7 Ways to Improve your Dog’s Walk

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. 

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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). 

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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.

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Wednesday Walkies!

IMG_8595Since a good part of my job is walking and exercising dogs, I’ve trained a LOT of dogs to walk politely on leash. Here are a few of my favorite walking tips:

  1. Walking multiple dogs? Use different colored leashes for each dog, that way, if things get tangled, you can quickly and easily tell who is who, and make sure you hang on to everyone. Personally, I don’t walk more than three dogs at a time, fewer if they are large and/or untrained. I can’t control the outside world and if an unexpected deer or horse (it’s happened!) shows up, I don’t want to fall on my face.

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    Color coordinated leashes! These dogs are also all wearing Easy Walk harnesses.

  2. For dogs that aren’t trained to walking on a loose leash, yet, please use some sort of harness or, if necessary, a head halter. This is simple management. If your dog keeps practicing pulling, he will learn that it works! While you are working on your leash skills, using something to prevent most (if not all) pulling is hugely helpful. My favorites are EasyWalk harnesses (these connect in the front), Freedom harnesses, Gentle Leader headcollars, and Halti headcollars. These tools are not something I, personally, would be okay with using forever, but they are great ways of preventing pulling during initial training. And you can give it to someone else who needs it when you’re done with it, or donate it to a shelter. Once your dog is reliable on leash, I suggest switching to a simple, non-restrictive back-attach harness, such as the one Galley is wearing in the top photo. There are many great brands out there, but my favorites are the EzDog Quick Fit, Petsafe Surefit, and the Freedom harness (which has both a front & back attachment).

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    The Easy Walk harness is a front attachment harness that works by turning your dog toward you if he/she meets the end of the leash.

  3. Use HIGH value rewards when you are first working with your dog on loose leash walking. For most dogs, particularly high energy, easily excitable, busy dogs kibble or dry cookies are not going to cut it. Even treats they would normally eat happily at home may get spit out! When your environment gets more interesting, we have be more interesting. Baked chicken, cut up turkey dogs, string cheese, even cheese in a can or cream cheese in a tube are all super high value treats. When your dog gets a little more experienced, you can start to phase in lower value goodies like commercial treats, cookies, and kibble.  stringcheese

If you are struggling with your dog on walks, it doesn’t have to be that way! Reach out for help, and we’ll get your dog on the road to recovery from pulling, even if he/she’s been practicing for years. There is always room for improvement, and your shoulders will appreciate it!

 

https://www.yellowbrickdogs.com

Dog Walking Tips & More from Professional Dog Trainer Lulu Clarke

Looks like we have a storm coming! Stay tuned for tips on keeping your dogs busy when the weather is miserable (and potentially dangerous!) outside. In the meantime, I recently had the fun opportunity to do an interview with one of my favorite dog supply vendors, Best Bully Sticks. They’re a local Richmond, Va company, just like me, and they are the best! All natural treats & chews, and they do good work for rescue? Can’t beat that. Pinot would like to add that the Bully Bites are his favorite thing ever.

Click here to read the interview!

[I was not compensated for this blog in any way…I am just a huge Best Bully Sticks fan!]

Mindful Mondays

I’ve always loved camping. There is just something about sleeping outside, among the bugs, creeping nighttime creatures, and the occasional excitement (like that time a bear poked me when I was hammocking in Kentucky!).

When I adopted Galley, I had a pretty good feeling she’d be a great camping dog. She spent her first months in the woods, so she is a happy girl when she’s able to just be outside. When I first took her camping, she loved it, and seemed to love that her person was inside this nice spacious (to her…it is a two person tent!) crate-like-spot.

Pinot on the other hand, is a whiney little dude. Hence the name. Wine-y? Get it? He gets frustrated easily, and while he is pretty good off leash, I don’t trust him 100% yet, so there would be tethering (umbilical cord!) involved in any camping we do.

As anyone who’s worked with dogs before knows, tethering/leashes/boundaries can create or enhance frustration and tension. Something that I have been focusing on with Pinot is relaxing. I’ve been approaching it almost like mindfulness. Instead of blindly reacting to things we find uncomfortable, why not make peace with it first and then analyze it to see if we can change it? I’ve found that dogs trained using shaping and capturing — thinking dogs — have an easier time with this, since they are already used to problem solving.

Anyway, I’m writing this from my campsite. Both dogs are sitting calmly, one on my lap, one between my knees, looking out over a wide open field. We’ve seen a herd of deer…yes, we barked! And then we settled. I just realized I haven’t said a single word to them since we woke up. Haven’t needed to. Now, I’m sipping coffee as the sun warms us up, and frankly, there is not much that could be better than this.

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