4 Tips For A More Enjoyable Walk
Hold your hand up and play a game with me.
Put a finger down if you’ve ever gotten frustrated while trying to take your dog on a walk.
Put a finger down if your dog tries to drag you down the street.
Put a finger down if your dog zig-zags from left to right and front to back and gets you all tripped up.
Put a finger down if your dog gets overly excited, anxious, or lunges when passing dogs, people or bikes.
Put a finger down if you’ve ever avoided taking your dog on a walk altogether because you just don’t enjoy it.
...How many fingers do you have left?
Whether you only put one finger down or all of them, you aren’t alone.
Teaching our dogs to walk nicely on a leash can seem like an overwhelming task that we just don’t have the time to tackle. But it doesn’t have to be. As a matter of fact, there are some things you can start doing right away that can make a huge impact on how your dog walks with you.
Your dog is far from hopeless. It’s time we get you back on track so that you and your dog can start enjoying walks together again.
Follow these four tips for a better walk:
1. Start your walk before you leave the house.
If your dog starts bouncing off the walls from the moment you pick up their leash, let’s start there. If you walk out the door with crazy energy, that's the tone you’re setting for the entire walk.
If picking up the leash alone puts your dog into a frenzy, start by making your leash awfully boring.
Think of it like this: if the only time you ever pick up the leash is the one or two times a day that your dogs gets to have some fun… of course they get insanely excited when they see you pick it up.
To make your leash boring, randomly pick it up and carry it around throughout the day. Pick it up, carry it with you to the kitchen to get a glass of water, put it down. Grab your leash while you fold the laundry, put it down. After a while your dog will start to realize that the leash alone isn’t any reason to throw a party.
You’ll also want to practice some basic boring obedience while putting on your dog’s gear. A “place” command can be helpful for this, or a solid sit-stay will do. Practice being able to have them sit while you clip on their leash or put on their harness, and then stay seated while you take it off. Being able to start your walk on a calm and collected note will certainly help set the expectation as you move forward.
Another important thing for your dog to master is waiting patiently at the door. No more bursting out the door the second it’s cracked open and dragging you down the front steps. Have them sit calmly while you put on their gear, walk them calmly to the door, have them sit while you open the door, calmly walk through with you, and sit again while you lock the door behind you.
You don’t have to wait until you’re ready for a full walk to practice these things. In fact, I recommend you don’t. Have a spare two minutes while you wait for the oven to preheat? That’ll do! The more you practice the better…and calmer…your dog will become.
2. Make sure to teach them where you DO want them to be.
One of the mistakes I see most often is that people love to tell their dogs what not to do.
“Don’t sniff that.”
“Stop pulling me!”
“No, this way!”
Here’s the thing: the way we want our dogs to walk is incredibly un-doglike.
For most dogs, their natural gait is much faster than ours, which makes walking with us as boring as a bowl of plain oatmeal and not much of a workout. And all those boring smells really aren’t so boring to our dogs. Your dog’s nose is insanely impressive, and unlike us, their sense of smell is one of their primary senses that they explore the world with.
Did you know that when your dog sniffs another dog’s pee they’re able to know what gender that dog was, their reproductive status, whether they were spayed or neutered, the health of that dog, how stressed they were, and how long ago they were there? Cool, huh?
Now just imagine all of the information they can get with all the smells we don’t even notice on our walks. For your dog, sniffing on a walk is like watching the evening news or reading the newspaper.
If you spend the whole walk telling your dog “don’t do that”, it probably won’t get you very far. They may hear you, but they have no idea what to do instead, so they’re likely to continue exploring the way they want to. Instead, make sure you first put in the effort to teach them what you do want them to do.
This is also something you can start at home when you have time.
Prepare some sort of AMAZING treat. Not the boring old bag of Zuke’s that you use all the time. Cut up some hotdog, cheese, boil some chicken… anything that’s dog-safe that your dog will be drooling over. Put it all in a baggie and walk around. Anytime your dog looks at you, say “yes!” and either hand them a piece or toss it on the ground near your feet. All of the sudden being next to you is a whole lot more fun for them.
When first learning something, it's easiest when there aren’t any big distractions. Imagine trying to learn how to drive a car for the first time in the middle of rush-hour traffic in downtown Denver. Not exactly an ideal place or time to learn for your first time behind the wheel, huh? But once you’ve had your license for a while and you’ve gotten plenty of practice on easier roads at less busy times, downtown Denver traffic isn’t so difficult. You can probably drive without even putting much thought into it at this point.
So start at home, in the hallway. Then the backyard. Then out the front door, in the driveway, around the block…. You get the idea.
