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How to have a Better Walk with Your Dog

One of the most common questions we get as trainers are "How to get my dog to stop pulling on leash?" and "How to I get more control of my dog?" and the truth is there is no magic answer to solve this problem overnight. We can implement tools and immediately improve the situation, sure, but that does nothing for the underlying issue of a dog or dogs that make you feel "out of control".

I believe that gaining control and more importantly, confidence in taking your dog out starts in the privacy of your very own home. Leash walking is a life long skill and can be one of the most frustrating things for owners to try and combat and often they start with way too much, way too fast! Luckily, there are a few small changes you can add to your walk routine in order to have things be more enjoyable for the both of you (being pulled back constantly isn't fun for them either!).

Leash work starts INDOORS and AT HOME

Just like every other skill we teach, it comes in stages and baby steps. If you want to build up a better recall foundation and how to get your dog's attention OUTSIDE of the home, we have some ground work to do INSIDE first! Working with your dog on leash in the home allows you to reward the behavior you are looking for on walks, without any outside distraction. A dog that is overstimulated is not learning. Once your dog is A+ with leash and recall skills (let's chat if you need to know how to teach these in more detail) indoors, you can start taking things on the road. For some dogs that can mean another step by working in the front yard, then once consistent there, you try on your walks.

Teach your dog engagement through eye contact on cue (and yes, all my blind dogs do offer me eye contact in their own way!) Dogs that understand looking to their owner before making decisions is a dog that looks to you for permission and guidance.

Don't give freedom too early!

The BIGGEST mistake with recall is letting puppies or dogs off leash when they have no recall skill foundation. They figure it is no big deal and since they are a pup they will stay close but the truth is allowing your dog to run free without recall skills is dangerous and is teaching them they don't have to listen to you. Your steps to off leash freedom should include indoors on leash, outdoors on leash, then on a secured long line, then off leash. Again, I am here to help if you want to get your dog on a recall building program!

Stop disconnecting from your dog!

For so many of us a walk is a stress-relieving time, I totally get it. You want to shut the world out, listen to your fave podcast and enjoy nature but when you aren't giving your dog engagement, don't expect it back from them! So often owners pop in headphones and away they go. This leads to a bored dog who is going to find better things to do than walk next to your boring self! Save the headphones for solo time, take the time to actually connect with your dog and I promise your walks will improve.

Use what they want to do as a reinforcer for good behaviour.

Often people say when they are out on walks, their dog is not interested in food, they just want to go run, sniff, play, chase something, etc. You do not need to use food to reward your dog! This concept is called the Premack principle, which states that a higher probability behavior will reinforce a less probable behavior. Also called the "eat your vegetables before you have your ice cream" of the dog training world. We are simply using what your dog wants as the reward. For example, when teaching a dog how fetch with a ball the dog must learn that if they want to chase the ball again (highly desired behavior), they must bring the ball back to his owner and drop it (less desired behavior).

Become valuable and PAY YOUR DOG!

Do you work for free? Likely not. You do it here and there but probably don't love working for free. Neither does your dog! If your dog isn't being rewarded for good behaviour, why would they offer it? No matter your type of dog, age or breed, please reward your dog as often as you can (again, doesn't need to be food it is whatever your dog finds motivating: praise, food, chew toy, play, freedom). "Capturing" good behaviours with rewards is a GREAT way to condition your dog to naturally offering what you want! Drop the stigma and join us and all our fanny-pack wearing glory and carry some dang treats on your walk! This also combines with the point about engaging your dog on walks - ask them for tricks and obedience behaviours, play games, toss and catch treats, take them on play structures, and talk to them! Honestly, this makes all the difference for some dogs. They just want to please us and having an owner that is fun on walks can be the best part of their day!

Set the tone for your walk

Raise your hand if your dog goes psycho when you grab that leash or say the W word.

Allowing your dog to get ramped up before you go for a walk sets the tone for your dog to be overstimulated and totally disengage from your end of the leash the second you're out the door! Wait for calm moments before you put on the collar and leash (not jumping all over you or getting zoomies around the house) and implement obedience as you start: Sit to get leash on, Eye contact before going out the door with no door rushing, Sit-Stay before being released for off leash, etc etc.

Recall Often and At-Random

This goes along with disconnecting from your dog - when you let your dog off leash and let them do their own thing for an hour and the only time you call them back is when you leave....why would they come back and stop the fun?! Even when on leash, you should practice randomly walking backwards, recalling your dog and rewarding them for coming to you and do this as often as you can, using variable rewards of food, praise and/or freedom. This creates a dog that knows that if they come to you they are getting a reward and it doesn't automatically mean "we are leaving, fun is over." because you have done variable rewards, your dog keeps coming back. Remember, you don't need to rely on food reward alone! You can recall your dog and then release them back to freedom as the reward and it becomes a pretty fun back and forth game!

And lastly, remember tools are not the enemy, but they are not the be-all and end-all either. Tools can be a great bridge to clear communication and allow safe control BUT this should be while we practice reinforcing good behaviours with rewards.

Should you need more help with getting control of your dog for enjoyable walks, please send me a message!

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