WALKING, TETHERING, PLAYING, PLACE
This is what you are doing when your dog is not in your crate.
Dogs love order, and when you practice leadership and boundaries in these activities you are building a solid foundation with your dog.
If you need a refresher on our Pillars of Pack Leadership, read PIllar 1 and Pillar 2.
This week we focus on the WALK!
How we exercise our dogs’ matters. My friend, Cheri Lucas, a well-known dog behaviorist, clinician, and founder of Second Chance for Love rescue organization, often states, “Bird’s fly, fish swim, and dogs walk.” Walking is what dogs do. Dogs need to walk, and we need to walk them—that is our part of the deal! A dog walking or running around a backyard alone is not a purpose-driven activity. When left alone in a yard, a dog will usually nap a lot, and don’t be surprised if your dog discovers nuisance and destructive behaviors when left alone. Even if your yard is large and safe, having your dog out there isn’t giving your dog the social connection he needs and for his desires to be fulfilled. A purpose-driven walk provides everything that fulfills your dog’s mind, heart, and soul. It’s the way dogs work in a pack. When done right, the purpose-driven walk will:
- Earn you a position of leadership with each step you take
- Drain your dog’s excess energy
- Help you practice a social ritual of migration with your dog
- Fulfill your dog’s emotional need for connection
- Serve as a form of affection for your dog
I recommend at least two brisk, structured walks averaging anywhere between fifteen minutes to an hour every day, depending upon your dog’s age and fitness level. Just imagine, you are helping your own health as you establish and deepen a healthy relationship with your dog! I call it a great two-for-one deal!
PUPPY PIT STOP: With our puppies, the conversation shouldn’t be, “Don’t take your pup anywhere until they are older than sixteen weeks.” The conversation should be, “Take your pup to as many low-risk places as possible.” Yes, you can—and should—take a puppy on a purpose-driven walk; it’s just a matter of knowing the difference between low-risk and high-risk areas. Low-risk places have a low volume of unknown or unhealthy dogs and have less exposure to grass and dirt, which is where bad viruses live best and prosper. Examples of low-risk places: Aunt Sue’s house with her older, inoculated dog, Fifi, and your neighborhood sidewalks. Conversely, high-risk places to avoid are environments that have a high influx of unknown dogs and dirt and grass present. Examples of high-risk places: A dog park, dog beach, big-box pet store, and popular dog trails.
One of the reasons people are told not to take their puppies under sixteen weeks of age out on walks is because they are vulnerable to scary diseases like parvo and distemper. However, the risk of not appropriately socializing and exposing your young pup to sights, sounds, smells, and textures in that critical developmental time of eight to sixteen weeks old carries far greater risks than your pup actually contracting those dreaded diseases. There is a far greater number of dogs that are euthanized because they were under-socialized or inappropriately socialized vs. dogs that die from parvo and distemper. For more information, please check out the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s statement detailing how essential socialization is (a link is available on our website at www.alysonrodges.com).
BEFORE YOU WALK:
Before you begin your walk, grab a 3–4-foot leash and a properly fitted collar—and no, not the collar your tags are on! There are a myriad of collars and tools, and you can contact your local professional to help you find the one that is most effective for you and to have it fit correctly. Tools are neutral. It’s the hands that use them that define whether they are positive or negative, effective or ineffective. As you head out, your dog will want to follow you around, so encourage it, but just be sure that you have her walking behind you or near your side, entering doors upon invitation, and respecting your space wherever you are present. Respecting your space means not barging ahead of you into a door or ramming into you when she wants to get your attention (more on this later). Don’t forget, dogs like order and are naturally wired to respond to it. Good leadership isn’t about domination or robot-like control; it’s about providing healthy balance, structure, discipline, and order. In the words of my mentor, the IACP Hall of Fame dog trainer and ForceFree™ Method creator, Marc Goldberg, “You are forming a partnership—you just want to ensure that you are the senior partner!” With all this in mind, it’s time to get moving— go on…get walking!
PUPPY PIT STOP: When you are about to head out to your low-risk, safe place with your 8–16-week-old pup, take a leash that has a longer lead, from 6–10 ft., so your puppy can drag it along as you move whenever you need to drop the line. Your collar can be a flat collar for this dragline work (more on this later).
HOW TO WALK:
You: Head up, shoulders up, arms down by your sides, with hands relaxed, holding leash softly in your hand. If you can touch your ear whenever you apply pressure to your leash, your hands are acting crazy! Don’t tense up when you are moving in any direction.
A common mistake humans make is grabbing a leash tighter, preparing to turn or to stop, or approaching something that makes you uncomfortable (or you think might make your dog uncomfortable). Relax! Wiggle your fingers and chicken-wing flap your arms and elbows periodically to remind yourself to loosen up. If you are a person who tends to have “crazy arms,” you can do this little trick: Butterfly your leash up so that you are holding your leash at its correct length all in one hand (the side near your dog). Then, with hands still holding the leash, put your thumb inside your pocket! It’s an old dog-trainer trick to keep you from using your hands inappropriately.
