Tips & Techniques

Just walking the dog

In this week’s email, I mentioned that I would put up some tips about teaching your dog to walk on the lead without pulling.  It’s now a recommendation that dogs are kept on lead to stop anyone getting too close to another owner.  And while you may think you have a good recall, no dog will be 100% proof.  

A lot of owners don’t use leads much.  If they live in a rural area they may take the dog out in the car and straight out of the car to the walk area without even putting the lead on.  Even in cities and the suburbs, people feel that a dog needs a long run off lead to give it some exercise.  My dogs actually walk on a lead 90% of the time.  Is it cruel?  Not at all.  Am I restricting their exercise?  No.  They do get a run off lead when we’re at a secure field, an enclosed park or in a woodland, but most of the time they are walking with me.  And they are walking on a loose lead more or less to heel without me even having to say the “H” word!

Think about the equipment you use.  I mostly use harnesses for puppies to train them to walk in a balanced way.  In fact, I taught Edie to walk on a harness from 8 weeks and it was only when I put a collar on her to go to the groomers that I realised she didn’t know what I wanted her to do.  I had to teach her that a collar was okay as well.  I used to use the Fleece Lined ones from Dog-Games but they have stopped selling them direct so I now recommend the fleece dog harnesses from eDog Products.  They offer a half size harness as well as breed specific ones.  There is a measuring guide on the website or you can call Joanne at their office to help you find the right size.

If you do decide to use a collar and lead, try and find a wide collar rather than the small puppy ones.  Remember your dog’s neck is very sensitive and a thin one can be very painful and stressful for your puppy.  Once your dog is older, you can change without any problems.  Both my dogs now wear a collar from Wiff Waff Designs and it’s a decent size on their neck as well as having lots of funky designs.  

As for a lead, I use the Dog-Games fleece leads because they wash well and are better for my hands.  I use the 2m lead (perfect for social distancing) which gives my dogs a bit of room to walk with me rather than being made to walk with me.

At last we can get on to the training part!  I truly believe that the walk starts before you even go out of the door.  I have a small lobby area and I make my dogs wait by the door before I put their collars on.  Yes, Rupert does like to pick up his lead and run about, but as soon as I ask them to wait, they stop and we get prepared before the door is opened.  Once I am happy that they are ready, the door opens and we go downstairs to the outer lobby door.  Again, I make them wait.  I have another set of steps and I can’t have them pulling me or anyone else down the stairs.  By reinforcing slow walking (usually I say “slowly” to keep them steady) I am getting them ready to walk nicely.  

Remember it doesn’t matter which side you walk your dog.  I keep my difficult dogs on my right side as my right arm is stronger.  But when I am in the show ring, Rupert (who normally walks on the right) has to switch to the left.  He gets it really well and so far hasn’t put a paw wrong.  Edie is usually on the left side because she walked there when my bad boy (Bertie) was on the right side.  She never changed.  Does it matter to you?  No, my two have learned where I want them to walk with me.  And I want them to walk with me.  Not me being pulled along or them off having fun on their own.  How many times do you see owners on their phones or listening to something without even seeing where their dog is.  You want to be the main focus of your dog’s adventures.  They should be walking with you because it’s fun!

It’s important that your dog doesn’t just rush straight out of the door.  Make your dog sit and wait and then walk out calmly together.  If they are getting in the car, don’t encourage them to jump in without being on lead.  Part of the process is to walk them to the car and get them in under control.  If you are driving to the park or to the woodland, make sure your dog is secured and when you get out of the car, put them on lead again.  Never walk them around a car park without a lead on.  

If you’re just doing a block walk, then start off together.  The first five minutes or so are the most exciting part of the walk for a dog.  They are revved up and ready to go out.  Sometimes they pull but I just stop and wait until they look back at me and then encourage them to come towards me.  Once the lead is loose, we go forward again.  The video will show you what I mean.  I just wait to get their attention before starting off again. 

Alternatively, if your dog is a real puller, you can do the “this way” exercise.  The moment your dog pulls you turn 180 degrees in the opposite direction, give your cue word (I use “let’s go”) and almost try and catch them out so they have to hurry after you.  When I’m training this I give a treat after a few steps, not every step.  Pick a lamppost or tree and try and get there without pulling.  The dog gets the treat when they get to the object, not during the exercise.

When training puppies, you can drop a treat each step but I honestly feel that this encourages your dog to keep it’s nose down and not take any notice of you.  They are just walking for the treats.  And it encourages them to snuffle about in whatever is on the floor when your out walking.  You don’t want them picking up stones, tissues etc.  So I only use treats for walking exercises very sparingly.  The only time I do use them is to teach my dog which side to come to for the treat.  Tapping your leg and getting your dog to come and stand next to you helps them to work with you.  Treat when they are beside you not in front, which is often where the dog is used to getting a treat.  

Realistically, it takes about 2 weeks to get a dog to stop pulling and you will need to be consistent and firm about it.  If you go out and have a terrible walk, don’t stress about it.  Put it down to experience and try and again next time.  I’ve actually spent a week getting out of my driveway before I even got to the pavement.  And I’ve never been afraid to go back indoors after 15 minutes.  

While we’re in lockdown and you have to keep your dog on a lead it’s a good time to practice your walking on lead.  Use your lounge, your hallway, your garden and when your dog is walking nicely with you in these areas go further and start by walking round the block.  If you need to keep your dog closer to you, you can shorten the lead and if your dog barks or lunges at another dog, turn around and walk away.  Don’t stop and think about what to do.  Make the distance bigger between you and the other dog or person.  But remember you’re concentrating on walking not the noise and the rumpus your dog is making.  That’s for another article.  

So here are the instructions for a nice, well behaved walk with your dog.

1.  The walk starts at home.  Make them wait to go through the door calmly.

2.  Allow them to have space on the lead to walk with you.  Don’t pull them too tight or close.

3.  Get your dog to stand beside you on the side you want them to come back to.

4.  Start walking.  If the dog pulls to the end of the lead, stop, wait and encourage them to come back to you.  Don’t go forward until they are on a loose lead.

5.  Lots of praise.  I tell my two they are walking beautifully all the time.  I give the odd treat when I need to but mostly I use praise.

6.  Don’t be afraid to go home if it’s not working.  You can always try again next time.

7.  Lots of practice in quiet places before you even think about going out with other dogs and people around.

8.  Relax.  If you’re stressed, your dog will be anxious and stressed too.  

9.  Keep practicing.  You wouldn’t put on ice skates and expect to be Torvill & Dean without a practice first.

10. Ask for help if you need it.

I was going to put a video on the website but haven’t been able to find a way to do it yet so if you visit my Facebook page you’ll see a little bit of me and the dogs walking on a loose lead.   

Happy Easter to everyone!

Sara, Edie and Rupert


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