Walking a dog is one of the joys of having a dog as a companion. Daily walks with your dog provide a chance for the two of you to share some alone time. They offer a great way for both of you to get some exercise.
For a dog, walking with a human is an unnatural activity. Dogs are more inclined to trot when they are moving from place to place than to walk parallel with a human in a straight line. Humans want to go from place to place. Dogs want to chase squirrels and sniff everything that is sniffable.
Dogs want to know who has been in the territory they have adopted as their own, whether the female dogs who have been there are in season, what each animal had for dinner (yes, that is why your dog does the disgusting thing of sniffing other dogs’ excrement).
Most dogs are exuberant at even the thought of being walked. They jump, they bounce, they run to the door and back to you, and that is just when you open the closet door to retrieve the leash. They love to take you for a walk.
A little obedience training goes a long way in preparing for a walk, though, because the main idea is that you are walking your dog, not your dog is walking you. With the proper training before you begin extended walks with your dog, the outings can be much more enjoyable for both of you. Training teaches your dog what you expect of him or her, and it teaches you how to convey your wishes to your dog.
Starting your dog as a puppy to train to a collar and leash is important. Cesar Milan recommends a flat collar and leash that are both lightweight. He recommends introducing the collar when the puppy is otherwise mentally occupied in order to avert any anxiety the puppy may have about a new encumbrance. If the puppy scratches at the collar, divert his attention from it with play.
Cesar recommends introducing the leash during play also, attaching it and allowing the puppy to drag the leash around with him without getting entangled in it. Next, take hold of the leash gently and stand with it, allowing the puppy to become used to it being in your hand.
Some puppies will automatically want to walk at your side, but others have to be gently coaxed with small treats. Cesar recommends holding a small treat at your side as you begin walking, with the puppy following.
For older dogs, dog trainer Jolanta Benal offers tips on teaching a dog to stop pulling on the leash and to do loose leash walking. Loose leash walking is not an easy thing to teach your dog, but it certainly makes walks more enjoyable. It can also be called polite leash walking, but is differentiate from heeling as that is a competitive exercise that is precisely executed at dog events.
Loose leash walking with your dog means that your dog gets to sniff whatever is in his or her pathway and you get to walk with the leash somewhat slack and your dog paying enough attention to you to turn or stop when you do. It is a partnership in which you each share the responsibility of enjoying the walk.
Before you can achieve loose leash walking with your dog, they are habits you may have to change. Your dog may have developed these habits via variable reinforcement. This means when you dog has tried a behavior over and over and at times it has succeeded (like dragging you to another dog or an interesting spot to scent mark) he or she will continue trying over and over until it is quite clear that the behavior will definitely no longer work.
This means that when you and your dog are out for a walk, you need to be firm at all times when the leash pulling begins. Dogs also as a natural reflex oppose being restrained. This has to do with their ancestry when they had to fend for themselves in the wild. Restraint meant they could not compete for the best food or the female of their choice.
Always remember that dogs are as variable as we humans are. Some are stubborn and insist on having their own way. Some are much more malleable and can be trained more easily. You will know which one of these described your dog. With the stubborn dogs who respond to food, small morsel treats can often successfully be used to modify the dog’s behavior.
When you begin loose leash training, firmness has to be the key element. No longer will your dog be allowed to walk you to wherever he wants to go. You are now in charge. Use whatever treat your dog wants to get him to do what you want him to do. Reward positive behavior with words and small morsel treats (just enough for your dog to taste, but not enough to make a meal of).
Be patient with your dog as you are training her. When she takes a step with you, praise her and let her know that is the behavior you want and give her a treat. Most dogs want to please their people (and they also want treats). Another treat that can be used intermittently is permission to go sniff objects of interest to your dog.
Never, ever reward pulling on the leash. Make it clear at all times that this is not acceptable behavior. This is not done by jerking the dog’s head back toward you, but by gently holding the leash firmly as the dog pulls on it to go where he wants to go. If this behavioral modification is done in a gentle, loving way, a deeper bond will be established between you and your dog. If it is done in a harsh way, it will create further behavioral problems.
Once the walk is over, it is a good idea to allow your dog to release some of the contained energy that he or she has within by allowing him to engage in some vigorous play, like that the dogs playing with Tether Tug get.
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