When it comes to city or suburban dog walking there is nothing natural about it from the dog’s perspective. There is not a single breed of dog that is bred to walk next to you, in a small constrained area (from the dog’s view) of a sidewalk, looking adoringly at you, and ignoring everything else in their environment. If you were to walk a dog off leash in a safe large field, most dogs would check in with you, and go bounding off exploring and then check in again and go sniffing and so on. But, leash walking is what is required in cities and suburbia, so as unnatural as it is we need to teach it to our dogs.
Recently at one of our new student orientations someone commented after the training demo: “Those things are all tricks! I just want my dog to walk on leash and sit.” I quickly answered back, but those are tricks too! Anything you ask your dog to do is a trick. If you think of polite leash walking as a trick it changes your whole outlook on training the skill. Most people find trick training fun, and leash walking should be fun too, for both you and your dog!
Most people fail at training leash walking by going too far, too fast without the right foundation of training. I would not ask a toddler who is just learning to walk to take a mile walk with me. I most likely wouldn’t even ask them to walk down my driveway. Yet, this is what we do to our puppies, and remember puppies are not very different developmentally from a young toddler. Instead of that mile walk with a toddler we would practice walking in a safe environment inside the house. I might choose a carpeted room so if the child falls it won’t be hurt. Or maybe I would make sure there is furniture around to grab onto in case they were to fall. We need to set our puppies and dogs up for success the same way as a toddler who is just learning walk.
In the backyard, you’re going to need that high paycheck again. Your dog is used to being able to run around the yard chasing things and now you’re asking him to hang out with you on a leash and pay attention. You’d better not be boring and your rewards must be better then a squirrel! This whole process can take days and even weeks so don’t panic.
Wow, we have just done a lot of learning, but we haven’t walked anywhere. I hear you now: “but my dog needs exercise!” Yes, but all that learning is exercise, for both the body and the brain. I bet you’ll have a tired dog without putting mileage on them. This learning is laying the foundation to good walking. Your dog has not learned any “bad” walking habits that need to be “unlearned” as they get older and bigger (and harder to retrain). Also, your dog has not done any damage to their neck or throat while pulling on leash.
You have many, many years ahead of you for long walks in the neighborhood and about town. Now is the time to make a commitment to laying a great foundation. Take it slow, to do it right, in the long run you’ll appreciate those future awesome stress free walks.
Stay tuned for the next steps is leash walking – the first step!