I’m a dog trainer who doesn’t walk her dogs!

Its true.

brown dog sniffing grass

Sniffing is so important for dogs!

I don’t walk my dogs. I have 3 dogs, and I don’t walk them.  Most dogs don’t enjoy walking in a neighborhood, and mine are certainly no exception. When I tell this to many of my clients their jaws hit the floor.

“You have to walk your dog for them to be happy!” 

“He’s so excited to go for a walk! I can’t take that away from him!”

Both of these statements are probably false. (There are those dogs who are emotionally and physically stable enough to enjoy a walk around the neighborhood. Those dogs are the exception to the rule!)

Let’s take a look at a few things I’ve learned to look for to determine if your dog actually enjoys their walk in the neighborhood.

She is not Reactive

Can you get through a whole walk without your dog barking at anything? Not a dog behind a fence, not a person coming out of their house, not a goose on the sidewalk. I find that dogs who bark at stuff are actually prepared for something to come and get them. They are terrified to be on their leash, tethered to you and unable to escape the things that are going to eat them alive.

He can take food while on a walk

There is a bit more to this than just eating food. Can your dog eat kibbles or lower value treats while out on a walk? Is he taking treats gently? If you drop food on the ground, can he use his nose quickly to find the food? If your answer is no, then maybe reevaluate how much your dog actually enjoys your neighborhood. He maybe feeling a little overwhelmed.

She knows you exist at the other end of the leash

Does your dog check in with you while you are out? Do they look back to see if you are coming too? If you talk to them do they respond? Do they respond to leash pressure? Most people find they are just an anchor at the end of the leash, preventing their dog from exploring all the really interesting stuff in the middle of the neighbors yards.

You can put on their leash or harness without drama

Do you find that you are chasing your dog around in circles or dealing with a bunch of barking before you go out? Is your dog trying to climb the walls while you get them dressed? This might be a temper tantrum because they actually don’t want to go, and they know you are going to make them go. This often looks like excitement to leave the house, when really they are scared and trying to tell you they would rather not.

Why I don’t walk my dogs. Case Studies:

Pixie: Is terrified of life. I have tried numerous times to get her comfortable being on a leash in many different environments, and she can’t do it. She has soft stools, can’t take food gently, stress pants, and otherwise wants to get back in the car as fast as possible regardless of where I take her. She has also been attacked by numerous loose dogs while on walks and approached by terrifying people. At this point, the experiences she would gain from going for a walk, would just make her aversion to being on a leash that much worse.

Opie: Opie is the best boy, and he can go for a walk, but for him they are boring. There are no people who want to pet him, no critters to chase, and no dogs to be friends with. He can take food gently, he responds to leash pressure, and puts his harness on without much drama. He would rather play some training games with me, visit with people at a trial, or go swimming at the park than walk by my side down the street.

malinois on trail

Cargo in the park

Cargo: Some of you may remember that I forgot to teach this puppy how to walk on a leash. That’s been our training goal the last few weeks. While she still finds walks boring and a bit stressful because the other dogs bark at her, neighborhood walks are becoming a “job” for her and she is falling into “work mode.” If we were in “work mode” every day we would lose it. (Vacations are necessary!) Same with our dogs.

Note: these are not all the things I observe, but the most common.

So what do we do instead?

Our walks are hikes in the woods where they can go swimming, chase skinks and sniff all the grass they want to sniff! (Pixie doesn’t leave the house and she’s fine) We play training games, and puzzle toys. They each have a conditioning plan that we try to stick to to make sure no one gets too fat and lazy. On the surface this seems really difficult to get in. Truthfully, after a little tweaking and planning ahead it becomes automatic. Give it a try! Replace your neighborhood walks with a puzzle or a hike in a park or big open field. Let us know what changes you have observed!

Is Frustration Affecting your Dog’s Walks?