3. Make sure you set yourself up to win the competition.
When you take your dog out into the world, every single thing out there is directly competing with you for your dog’s attention. Did you really think you could show up to the game and win without bringing your A-game?
We humans tend to have a preconceived idea in our head that if we bring a pocket full of whatever treats we have handy our dogs will listen perfectly… And then we give up pretty quickly when that doesn’t work.
Let’s say you have a bag of Zukes training treats. At home, your dog loves them. Why wouldn’t they? I mean it’s more tasty than their kibble and there isn’t anything else going on. You decide to bring those treats on a walk with you, and your dog happily takes them here and there. But then you see the neighbor's dog walking down the street towards you. So does your dog, and all the sudden those treats just aren’t good enough. Your dog decided that the boring old training treats they get every day aren’t as fun or interesting as the dog they’ve never met before, or the dog they get to have weekly play dates with.
That dog walking down the street is your competitor. So how do you win?
You could use a food reward that your dog finds more delicious. Hot dogs, peanut butter in a squeeze tube, etc. Or, you could use their favorite game. This may look different for every dog. For example, my shepherd likes food, but he LOVES to play. All I have to do is bring his tug toy along and I’m instantly way more exciting than any rabbit, squirrel or dog we pass.
If your dog doesn’t seem to be food or play motivated here's another thing to consider: How interesting are you to your dog in general?
If you only ever bring them to interact with other people, dogs or things… you may be a good chauffeur but not a very fun person to hang out with. I see this a lot with dogs who go to the dog-park regularly, or day care. Why would your dog want to hang out with you when you’ve spent so much time encouraging them to get excited about everything but you?
The good news is, it’s never too late to change that mindset. Show your dog how fun you can be. Find out what they like and dedicate some time to doing it with them. This could be playing with them for 10 minutes in the back yard when you get home from work, teaching them to run along side your bike, trying a dog sport, or even just rewarding them for paying attention to you with their favorite treat while you sit at a quiet park together.
4. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise… both physically and mentally.
While walks are often thought of as the easiest way to exercise your dog, more often than not a daily walk isn’t enough to meet your dog’s needs.
If your dog is pent up, frustrated, and has a bunch of excess energy to burn that could be a contributing factor to why your walks aren’t going as smoothly as you’d like.
There are some dogs who need nothing more than a brisk walk around the block: this is usually true for older dogs, very tiny dogs, or dogs with health conditions.
Many breeds however have been bred to be star athletes.
Huskies were bred to have endurance that allows them to excel in long-distance running. On average, most huskies can run 10 to 20 miles at a time.
Vizlas, while bred to be a gun dog, are known for being excellent jogging companions and can often reach speeds of up to 40mph.
Labs have been bred to spend hours on end running to retrieve a fallen bird and then bring it back to their owner, only to do it again and again… and again.
Despite being on the smaller side, beagles are able to run and cover quite a bit of ground while chasing rabbits and other small animals.
…. So for many dogs, a quick walk around the neighborhood isn’t even a challenge.
Dogs are also highly intelligent, and many breeds need to be intellectually challenged as well. These super athletes could run all day without missing a beat, but tiring their brain out can give them the satisfaction they need to relax at the end of the day.
Training has many benefits in addition to fixing a behavior you may not like. Many dogs enjoy training. It gives them a chance to problem solve and work their brain. Oftentimes a short 30 minute walk where you practice obedience training as you go can tire a dog out better than a 2 mile walk where they drag you from tree to tree.
But obedience training is just one way to help them feel fulfilled. Many dogs yearn for a job to do, and if you don’t give them a job they’ll find one for themselves.
Here are just some of the examples of things you can do to help tire your dog’s brain:
Teaching new tricks
Scent work games
You don’t need to join a sport to do this (although you can and your dog would probably love it!). I often teach my clients how to use their dogs food or toys to play games that require the dog to use their nose to find something. I even play hide and seek with my own dogs where they have to find me. Games like these will tire their brain while also fulfilling a natural urge to sniff and giving them the satisfaction of hunting down a reward.
Adding in some rules and structure to games they already love, like fetching the ball
Using strategy when playing games like tug or using a flirt pole so that it’ actually a challenge
Free-Shaping (A form of teaching something like a fun trick that requires your dog to really think).
This list is just the tip of the iceberg. And you don’t need to buy any fancy equipment or join any clubs to do any of this. You just need to find 5 minutes here or 10 minutes there to commit to interacting with your dog.
Remember, no matter how old your dog is it is always possible for them to learn and to build better habits. Give some of these tips a try and let us know how it goes!
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