Of all the things that are going to improve your relationship with your dog, the walk is undoubtedly the most important and is the key to solving many other seemingly unrelated behavioural problems.
Dogs are natural born travellers and explorers. Stray dogs have been observed walking up to twenty miles a day in their hunt for food and fun. So when you take your dog for a walk this is the closest thing to their nature that there is. We often only think of the walk in terms of the physical exercise it gives the dog, and it is important to drain physical energy, but there’s more to it if we want to make sure our dogs are properly fulfilled. This is our dogs chance to catch up on what’s going on in the neighbourhood, meet friends, hunt, play, and have adventure.
The key to a successful walk starts well before you leave the house, making sure your dog is in a calm, relaxed state of mind before you even start putting on collars and leads. Remember that behaviour is only an outward expression of the state of mind so when you reward a physical behaviour you are also rewarding the state of mind that caused the behaviour. An example of this would be when you have asked your dog to sit to put on his collar, and he did, but, he’s also still bursting at the seams with excitement. When the sit is rewarded, the excited mind is rewarded also, so we need to wait untill the mind has settled before we proceed. It is important that our dogs are calm and waiting patiently before we open the front door, before getting in the car, and even more importantly, before getting out of the car at the park. This all goes to building confidence, trust and communication in our dogs and gives them a sense of strucure and purpose.
Dogs are natural followers and travelling is a bonding experience for members of the pack. Taking the lead on a walk is a great way of bonding with your dog and establishing and maintaining your leadership role. Again, your energy is key to telling your dog that the world is safe and there is nothing to guard against. If you are relaxed then your dog will be too. When you are leading, your dog has to exercise their mind and self-control to walk beside you and this is helping to drain their energy levels. Allowing your dog to lead and make decisions on who to meet, or where to go, what to sniff etc is stressful for the dog and does not drain their mental energy. Your dog needs a structured walk. Start your walk this way. Have him walking next to you on the lead, and walk. Initially, he doesn’t decide where to go, what to sniff, or where and when to pee. If they signal they need to toilet properly, not just mark a spot, and you are in an appropriate place, then obviously you should allow them to do so. Please remember to pick up after your dog. You will start to notice when your dog is in travelling mode, they have a certain way of walking, they move fluidly, they are light on their paws, their ears relax back and they are relaxed and focused on just that one thing of walking. When you have walked a while and your dog is more relaxed, encourage them to start using their nose and have a good sniff around to get all that day’s news. This is another great way of draining their mental energy. If it is possible, and your dog is calm, let them off the lead for this activity. If your dog likes to play maybe with a ball walk with him first make sure he spends some time in travelling mode then let him off and have that play with the ball. Afterwards put him back on lead and get him into travelling mode again, you can do this as many times as you want for as long as you want, but whenever you are planning to make the journey home, whether on foot or by car, make sure your dog is in travelling mode first, ensuring the excitement and energy levels are right down.
It can be tough at first waiting for the dog to relax and can cut into your walk time. Don’t worry too much about this as the dog’s mind is being worked and that can tire them out as much as physical activity. It doesn’t take them long to work out that it’s being calm and polite that gets things done and pretty soon it will just be normal.