There aren’t many things that are as relaxing as going on a long walk with your dog…right?! Okay, so some of you are laughing right now…but hang in here with me…Picture you and your dog on the perfect walk. Choose where you like to walk most…in the city, suburbs, in the country, or on a hiking trail. Your hand is not loosing circulation from the tight leash. Your dog looks super cool walking on your side, looking around, and not pulling with overexcited reactions to other dogs or people. When you talk to your dog he glances at you as if he is listening and understands how your day went. Remember he can tell how you feel through the leash. As much as we may not admit it, our dogs are the best person in the world to talk to. They listen and pass no judgement and they love us unconditionally. So how do we get to the point where we can take that perfect walk?
Start with super yummy rewards for looking at you. You can use a clicker or a verbal cue such as “yes” or “good” to mark them looking at your body. Whether you use the mechanical or verbal reward marker you must always treat! Think of yourself as the bulls-eye of a dart board. There are rings around you at 2 feet, 4 feet… We have to make it super cool for our dog to hang out within the distance we prefer!
Next, I want you to pick the side you want your dog to walk on. They wont always have to walk next to you, but you want to start there so that it is their default position in any instance that you may need them close to you. Put their walking equipment on and don’t do any lures or hand ques, just wait for them to check in with you, use your reward marker, and drop the treat on the side you want them to hang out on. You will need to start in an area where there are no distractions and with a treat the dog really enjoys. Slowly, over time, you will increase the distractions while still using the super yummy treats for paying attention to you. If your dog stops eating and/or wont check in with you…you have raised the distractions too quickly. Examples of slowly raising the distractions would be walking from room to room in the house, opening the front door, walking on the porch or down the yard or driveway toward the street. If they pull, you stop! …And wait for them to check in again. If it takes more than a few seconds back up toward where you came from, and spend time playing the “look at me” game where they can still pay attention. Sometimes just making it down the driveway can take days or weeks. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but if you think about it, they are moving back and forth, still getting the same amount of footsteps they would be getting on a walk, they’re getting mental exercise, AND they are practicing the correct way to go on a walk, not self rewarding by pulling you toward their unknown destination.
Once your have made one side and checking in with you default behaviors for your dog, you can start rewarding for other things…
Training classes such as agility, obedience, freestyle, and conditioning
Interactive games such as fetch, Frisbee, and tricks
Trips to get snacks at drive thrus
Reactive Dogs: Being reactive does not necessarily mean a dog is aggressive! Don’t meet their reaction with aggression. Yelling or amping up the situation does not help the dog learn to relax…they just think mom or dad are reacting with them. Teach them to relax around the stimulus that they are fearful of. Give them the distance they need to be comfortable and reward them with treats, petting, or praise for just watching. Over time you will be able to get closer and closer to the stimulus. For the dog that “just wants to play”…find a doggie daycare that does small groups with appropriate play partners, so they can get that chance to be around dogs off-leash. It will help take the edge off of the need to play “RIGHT NOW”. Proper socialization and training from a positive trainer will help your dog relax when under the restrictions of a leash. These are social skills that can be accomplished over time with a proper self-control and self-confidence training program.