Walking your dog — it's a skill owners should know as they spend more time outdoors with their four-legged friends. Dog behaviorist Tamar Geller offers training tips to pet owners.
We’ve all seen dogs dragging their owners down the street at the end of a leash, desperate to get to their favorite bush, fire hydrant or park bench so they can read the p-mails left by other dogs — and, of course, leave one of their own! And if you’re the owner of a dog that has a mind of his own when walking, you’re no doubt frazzled and frustrated, and you possibly dread this daily event.
Walking your dog is not just a way to meet your dog’s bathroom needs. In addition to being a great form of exercise for both of you, it’s also a fabulous way to establish and enhance your relationship. By following these simple steps, you and your dog can enjoy a safe, well-mannered and, most of all, fun walk each and every time.
Eliminate choke chains and prong collars. I believe devices that cause a dog pain, such as choke chains and prong collars, do not belong in dog training. Using painful tactics only teaches a dog to be fearful of our causing her pain rather than strengthening our relationship. There are better and more effective ways to communicate with her. We want our dog to want to be with us by our side — because we give her clear boundaries as well as constant praise and reward for the desired behavior.
Instead, use a flat collar and follow my method to ensure a stress and pain-free way to teach your dog to walk with you, all the while creating a deeper bond between you.
Make walking by your side a positive experience. Screaming “heel” or “no pull” at your dog does not work and is certainly not fun. Instead, randomly reward your dog with a yummie treat when he’s by your side as you reinforce his behavior with the word “close.” Don’t use the phrase “good dog” — because your dog has no idea what he did that was good, so how can he repeat it? Instead, acknowledge the behavior by naming and rewarding it.
Once your dog is consistently walking close to you, you can begin to give him “jackpots” — where you randomly reward him with a quick series of 5-6-7 treats, one after the other. He can always have “dinner on the go,” with you feeding him his treats along the way for walking correctly. You can also bring his favorite toy along and walk to the dog park: His reward for walking correctly, once you arrive, is that he gets to play with it and you!
Keep the same length of leash at all times. To keep your dog from pulling on his leash, you must teach him that he only has a certain length of leash available and that you’re in control of it. It’s a mistake to use a retractable leash in the teaching phase, giving him a longer leash anytime he wants it. Save the retractable leash for the everyday phase of walking, once he has learned how to walk correctly by your side and not pull you down the street.
When you hold the leash with your hand, it’s easy for your dog to pull away by forcing you to extend your arm. It’s also important that both your hands are free, assisting you in planting your body when he’s pulling. So wear a sturdy belt, slip the loop end of the leash around it, and fasten it snugly around your waist.
As your dog walks correctly down the street with you, remember to repeat the word “walk,”reinforcing his behavior.
Hold your ground when your dog pulls on the leash. When your dog begins to pull on her leash, stop, plant your feet, lower your center of gravity and hold your ground like a sumo wrestler. She must learn that the walk (what she wants) will only continue (her reward) if she is not pulling on her leash and on you. If your dog is a serious puller, start walking by a railing or fence that you can grab onto as you stop.
Resume walking only after your dog stops pulling on the leash. As soon as she backs up — even a little bit — creating some slack on the leash, resume the walk with the phrase “let’s walk.” The minute she starts to pull on the leash again, you must hold your ground as before, continuing only once she backs up and creates slack on the leash.
Constantly talk to and praise your dog along the way. This is a great way to keep him in tune with you and your pace. Just like a child, if you don’t pay attention to your dog, the message you give him is that he’s on his own and can do whatever he pleases. And when you ignore your dog as he’s walking correctly, and only give him attention when he’s walking incorrectly, he’ll be more prone to continue the unwanted behavior just so you’ll notice him! So stay focused on your dog during the walk and make calls on your cell phone at another time.
Most dogs respond very quickly to this method, and you will find that if you and everyone that walks your dog (don’t forget about the other family members and the dog walker) are consistent, you’ll soon look forward to the fun you’ll have on your walks together.