5 Ways to Make the Most of Walking your Dog
Loose leash walking in general heel position *come to heel when people/ dogs approach
Enrichment "Go Sniff"
Training session with distractions
Most of us walk our dogs at least once a day. If you aren’t walking together, you and your dog are missing out on some great exercise, bonding and training time. This article is all about how you can make the most of your dog walks.
1. Door Manners
The first step of every walk is grabbing your dog’s leash. This can signal to the dog to sit quietly and wait to be leashed or to start going crazy. I see a lot of dogs who have that second reaction!
With all my puppies, I start a very simple leash/door procedure. When we approach a door, the dog should sit and wait in that position even if I open the door. Every single time we go to the door to leave for a walk, I will ask my dog to sit and wait. If they get up, the door closes and we don’t go anywhere.
The reward is getting to go out the door. If the dog makes a mistake and gets up from the sit then I need to think about whether I was asking for too much, too soon.
Did I push the dog too hard and too fast and that is why they got up? If the answer is yes, then I need to shorten the wait time, or lower the difficulty by not opening the door yet or removing distractions. For instance, if you have two dogs and haven’t worked on this behavior before, then you need to train each dog individually before putting the dogs together and asking for the finished behavior.
The video below demonstrates the finished behavior. If your walks start out like this, you will be starting with a calm dog who is mentally prepared to enjoy a pleasant walk. If you start with a bouncing hyper dog, then that is the dog you are going to get on your walk and it is not going to be pleasant.
2. Loose leash walking in general heel position
Now you are out the door and walking nicely. This is a good time to practice a loose leash walk in a general heel position.
In this situation, I would define heel position as the dog walking parallel and next to your body (not too far ahead or behind). This can be on your left or right. The dog should have a relaxed posture and head position.
During this time, I don’t want my dog stopping to sniff or to go to the bathroom. I want them just walking along nicely with me. If I stop, I want them to automatically stop as well.
What they do when you stop is up to you. I like to teach an auto sit but it is fine if they just stop and stand or if they lay down. The key is they stop after you stop.
This portion of the walk is great for mental and physical exercise. It is walking with purpose and it requires the dog to be aware of what you are doing and make adjustments. This gives your dog a job on the walk and will leave them more relaxed after the walk.
In the video below Freya and I are starting out on our walk and as we approach the sidewalk I pause, she sits automatically then we start out again on our walk.
3. Enrichment "Go Sniff"
The next step in a successful walk is sniffing! Dogs find sniffing to be incredibly rewarding and enriching. I never spend an entire walk asking my dog to focus on me and walk right next to me. Instead, I put the act of sniffing and exploring the areas around them on cue.
I ask for loose leash walking and then reward them by sending them off to sniff something! I use the cue “go sniff” and I activity seek out areas that I think my dogs will find extra fun to sniff. Some examples include: high traffic dog potty areas and areas where wild animals like squirrels, bunnies or other wildlife frequent.
It is important to note I am not seeking out actual dogs or wildlife - just the scent evidence that they have been there. Another game I use during these exploring parts of our walk is the marker word “scatter” (to learn more about this cue and how to train it click here.) Toss a few treats onto the ground and give your dog permission to search for those treats. This allows your dog to hunt/sniff for the treats in a fun but safe way.