I want to touch on the idea of giving your dog a choice. Is your dog ready to go for a walk? Are they actually capable of listening to you in the moment you are speaking? Sometimes the answer is no.
Most of the time your dog does not respond to the cue given because their brain is elsewhere. You know the look I am talking about, the one where their nose is twitching and their head is on a swivel. They have no idea you actually exist in that moment. They are looking off to the hills, and have forgotten about the leash and the walk that you are ready to go on. From a training point of view, that is a problem!
Many traditional trainers teach that the dog should obey what you say no matter what, and that level of sharp obedience is what you strive for. If you are not getting the result you want, then a sharp pop of the collar to remind the dog what he is supposed to be doing will help him get there. If this is how you were taught to train your dog then one of two things are happening. (I was also taught this way originally, so I know your frustration) One, you are now constantly popping the collar and giving cues that your dog is ignoring. Two, your dog is giving you a half-hearted sit when you collar pop but still no actual focus to do what you ask. A very frustrating problem.
A story: Pixie loves dock diving. Her favorite thing in the whole world is jumping from the dock into the pool and going for a swim. She loves it so much however, that she leaves her brain in the car when we get to the pool. All of last year I struggled with her staying on the dock. I could see in her face that there was no brain in her head. The more training I did on the dock the more frustrated I got because I could not get any thought processes while near the pool. So I stopped going to the pool to let her jump. The first time we went to the pool this year, she didn’t get anywhere near the dock. I just let her sniff. We sniffed in the parking lot, and the fence line. We sniffed the parked cars, and watched the dogs go into the vet clinic. Any time she offered me some eye contact, I would reward, and move her a little closer to the pool. Thoughtfulness, gets you closer to what you want.
What would happen if you just gave your dog a few minutes to sniff? Hang out on the porch, and let your pup get all the sniffing out of his system before you asked him to move forward. I’m not saying let your dog drag you all over the yard to sniff every blade of grass, you stay in one space, giving your dog as much room to sniff as the leash will allow and just wait. Let me know how this goes, and the difference you see in your walks with your pup!

The Secret to Loose Leash Walking!

My secret to Loose Leash Walking!

The ultimate goal!! To have a dog who doesn’t drag you down the street! Who listens when you are tethered together. The one skill that every 6 to 8 month old puppy owner is wishing they had the magical answer for!

Somewhere I read that teaching your pup to walk on a loose leash was just the same as teaching any other trick. That clicked for me, the dog trainer, but my clients look at me like I have 3 heads. (There is that glassy look that I was talking about in my Trigger Stacking article) Follow me here!

Remember when you were teaching your pup to sit? He learned first in front of the cookie jar because jumping up at you was not a good idea. Brilliant pup! Then you moved into the living room and asked for a “sit” and got the blank stare?

Yeah that blank stare!

Dogs have a hard time generalizing what you are asking of them, unless you ask them for things in lots of different places.  Add in all the new exciting smells of the world and your puppy has no brains left to give you!

Take a look outside to the sidewalk. See all those individual squares? Those are all different places for your pup, with new smells and different experiences. That means you have to tackle a loose leash on every single one of those squares until your pup gets the idea. Don’t worry, with some consistency on your part, this will go quicker than you imagine.

Homework!

Start inside the house. Yep! Leash puppy up and walk around the kitchen then the living room and down the hallway. If there is any pulling on the leash just stop and wait for puppy to look back at you with that blank stare. Reward puppy right at your side where you would have a nice loose leash. I aim for the seam of your pants. If cookie shows up at your side, then puppy is going to want to stay at your side to get those cookies.

The other secret is to set a timer for your session. 5 mins for baby puppies, maybe 15 mins for older puppies. Heck, maybe you only have 5 mins of patience, it’s better than nothing!

Once your inside walking is great, start moving toward the door you would like to begin to go out for a walk. Same rules apply! If you feel any pulling, you stop and wait for puppy to look at you. The first time you venture out the door, you might be walking one very long step at a time, but the more consistent you are, the faster your puppy will pick up on the concept that pulling means you stop.

Set the timer! If you only make it to the mailbox in 20 mins, well, that is your pups walk for the day. Having them think about what they are doing is so much better than letting them drag you around for 20 mins. You are also one day closer to meeting your goals!

The Secret!

Practice! Sorry, I wish my magic wand worked for this one. If your pup is struggling to get down the driveway, go back to something easier like the front door. Once you turn around and go back to a place that your dog has already had the chance to investigate, then they have more brain to give you. When they walk with a nice loose leash back to the door, then tell them what a brilliant puppy they are! Feedback is so important!!

At the end of the day there are 100 different ways to reach the end result. Hopefully, this gives you some idea on how to get started!