“Perhaps our language needs to shift so that we no longer ‘walk the dog’ but rather choose, very deliberately and with loving attentiveness, to ‘walk WITH the dog”
There are so many different advice and methods out there, making it hard for dog owners to chose which method to use to make their dog walk nicely on their daily outings. This ends with most trying out different methods and often ending up with an unsuccessful result. Along with frustration and giving up.
We’ve all been there and teaching a dog how to walk nicely is definitely one of the hardest tasks to conquer.
So what should you do?
How should you teach your dog to walk nicely?
Let’s first rule out any methods or training advice that involves punishment or negative reinforcers. This could be yanking the leash or hitting the dog. Science has already proven time and time again that those methods do not work (Read more about scientifically proven training methods here).
Then let’s look at the positive methods and reinforcers and let’s start by asking ourselves these questions:
- Are your expectations to the walk realistic?
- Are you interesting enough for your dog to stay with you?
- What does your dog gain from staying next to you?
Are your expectations to the walk realistic?
Let’s start with the expectations.
If your expectation is that your dog should stay next to you constantly then that would be highly unrealistic.
Does that mean that your dog should be allowed to pull you around? No, it does not.
Imagine that you are visiting a museum, natural sight or something that you have been looking forward to, been excited about and maybe even dreamed about for a long time.
However, when you get there you are told to only walk in a straight line. Not even being allowed to turn your head or get closer to explore the sights more.
Would you think that was fun? Would you even come back to that sight? And wouldn’t you feel extremely disappointed that when you finally got to this place you weren’t allowed to explore it properly?
Now, let’s apply that to our dogs. Taking your dog for a walk is what your dog is excited about. It’s their daily museum visits if you will. Soooo many great smells await behind that closed door and if this human would just open it faster so we can hurry and explore every little dirt pile or grass straw there is then I would be soooo happy!
That is what it is all about!
Making our dogs and ourselves enjoy the walk to the fullest. So why not let them explore? Why not deviate from the normal route and follow that smell? Why not let your dog chose the way (read more about why choice is important for dogs here)?
But how to do that without having your arm pulled off you might ask?
Which brings us to the next question.
What are you doing to make yourself more interesting for your dog on your walk?
Are you bringing yummy treats that your dog will get every time they come and walk next to you? A toy that you and your dog can play with? Or use as a distraction should your dog find something more interesting that will make them start pulling the lead?
Having treats or toys (whatever you find to be the best distraction tool for your dog) with you not only makes it more interesting for your dog to stay close to you. It also strengthens the bond between you, and makes your walk more interesting for you both. But most importantly it makes your dog create a positive association with you (Read more about positive associations here).
Doing all these things will not only pay off on your walk but also when you are back home, again as your dog will have had both the physical and mental enrichment and exercise (s)he needed.
What does your dog gain from staying next to you?
The final question is easily answered but something worth thinking about on every walk – What does my dog gain from staying next to me?
Often there are many distractions and exciting smells for our dogs when out on a walk, making it easy to forget that they are attached to you, their human. Treats and/or toys are again your best friend.
Make little stops on the route and wait for your dog to check in on you by coming back and walking a few steps next to you, of course being rewarded (the gain) every time.
Eventually your dog will automatically start coming back for check ups and walking next to you, meaning the leash is lose and your arm can relax, and the walk becomes much more enjoyable for the both of you.