How to Walk Your Dog
A man walks his three small dogs by our house every morning. They are not leashed—they trot along a few feet in front of him, sniffing the grass and trees. But they are fully aware of him as the pack leader. They check on him every few feet, looking back to see if he’s still there, if they’re all still moving in the right direction.
Does your dog pay this kind of attention to you when you walk together?
I hear so many stories of pulled arms and scary encounters with other dogs and people that I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned over the years of talking to dogs about their experiences while walking with their humans.
While I can’t recommend you walk your dog off-leash (cars, other dogs, etc.), I think you can have a similar experience of teamwork with your dog if you try a few things.
For dogs, going for a walk is the social highlight of their day. They check out the neighborhood, who’s been by (much sniffing, occasional barking). They visit (sometimes friendly, sometimes aggressive) with other dogs and humans.
For most dogs, it’s also a time when they can enjoy being a team with you. Once I introduce this concept to dogs, they become more interested in the person at the other end of the leash.
Of course, ideally the leash will not be used to control your dog. It will hang in a loop between you, available as a safety mechanism.
For this to work, you and your dog have to be aware of each other as you walk.
Why does your dog seem to ignore you? Maybe he’s just hyperactive after being shut in all day. Dogs need to run off their energy. How can you incorporate that need into the start of your walk?
Maybe your dog considers you dead weight at the end of the leash, something to pull in the direction of the good smells rather than as a partner in his adventure in the world.
If this is the case, first you have to get your dog’s attention. Carry treats in your pocket. Every now and then have your dog sit and give him a treat and a pet. He’ll start watching you in case it’s time for a treat. You have become interesting in the eyes of your dog.
Also, pay attention to where your dog likes to sniff and walk. Remember this is the social highlight of his day. Don’t firmly keep him to the middle of the sidewalk if all the good smells are on the left. That’s mean. Walk near the grass and bushes. Notice the places your dog likes to sniff around and stop with him. Allow him to enjoy his social time.
If your dog has a tendency to lunge or bark vigorously at other people or dogs, start paying attention so you notice the other beings before your dog does. Then have your dog sit, give him a treat and a pet, and wait with him until the others go by. Be a partner to your dog. Let him know you see him and will keep both of you safe and happy.
Being in the world with your dog is an exercise in teamwork and partnership. It’s worth working on developing it into an enjoyable experience for both of you.