Saturday, 3 October 2009

Mastering the Walk

Sadly, many dogs are abandoned or relinquished to shelters because they have developed behavioural problems. Often these issues crop up because the owner did not give the dog adequate training and exercise. As mentioned in the previous post, the walk is an extremely important part of caring for a dog and plays a huge part in making sure you have a happy, healthy dog with fewer behavioural problems to overcome. One reason why a dog isn't being walked often enough is that he or she may pull on the leash, making the walk a difficult and unenjoyable task for the person. But don't be fooled into believing that this means the dog has a problem; it's the human who needs to be trained here. Read on to learn how you can lead the walk and have your dog walking beside you like a show dog within minutes.

First of all, you need to make sure you're using the right equipment. Don't use a harness; this device just encourages the dog to get ahead and put all his weight behind pulling you. Instead, get a slip leash (do a Google image search). The pressure is to mimic a dominant dog squeezing the neck with his mouth, and, when done correctly, is a natural and gentle way of letting a dog know he is not in charge. Have it high on the neck as close to the ears as possible. Make sure it's on the right way (with the leash end first running over the top of of the dog's neck and then under - not the other way around). This ensure the leash will loosen when relaxed. 

Before starting to walk, have the dog on your left and relax the leash--you never want a taut leash, as this just creates tension and even aggression. You want to have a calm, assertive, confident attitude and body language, and a positive image in your head of how you want the walk to be - expect the walk to be like that and nothing else (dogs read your mind through your body language very easily).

Wait until the dog is calm and no longer trying to pull you to walk, then give a little tug and start moving forward. Imagine an invisible line that runs left-right in front of you. As soon as the dog passes that line (starts to walk ahead of you) you immediately turn 90 degrees to the right and give a quick, gentle tug to let him know you expect him to follow; he will. (90 degrees is better because you can easily tug him to the side but not so easily backwards.)

He will catch up and try to overtake again. Change direction, again 90 degrees to the right, and give a tug. Do not look at the dog when walking. Shoulders back, head up, focus on where you want to go and on leading the walk. Learn to know where your dog is from the what the leash is doing.

Do this changing-of-direction exercise again and again and you will soon notice that he isn't trying so hard to get ahead. Keep it up. Maintain a happy, calm, positive attitude, and ignore the dog. Act aloof; the dog will respect this and appreciate rewards more later. When you get the hang of it and feel more in control, start cutting him off to the LEFT. He'll fall behind and start anticipating your lead. Do a few more right turns, then left turns, then right turns again. You will notice that the dog starts to anticipate and follow your lead without first needing a tug.

Again, you always want a loose leash—tension in the lead is tension in the leader–follower relationship and also enables him to test his physical strength against yours. Relax your arms. Relax the leash (especially when he meets other dogs—but that's for another note). That's why the tug is so effective; it allows you to control the dog without creating tension or an opportunity to challenge by pulling back.

This whole exercise is a mind game. Dogs need leaders. If the leader isn't you, your dog will take on the role. By constantly showing him that he will always be BESIDE or BEHIND you, he will learn, happily and usually with a sense of relief, that it's his place to follow. The only way you lose this game is to give in. Stay focused on having a perfect walk with you leading a calm, happy dog and that's what will happen (with dog, as in life, what you think will happen will happen, so keeping a positive image in mind is essential).

Your attitude is KEY, so don't get frustrated. If you control yourself, you control the dog. Dogs know that someone who gets angry or who pleads is not a strong leader and they simply will not follow.

You can fix a bad puller in minutes doing this, even a strong one or an old one with a long history of pulling. It works. If it's not working for you, read the instructions again and see where you're going wrong. It's probably that you're watching the dog, tightening the lead, getting frustrated, or imagining it all going wrong—so DON'T!

Do this exercise in a quiet road or park, where you have space to keep turning. Once your dog is walking behind or beside you, you can start to walk in a straight line, but keep using tugs inwards (towards you) or upwards as soon as he starts to stray behind, left, or ahead, or try to sniff the ground or pay attention to anything other than the walk. Don't watch him; feel the direction your wrist is being pulled in and tug back. You are in control. He will like that. Once he accepts your lead, you can GRANT him more freedom, but make sure you take the lead again when needed or when heading home.

If you're walking and he gets a bit too excited again, you have several ways to take control again:

1. Just stop. Don't go anywhere until he's back in a calm state again. Ignore him completely until he is.

2. Do the change-direction exercise a few times until he's back in line.

3. Give a tug up on the lead and make a short, sharp sound to get his attention.

4. Give a touch or make a Tsst! noise to snap him out of it.

5. Push his flank (around his upper thigh/waist area). This is a dog way of asserting oneself. You can use your foot if easier. NEVER HIT—it's a light shove, to put his rear slightly off balance.

When the dog does play up, it's to your benefit, because it gives you another great opportunity to demonstrate that you will no longer allow such behaviour and will take control.

Once your dog is walking nicely behind or beside you, give small treats or praise. Speak in high, soft tones, and rub his side (not the head, which can feel like a threat, or the chest, which gets them excited). Let the dog know when you're happy and you will see more of that behaviour.

Stay calm and assertive, and it'll work like a charm and you'll have an easily controllable dog who is happy that someone else has finally relieved him of that stressful leadership role on the walk.

Leave comments below about how this worked for you. We look forward to reading how your walks are now fun and fulfilling for both you and your dog. 

Happy walking!

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