It seems as though spring is (finally) here and easing right into summer and that means long walks with your dog. Or, if you're anything like the folks I saw today walking their two dogs down the street, it means a daily walking game of tug-o-war. As much fun as it may seem, this type of game is no good for your shoulder or your dog's neck.
I'm going to do something special here. I'm going to share my secrets for successful leash walking. But only because it's so pretty outside today. And because you're reading my blog. All both of you. I really appreciate it.
There are 10 simple steps for successful leash walking:
1. Buy your dog a harness, preferably a front attaching harness like the Easy Walk, Sense-ation or other similar harness. There are probably others out there that I don't know about but these are the ones I've worked with personally (honestly, and harness with a D or O shaped metal ring at the chest should work). They each have pros and cons, and they each work better for different dogs. The Easy Walk fits most dogs and is comfortable loose around the front of their chest, but dogs who jump a lot or for short-legged breeds, I've seen a lot of stepping out of it. This can usually be remedied by putting it on upside down so the strap across the chest is a bit higher up. The Sense-ation works well for many dogs, but I do see more dogs who shy away from it since it's a little more snug fitting. The advantages of it are that dogs can't really step out of it and it seems to fit more breeds well- so it's safer for more dogs and easier for more humans. The reason these front attaching harnesses are good tools for improving walking skills is that they redirect your dog back to you whenever he pulls. Most harnesses attach at the back, which is really great for developing chest muscle, not necessarily for stopping pulling. I will admit that there is some controversy out there regarding these front attaching harnesses and how they affect a dog's gait and it seems to be focused on the lower-sitting Easy Walk type. Here's an article from the Whole Dog Journal outlining some of the concerns. I will say that I prefer front attaching harnesses for daily walking as opposed to running or hiking, but maybe that's because I don't mind my dog helping to pull me along during a run or hike if I'm slacking. We have a traditional back-attaching harness for Roxie for running and hiking and an Easy Walk (worn upside down) for walks since she didn't like the Sense-ation harness (she thought she couldn't walk anymore). I would like to reiterate that this is a tool, and just part of a program to help your dog understand the concept of leash walking as understood by people, and if you work on the other parts of leash walking you won't need it ALL the time. Roxie only needs the front attaching harness when she's in a new place or when there may be other dogs around and she will (likely) get over-excited. She walks just fine, doesn't have any injuries and has worn it for years now (that first year was pretty much daily, too).
2. The leash should be relatively loose. I like to see a "U" shape in the leash between where the owner is holding the leash and where it attaches to their dog's harness/collar. The reason is that I want your dog to have the opportunity to make mistakes. If you are walking around with the leash wrapped all the way around your hand, you will: a. get a broken finger one of these days and/or b. your dog will continue to try pulling all the time because he doesn't know any better. You know why most dogs pull on leash? They don't know any better! It's up to you, the silly human, to teach him a few manners and let him understand the difference between pulling and not pulling. By allowing them to make the mistake of pulling, and showing them that there is a consequence (not a painful one, of course) he can begin to put the pieces together and make the decision on his own that he shouldn't pull.
3. This one is really, really, REALLY important- so pay attention. Whenever
you take your dog out for a walk, or just outside on leash and he
pulls, I want you to stop walking, turn around (away from your dog but
still holding the leash) and call his name, encouraging him to come with
you. This is where that front attaching harness comes in handy- he'll
turn around automatically when he pulls. Once he catches back up to you,
tell him what a good boy he is and continue walking in your original
7. I mean it. Every time your dog pulls, you redirect him and go in the opposite direction.
8. Every single time.
9. Look for something really cool (to your dog) like a fire hydrant or a tree or phone pole or a rock and once you can finally walk there together, point it out and have lots of fun sniffing it together. It's ok, nobody's looking at you.
I don't want any arguing about this. I actually know what I'm doing, even if it sounds like madness. See, your dog wants to go places and see and smell things. By redirecting and turning him around, you are letting him know that he's not going to get there by dragging you along. You will both get there eventually and pulling will only make it take longer to get there. The first few (or fifteen) times you do this, you may not make it out of your driveway or down your block. That's the point. Your dog wants to see things, and he can if he does so politely. If you point out fun things on your walk, your dog will pay attention to YOU on walks, not just the squirrels!
10. Please don't expect your dog to heel all the way through a walk.
That's no fun for anybody. It's like taking a kid to Disney and walking
through the park but not going on any rides or eating any sugary treats.
Neither of you will have fun and you will probably like each other less
at the end of the day. Heel done properly is like a coreographed dance move and
it's exhausting to do for an entire walk. It's handy for over
stimulating environments or dangerous parts of the environment and it's
great mental exercise, just don't over-do it, ok?
So get out there and walk your dog! If you end up walking in circles in your driveway for half an hour, that's fine- it's still a 30 minute walk!
(P.S. I would like to apologize for the over-use of parentheses in this post. I don't know what's gotten into me. I won't even get started on the commas. I think I need more coffee)