Many modern day dogs don’t get opportunities to do what their breed instincts tell them to do. In addition, it’s a rare that dog exercises on his own, and your backyard doesn’t provide the variety of sensory stimulation most dogs need to ward off boredom. That’s why dogs need walks for both exercise and mental stimulation.
According to a clinician’s brief, people generally walk their dog for four reasons: i) Elimination, ii) Mental stimulation, iii) Exercise, and iv) Training. Dogs like to go for walks to get outdoors,sniff and engage with their environment, exercise, and perhaps socialise with people and dogs outside the home. There is no reason that a walk cannot encompass and meet all the needs of both pet parents and dogs. Because time is often at a premium, it is useful to help pet parents understand and find creative ways to meet these needs.
A dog who walks well on the leash gets to walk a lot more, and his life is that much more refreshing and rewarding. A dog who pulls gets fewer walks, is bored, doesn’t eat well, is stressed about being cooped up indoors for too long, misses out on opportunities for socialisation with other humans, dogs, cats, puppies, the plethora and the wonderworld of smells that the outside world is. This mental stimulation keeps the dog occupied for the rest of his day and he looks forward to this aspect of his life. So, it is critical that your dog walks, and he walks well. Why and how to walk your dog may seem like a ‘no brainer’ topic to many of you, but the fact is there are lots of pet parents who: i) Don’t walk their dogs at all, or don’t do it routinely, ii) Don’t make the most of the activity, and iii) Dread walks because their pet actually walks them, or exhibits other bad leash manners.
Basic leash lessons
The best way to develop a positive dog walking habit is when your pet is a puppy. As soon as his immune system is strong enough to protect him from communicable disease (discuss when it’s safe to take your pup outside with your vet), he’s ready for walks. If your puppy is fighting your collar, as long as you’re sure it isn’t too tight (you should be able to easily slip your fingers under it) or uncomfortable for some other reason, distract him from fussing with his collar until he gets used to it. It shouldn’t take more than a couple days for your pup to forget he’s even wearing it. Don’t try to take your pup for a walk if he protests wearing a collar.
Once wearing his collar is second nature to your dog, you’re ready for the next step. Attach about four feet of light line – light cotton rope will do – and let your puppy drag it around the house under your watchful eye, of course. He’ll get used to it being attached, as well as the tug of it when he steps on it. Once your pup is used to the four feet line, swap it for a 10 to 15 feet line of the same material, and head outdoors.
Starting off on right foot Initial walks should be short for most puppies – the main goal is to get your dog used to being attached to you by a lead. Find a safe environment. Allow the puppy to drag the line behind him for a bit, then pick up the opposite end. Let him lead you around for a few seconds while you hold the line just off the ground. Slow down so that he’s forced to slow down, ultimately to a stop. Take a short break for praise and a little playtime.
Next, let him trail the line again, but when you pick up your end this time, call him and stand still. If he pulls, hold your ground without pulling him in your direction. The goal is to teach him to put slack in the line himself by moving toward you. When he puts slack in the line, praise him and call him to you. The idea is to teach him taut leash versus relaxed leash and the benefits of being on a relaxed leash.
If he comes all the way to you, more praise and a training treat are in order. If he stops on his way to you, tighten the line just enough to apply a tiny bit of pull to it. Immediately call him to come again. Give praise as he moves toward you and treats when he comes all the way back. Two or three repetitions is all many puppies need to understand lack of tension in the line is what earns praise and treats. When your pup has learned to come towards you to relieve tension on the line, you can begin backing up as he’s coming towards you to keep him moving.
Next, turn and walk forward so he’s following you. If he passes you, head in another direction so he’s again behind you. The goal is to teach him to follow on a loose lead. Always remember, loose leash is rewarded, and taut leash is ignored. Depending on your pet’s temperament, 5 to 15 minutes sessions are sufficient in the beginning. Practice controlling your dog on the lead for 30 second intervals during each session. Exercise patience and don’t engage in a battle of wills with your pup.
After each short session on the lead, liberally praise your dog and spend a few minutes playing ball or some other game he enjoys. Remember, you’re building the foundation for an activity both you and your dog will enjoy and look forward to throughout her life.
If your puppy freezes on a tight line or routinely pulls against it, my first recommendation is to use a halter or harness rather than a collar attached to the lead. Your dog can create serious neck and cervical disk problems by pulling on a collar/leash combination. Make use of an expert in these cases to show you how to appropriately use these tools.
Next, make sure it’s not you creating the problem. Our human instinct is to hold the leash taut, so you must also train yourself to keep slack in the line. I must reiterate what I already said in this article before—you are going for a walk, not war.
- Maintain the tension on the line and turn your back on him. Allow time for it to occur to him, he can’t win by pulling against you.
- Remain still with your back to him holding the tension in the line – don’t jerk the line, don’t pull or yank him toward you, and don’t put slack in the line yourself, which will teach him the way to get slack is to pull at the line.
The message you want to send your pup is pulling on the lead doesn’t accomplish a thing. It doesn’t change the scenery and it doesn’t earn praise or treats. Eventually, your puppy will stop doing what doesn’t work – especially when he is consistently rewarded for desirable behaviour.