Dog: Your dog should walk alongside or slightly behind you on a loose leash. Dogs cannot be smelling, marking, fixating—all activities that reduce your authority while walking. Believe me, dogs can smell their world as they walk along without having their head stuck to the ground or wandering off! If your dog starts to be silly and inappropriate on your walk, you have techniques to improve his behavior! Shutting down the silliness (as described earlier), strategically using stops (and waiting for calm), left turns, right turns, and about-face turns can help refocus a dog’s attention back to you. Walks are intended to be experienced together. It’s no fun when you are walking and talking with your friend and she has her nose stuck to her cellphone. That feels rather disconnected, right? It’s no different if your dog is completely tuned out from you and totally absorbed in his own world.
If your dog is pulling ahead relentlessly, throw in an about-face turn or sharp left turn. Try this:
- Begin briskly walking in a forward motion on a straight line about twenty feet. • Relax your arms (don’t get tight—remember the “thumb in the pocket” trick?) and execute a sharp 180-degree turn
(keeping on your straight line). Continue walking along on your straight line. Remember to breathe and relax as you are moving along. If your dog starts to forge ahead, again, repeat the sequence, randomizing your speed and how far you go before you execute the next turn.
- Suddenly execute a 90-degree turn to the left, walking forward fifteen steps, repeating the sequence until you’ve marched a sharp square, then take off on another line of walking. If your dog is lagging behind, take off at a jog for thirty steps and then throw in an about-face turn.
- Then throw a sharp 90-degree right turn in, making a nice small square comprised of right turns before you head out on another straight line.
- See our Puppy Pit Stop tips below if your dog is resistant to the leash—these tips also work wonderfully for dogs of all ages!
The goal of using your stops and turns is to strategically interrupt your dog’s silliness before it escalates and to get your dog thinking and caring more about where the heck you are going. Mix it up, practice, use your stops, left turns, right turns, and about-face turns strategically, interrupting the flow of your dog’s direction to help him tune back into you. Don’t drill and kill your dog with your turns and stops. Use them wisely. Use them intermittently and strategically. Reward and praise your dog when he does tune into you, continually encouraging the “check in.” And keep practicing. Your dog will soon be motivated to tune into you, and your walk will be a wonderful experience for you both.
In addition to the traditional short-leash walk, you can most certainly add dragline and long-line work for puppies eight weeks and older and for dogs of different ages and levels of training that are resistant to respecting leash pressure. A dragline is merely a long leash that needs to be a minimum of 6 feet, and you can go longer. I use lines from 6–25 ft. To do dragline work, drop the line and let the pup or dog drag it along as you move. For long-line work, hold the end of the line as you move. Lines need to be made out of a lighter material like nylon so that it’s not too heavy. Lines made out of chain can startle your pup, and leather lines may entice a puppy to chew it! Both kinds of line work help a dog learn to move along with you in a no-pressure, fun way. Long lines help dogs learn to move out away from you and grow confidence as they experience new smells, sights, and sounds, yet stay tuned into you as you move along. Draglines are perfect for puppies that might resist any pressure on the line, as they have more of a sense of freedom, yet you still have enough line to ensure that you can step on it, scoop it up, or grab it in an emergency, influencing your dog’s choices from a distance.
- Always observe your pup or dog when a dragline is on. Your pooch could easily get hooked on something and choke.
- Use the dragline in the house to prevent your puppy or dog from sneaking off into an unobserved area to get into mischief or have a potty accident.
- Scoop up the dragline occasionally when your pooch is enthusiastically moving along with you, and immediately drop it if the pup or dog resists. Your pooch will like it when you encourage her to move along with you without force.
- Step on the dragline, offer a treat, and encourage your pup or dog to come. If she seems to not want to come to you, gently reel her in to clarify what you wanted her to do.
- Never attach a dragline to anything other than a flat collar. No restricting collars.
- Never allow children to tease your pup or dog or to drag them along on the dragline.
- Never allow your pup or dog to chew the dragline. You can squirt her with a water bottle if she thinks it’s a fun new game.
AFTER YOU WALK:
At the end of a wonderful, polite, respectful walk, it is certainly appropriate to reward your dog with some “free smell” time! It’s your way of letting Fluffy know that you appreciate her good behavior as she walked nicely along with you. Find a nice spot, relax, and allow her to smell the roses (or the fire hydrant) for a few minutes. Just make sure that your “relax” time isn’t greater than the time you actually were focused on your purpose-driven walk!
At the end of the day, your relationship with your dog is up to you. Walking is one of the most important things you can do with your dog to help the relationship be healthy, balanced, and reciprocated.