for falling behind, stopping, or even refusing to move forward. Remember you have a pocket full of magic — the dehydrated liver bits. There's nothing wrong with a little bribery.
For your heel drills, change direction often, and vary your pace. Again, keep your dog's temperament in mind. Don't overwhelm a shyer, less confident dog, but deliberately challenge a bold dog. A working dog like a German shepherd might snap right into work mode, and you can see the excitement and attention to detail in their eyes. But any dog, with practice, will learn to watch you closely to follow your cues.
The new and improved way to walk your dog
Every once in a while, let your dog be the navigator. Let her lead you where she wants to go. Up hills, across streams, or to her favorite tree where all the squirrels hang out. Take time to understand her behavior and let her teach you about focus, simple joys, and the power of determination.
Squeeze in some basic training to take your walk to the next level. You can suddenly stop, ask your dog to sit or down, then praise her like crazy. Before you know it, your dog will be anticipating showing off her expertise.
Play games during your walk. Toss treats into the grass, and tell your dog to "wait." When you give the signal, OK, or "Find it." loosen up the leash, and the hunt begins.
Socializing with neighbors and other humans along your route is also an enriching experience for your dog, and you, too.
Jump in your vehicle and drive you and your pal to some new, exciting location for your walk. Scope it out first on your own to ensure all is safe and ideal for an enjoyable walk. Your dog will thank you for opening him up to a new experience. You may even meet some new friends, too.
The bottom line: the quintessential walk is what you make it. A walk with your dog can be wonderful if you respect your dog, and he respects you, too.