1. Let your Dog Sniff
We all know that our dogs have incredible noses. These noses are, shall we say, infinitely more powerful than our own. I’ve heard anywhere from 10,000 up to 1,000,000 times as strong… think about that for a moment. Why not let them use it to explore their environment? The walk is for your dog, is it not? If you get frustrated about stopping at every vertical surface, I hear you and I see you (all the time, dragging your dog away from mailboxes). Try taking a jog or walk by yourself at your own pace before you go out with your pup, and then treat your dog’s sniffapalooza as your cool down. Additionally, just think: if your dog is busy sniffing, he’s not barking, lunging, jumping on anyone, chasing cars, etc. Win, I’d like you to meet win. All that said, I use a well-trained, positively-reinforced “leave it” for things such as trash, poison ivy, and well-manicured flower beds.
2. Go Off-Grid
Put your cell phone in airplane mode. The walk is for your dog, no? Focus your attention in his direction.
3. Change the Scenery
A neighborhood walk is fine. Especially if that walk involves plenty of sniffing and time to read all the neighborhood dogs’ pee-mail. Buuuuuut, getting your dog out to new places is a darn good idea. As you may have heard me mention before, dogs learn contextually, so when you go somewhere new, they may seem to forget their skills. The more places your practice, the better your dog will learn to generalize their cues and behaviors. Not only that, but your dog gets new sights and smells, stuff to climb on, and things to jump over. Be creative! You don’t have to drive an hour outside of town to find a new walking spot. Try out a different neighborhood, a park you’ve never explored, or even meander around shopping centers or business parks (be mindful of signage, please).
4. Keep your Distance
The walk is for your dog. Not someone else’s. If you encounter people or other dogs on your walk, keep your distance. Socialization is a big deal, and honestly, it goes sideways a lot of the time. This blog isn’t about that, so I won’t go too in depth on it. We should be exposing our dogs to dogs and people we know and trust, and I’m afraid random people and dogs just don’t meet that criteria. If you see any hints of reactivity or aggression, this is especially true. You have your dog out for your own reasons–don’t feel pressure to make your dog “say hi” to anyone. Obviously, if your dog loves new people, and is already responding appropriately and politely to them when out on walks, go for it. Just be mindful about it. A lot of dogs that LOVE to say hi to new people can quickly turn into dogs that bark and lunge at new people out of frustration during those instances when they don’t get to say hi. It’s all about balance. I want my dogs to know that just because there’s a person/dog/goat/chicken there, that doesn’t mean it’s there for you.
5. Loosen Up
When it’s safe, I walk my dogs on long lines that are 20-30 feet long. By safe I mean:
- Not near a road (this is not generally a good idea for neighborhood walks)
- Wide, open trails, with good line of sight
- Open fields
- Quiet times at places that don’t meet the above criteria (aka that usually busy park, but it’s snowing/raining/5am)
Walking multiple dogs on long lines is a bit of an exercise in patience (and detangling), so if you do have more than one dog, I recommend either walking them separately while you build up your line-handling skills. Alternatively, you can put just one dog on a long line while the other dog is on a 5-6ft leash. Then, you can switch who is on the long line during the walk, so that everyone gets a turn having more room to roam. Many people find their dogs don’t pull as much, and generally seem happier and more relaxed, on a long line. All dogs are different, and long line walks take a bit of adjustment for everyone, but it’s worth exploring if you haven’t.
Side note: I only ever use long lines with well fitting, non-restrictive, back-attach harnesses. One of my favorites is the BrilliantK9 (full disclosure, I am an affiliate, but it’s a darn good company! E-mail me for more info or help with sizing!). Pretty please, don’t use a long line with a regular collar, head collar, slip collar, or really any sort of “training collar.” When I say “long line” I mean just that, it’s a long leash or a rope, not a retractable Flexi-leash.
6. Use Food
I always take good, high value (tasty!) food on walks with my dogs. Now, I don’t always use it, but I’m always glad I have it. You can use food to reward behavior, of course, but it’s also a good emergency tool. Loose dog coming your way, throw a handful of cookies at him, and then feed your own dogs as you get some distance. Big Scary Thing happen? Fire engine, dumpster day, car alarm? Boom, drop a scatter of cookies for your pup to eat. Eating is a calming behavior, and pairing scary things with the act of eating is a gooooood thing.
Sometimes, if we’re in our neighborhood, and I know we’re doing an out & back route, I’ll drop cookies here and there *behind* us as we’re walking. The dogs get to find them on the way back. They don’t always find them (sniffing pee-mail and potential squirrel trails>food) but it’s the thought that counts.
Another fun way to use food? Our neighborhood is pretty busy, and there are no cross walks, so while waiting to cross the street, I will scatter cookies in the grass for the dogs to find. Much more fun than just sitting!
7. Who is the Tour Guide?
The walk is for your dog. Lose the pack leader mentality. Really, it’s going to be okay, I promise! And if it’s not going okay, e-mail me, and let’s chat about it. Let your dog be your tour guide. Look at things from their perspective! Try to imagine where they would want to go, with no pesky human restrictions. One of my favorite things is coming up to a fork in the trail and letting my dogs decide which way we go. I often wonder why the heck they choose a given path, but unfortunately, my nose hasn’t caught up to theirs.