When I got my first dog I was determined to develop a wonderful walking relationship with her, so I grabbed the leash, got the dog and out we went. We started out slowly and soon had a number of great walks in our inventory with different mileage and terrains. As we walked we talked. I told her how I felt about the day, including work, spouses and we definitely talked a lot about the neighbors. I could tell her everything and she held my confidences deep in her heart, safer then anyone else in the world. That was twenty years ago and things have changed, technology is different, literally right at our finger tips. but not on OUR walks. We still walk and talk, and the dog is still my number one priority for that hour or so in the day.
I watch many people walk in my town with their dogs and more than not they are on a cell phone or listening to their personal music device. Not that that isn’t really fun when you’re walking alone or jogging, but when you are listening to your IPod or talking on the phone, are you really with your dog. I saw a man once stop to talk to a friend at the park and while he was talking, an unsupervised toddler crawled up to his unsupervised dog and stuck his toddler face and a stick in the dogs face. Being in the business I know all too well that that can be a disaster waiting to happen. Fortunately this time it wasn’t. If you have a dog with you, be with your dog.
We live in a busy world and while we multitask, sometimes our dogs may suffer. We have so much leash reaction and dogs pulling to chase squirrels and birds, while we are on the phone or listening to our MP3 players. We are not managing and/or training our dogs for a lifetime of walks and living in the outside world.
It is easy to read our dogs body language if we are right there with them 100% in body, mind and spirit. Even if we are not experts in canine body language we can spot the obvious if we are watching. We can talk out loud or just think about what we want to communicate. If your dog has issues on-leash and you are 100% with him, you will be able to work with it before it gets worse. Or better yet, make sure it never happens.
When you first see your dog start to get excited about seeing another dog or animal, you can be there offering contrary behavior cues to keep his attention with you. If you teach him to look at you for a treat or favorite toy rather than bark and lunge at other dogs, your walks will be much more fun and safe for all involved. It’s OK to control where your dog walks and how much he gets to explore. You’re the leader. If he’s exploring in an area and you can not see where his nose is, maybe he shouldn’t be exploring there. If you are there paying attention, you will be able to steer him away from potentially dangerous foods. If your dog is a “poop eater” you can be right there to train a good “leave it”. If you focus on your dog and the environment, you will always be a few steps ahead of him.
Along with the theory of positive reinforcement and using your relationship to teach your dog house and leash rules, it is important to have your dog know that the most important thing on the walk is you. Just like at home, you control the good stuff to maintain leadership. If you trump the squirrels and other dogs, your walks will be calm, fun and manageable. If your dog learns to come to you first, instead of lunging at the squirrel or rabbit, maybe his reward can a leashed chase or two. It’s up to you to make sure Fido doesn’t actually catch the poor little critter. If he loves tennis balls, bring one. If he has a favorite toy bring it along. If he’s like most dogs and food is his favorite thing in the world, put it in your pocket and be all of everything to your dog. Most important, put down your cell phone and walk your dog. You both will be better for it. If nothing else, tell him your inner most secrets and test his loyalty. It’s one guarantee you can always be sure of, he won’t tell a soul and you’ll feel so much better for sharing with a trusted friend.
Happy trails and waggin’ tails!