What is the walk to you? Is it an opportunity for your dog to have fun, get out & release it’s energy, say hello to other dogs, sniff and do what dogs love doing most? Is it a time when finally your dog gets to see you and the world after being locked up and alone all day?
Many of us carry a lot of guilt around being good owners/companions for our dogs, we have busy lives and sometimes we don’t get to spend as much time with them as we would like.
When feeling such ‘guilt’ however we forget to think & communicate like our dogs do. We forget that in our dog’s eyes we are part of a pack. A pack has a hierarchy and no dogs are ever equal within this structure. Through touch, sound, body posture and energy dogs communicate very clearly to each other the order of which they fit within the pack. Being the pack leader is not a part time job. They are consistent with communicating their dominance, as well as rules and boundaries with all pack members.
If we truly want to share a relationship with a happy and balanced dog, we must always be the leader (or ‘alpha’) of our dogs (i.e. we must at all times take on the pack leader role). When our communication with our dogs is inconsistent and unclear, there is a lack of leadership and issues such as reactiveness, over excitement and anxiety can show up in our dogs. The ‘daily’ walk really is a fantastic opportunity for us to consistently assert our ‘pack leadership’ position over our dog.
When people walk their dog straight to the park, allowing it to sniff, mark and pull in high excitement the whole way, then letting it loose as soon as they get to the park, they are handing their ‘pack leadership’ over to their dog. The dog calls the shots the whole way and they are following their dog’s commands beautifully. The owners are also rewarding their dogs (without having them earn it) for calling the shots the whole way to the park by letting them off leash to do what they want, when they want. After this the owners are then often surprised when they call their dogs to leave the park and they choose not to come to them?
Another example of the above is when the owners drive straight to a park and let their dogs out of the car and off leash as soon as they arrive.
A lack of consistent leadership from you can be highly stressful for your dog. Particularly if your dog lacks the confidence to face all the situations that living in a domesticated society poses on them, and/or especially if your dog has a tendency to display fear, anxiety, reactiveness and/or aggression. It is a bit like giving the keys to someone to drive a car for the first time and going to sleep in the back and expecting them to be capable, calm and sensible about driving you through peak hour traffic. Some people would handle that quite well but a majority of them would freak out and/or have an accident.
Tip: If your dog is displaying fear, overexcitement or reactiveness while out on the walk we recommend you slow everything right down. Start by making sure that your dog is calm before you leave for the walk. We recommend as little talk (to your dog) before leaving as possible and clipping the lead on only when your dog is calm. For more guidance on how to leave the house calmly check out our post http://theartofdogtraining.com.au/before-you-go-for-a-walk/.
Once out there in the world we recommend you clearly set up a structure of habits that your dog will start to understand:
Have your dog walking beside you on a loose lead. This can take some practice especially if your dog is used to pulling you everywhere and dominating you. It takes correcting your dog when it is in front of you and having the lead loose and relaxed when your dog is positioned right beside you. Be consistent, imagine a line that runs perpendicular to your toes and don’t let your dog past it. Not even when you are standing still!
Give your dog opportunities to toilet (on your command) during the walk. Allow it to go very early into the walk so that it is relaxed and then a couple times periodically throughout the walk. Make sure it is all on your call, don’t allow your dog to tell you where and when it wants to go (unless it is absolutely busting and can not help it).
Allow your dog to ‘say hello’ to other dogs when it is demonstrating calm energy, never when it is over excited or pulling you towards the dog (our next post will be on meeting new dogs).
Once your dog has demonstrated, calm submissive behaviour for the entire walk on lead (we recommend between 45mins – 1.5hours depending on how high energy and/or dominant your dog is) and it has earned a reward, you can let it off to play in the park. If everyone did this we are sure there would be a lot less negative dog encounters and/or fights in public parks! Time off lead doesn’t have to happen everyday, it can be saved as a very special treat a couple times a week. We highly recommend (for many reasons) you release your dog in the park only if it is FULLY trained in coming or recalling to you!
Clear, consistent communication is the key to leadership with your dog. If you keep this up, over time your dog should become more confident and calm and generally happier than it previously was. You may even find that your dog will start to listen to your commands more and the first time you give them!
Most Saturdays we run training classes and walks with a large focus on how to lead your dog confidently on a walk, if you would like more information about this please contact us or check out our home page.