What is a Walk?
By Tracie Korol
Imagine yourself strolling along the Waterfront, your Best Friend stepping smartly alongside you on a relaxed leash. He sits politely and waits, sniffing into the breeze, while you chat with friends you meet along the way. This is the image most dog owners have in mind when they adopt a warm, fuzzy puppy or give a rescue dog a second chance for a loving lifelong home. Often though, walking the dog is a chaotic scene of canine dragging human down the street, rudely approaching other dogs, jumping on passers-by, and snapping at the heels of joggers. Where did things go wrong?
Much of the problem with hoodlums on leashes comes from the fact that many dog owners carry a major misconception about exercise. A walk is a great social outing for you and your dog. It’s a time to bond, an opportunity for you to get some fresh air, and it’s a perfect time to work on training—acquainting your dog to new experiences and distractions. However, it is not exercise.
Unless your dog is elderly, or has a physical problem, a walk around the neighborhood is merely an exercise hors d’oeurve for your Best Friend. Think about it: when you take your dog to the beach, he runs circles around you. At the end, when you’re dragging back to the car on tired legs, your dog is still happily trotting loops around you, begging to go back for one more run in the waves. Face it. For most dogs, a polite stroll up and down the street is slow and boring especially if you travel the same route day after day. From a dog’s eye view, this kind of walk is equal to checking your email: what smells new on the street, who’s been here, who’s doing what, but it’s not satisfying the need to run and play. A good balance would be to walk to a place where you and your dog can exercise. Win-win. A client recently reported that he added special playtime by walking politely to and from the tennis court where he and his girl can play ball safely. (Yes, off hours and he picks up.)
Another piece of the walk problem is simply a failure on the part of many owners to teach their dogs how to walk on a leash. Despite an emphasis on this important behavior in many good-dog-manner classes, some humans aren’t motivated to practice reinforcing polite walking to make it a habit for them, or their dogs. This is especially true in suburban and rural areas where dogs have yards to run in, as opposed to city-dwelling dogs whose only outlet for fresh air is at the end of a leash. When dogs visit my very rural end of the earth, I teach two different cues for walking on lead: “Let’s Go!” which means you can act like a dog–stop for a sniff, pee, explore, and “Walk Pretty!” which means walk at my side, refrain from sniffing and sit when I stop. We have a clear understanding, by my cue, what the walk du jour is going to be.
Teaching your dog to walk on a leash is more than just a convenience. When you walk in public your dog should be following your moves like a dance partner. This is the time for eye-to-eye contact, sensing your partners’ next move, and whispers of happiness and encouragement.
Keep in mind your dog’s leash is not a steering wheel or a handle. It’s a safety device intended to prevent him from leaving. It’s not to be used to pull him around nor is it for him to drag you. Whether you’re teaching “Heel” (walk pretty!) or “Let’s Go”, the correct position for the part of the leash that stretches from you to the dog is slack, looping down into a valley. When walking your dog it’s up to you to keep the leash slack. It’s very often useful to see the world as your dog sees it. From a dog’s point of view, if you keep the lead tight, he’ll think tension in the leash is normal and correct and consequently, every walk will be a battle of intent.
BowWOW! Is a production of Tracie Korol and wholeDog. She is a canine behavior coach, Reiki practitioner, a canine massage therapist (CMT), herbalist, and canine homeopath. Want more information? Have a question? Send a note to Tracie at email@example.com or visit www.wholedog.biz.