Don’t we all dream of nice leisurely walks with our dogs? We wish for a special bonding time where they get to sniff and take in the world. And long for time when we get to reflect and enjoy the outdoors. This should be a time that lets us forget about our worries, but too often, a walk with our dog means stress and frustration. With some small effort on our part we can begin to enjoy our walks together and enhance the bond with our dogs; all by taking a simple walk with them.
I have been putting more time in observing people walking with their dogs over the past month. I like to see how or if they are interacting with each other, what tools are being used, if they are happy, rushed, or frustrated and if they seem to be bonded to each other. Too often, I see a person walking while on their cell phone, seeming frustrated or embarrassed by their dog’s behaviour, or they are stressed and are spending all of their time correcting and punishing the dog. It makes me sad to see this as I truly believe that walks with our dogs should be one of the most enjoyable activities for both of us.
Duke and I had been observing a lot of stressed out people and dogs each time we were out. On the dog’s side, they are often being punished for walking the only way they know how as they have not been properly trained. Or they are yanked and prevented from being able to smell and observe the world around them. On the human’s side, they are often tired and frustrated with their dog’s poor behaviour, or just in a rush and completely disconnected from their dog. Let’s talk about what is preventing us from enjoying this valuable time with our dogs and what we can do to make this the best part of our day.
Practice! If you are struggling with your dog, work with a trainer to get the foundation attention skills required for loose leash walking. Do not delay any longer or expect your dog to just finally get it. This is a small investment in cost and time to train this essential skill, and you can have fun while doing so! I will share some other tips to get you started today, but you must practice this skill with your dog to help them understand what to do. Being on leash is not normal for them, let alone us expecting them to ignore all of the amazing sights, smells and sounds that are all around them!
Use a Training Tool There are a wide range of training tools that are designed to prevent pulling in dogs. However, many are ineffective or use pain to stop your dog from pulling. There is never the need to use a choke, prong or shock collar, so if you are, throw those out today! We do not want to use anything that will increase their arousal or make them fearful of the training. No training tool actually teaches a dog to loose leash walk, we have to do that, but there are some great options that prevent the pulling and provide us with more initial success to train the skill. We recommend an anti-pull harness such as an Easy Walk, Sense-ible or Freedom harness to see some immediate success with your dog. We have the Sense-ible Harness available for purchase in our store, so bring your dog into one of our locations today to get sized.
Enjoy Open Space If your dog struggles with attention out in the real world, take them to less busy places with more space. For the beginning stages, large parking lots work great. You can work at the quiet back part, experience distractions at a distance and not have to deal with as many scent distractions in grass or the higher traffic areas. For dogs that are not as distracted, or have a good foundation, enjoy your time together in large parks where you can avoid all the busyness and focus more on each other.
Explore New Areas Do not subject your dog to the same walk or neighbourhood every day. Get them out to new parks, hikes, neighbourhoods and dog friendly businesses. In the beginning, they may be more excited and it may be challenging. However, this was one of the most valuable exercises I did with my dogs. Taking them to new places helped to familiarize them to this and their excitement decreased as they gained more exposure. As they settled, so did I, and we really clicked and were able to better enjoy our time together. I began to spend less time training and more time appreciating their excitement and enthusiasm for going new places. What a better world it would be if we shared our dogs outlook and joy for new things!
Don’t Walk on a Schedule If you are in too much of a rush, you will behave like a drill sergeant on the walk and always expect your dog to keep up a fast pace. This added pressure causes us to be more impatient. I know that this can be unavoidable, but if you are pressed for time, focus more on the quality of walk versus the distance for your dog. Take a deep breath, relax and adjust the walk for both you and your dog’s needs. Do your best to enjoy at least a few walks a week where you are not on a schedule. This will help you to appreciate your time together more.
Turn Off Your Cell Phone It is always a good idea to keep a cell phone on you, but keep it turned off or in your pocket when you are out with your dog. Too often I see people immersed in their cell phone and not paying any attention to their dogs. This not only prevents you from enjoying the experience of a walk with your dog, but can be putting your dog at risk. I have seen people oblivious to their dog walking out onto the road, approaching a strange dog or ingesting items on the ground. If you want your dog to have good focus on you, you must also have good focus on them. By disconnecting with your phone, you will be more involved with your dog and better appreciate your time together. You will begin to associate these walks as your time to step away from the mobile world which is an excellent stress management tool in itself.
Have Fun If you are feeling frustrated and stressed, it is far worse for your dog. They do not understand your frustration and we tend to be harder on them when we feel frustrated. When you experience frustration, try to take a deep breath, give your dog a brain break by letting them go sniff and readdress the situation. Are you in an environment that is too busy and is sure to set your dog up for failure? Did you have a bad day and are not feeling well or tired and are responding to that? Or do you need to spend more time actually teaching your dog what is expected of them and how to walk on a loose leash? Or have you been applying punishment in your training? Not only is this harmful to your dog, but it is going to be a more stressful walk as you are more focused on what your dog is doing wrong, not on how to train them on what is right. They are just doing what they have learned or what works. It is not their fault and it is never appropriate to physically punish or yell at them when they pull. They do not know what to do instead, so you must teach them. If you are not having fun training it, what fun will you have if you ever actually get success with loose leash walking? Don’t damage the bond you have by not doing training or by doing out of date, punitive methods. Training can, and should be, fun!
Take Time to Smell the Roses Together And last but not least, listen to Duke’s advice. Your dogs adore you and love being out with you. Enjoy it with them. Their time here with us is short. Don’t force them to walk the whole time at your side. Let them experience the world. You can teach them not to pull, but that doesn’t mean they have to be at your side and focused on you the whole time. And why would we want that for another creature? They spend all of their time waiting for us to do something with them. So, get out and enjoy that time together. Don’t view it as a chore. What a privilege it is for us to share this time with our dogs. Learn from them to appreciate the world around us and experience joy with so many new experiences. Get out and smell the roses together and let your dog show you how to better appreciate your surroundings. Not only will it increase your bond with your dog, but you will experience the benefits from lowered stress and exercise. That’s a real win-win if you ask me!