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.
In the video below I signal Freya to "Go Sniff" on a pile of snow that is a popular potty spot for dogs in our neighborhood. It may not seem appealing by human standards but this is a really interesting sniff spot for dogs. After a little bit of sniffing I cue her to get back into her loose leash walking position and we continue on.
While we are walking, I look for objects my dogs could interact with. If we are out hiking, for instance, I might ask my dog to jump up onto or over a log. When we are in an urban environment, I might ask them to jump over a small fence or onto a small retaining wall.
If they jump onto something, I can ask them to stay in that position before releasing them to explore or sniff. This provides the dogs with an enriching experience while also proofing trained behaviors like jump (over), all four paws on an object, two paws on an object, or stay and release.
Generalizing these behaviors to a wide variety of objects is fun for the pet owner and really great trial prep for the sport dog.
5. Training session with distractions
The last piece of the puzzle is a quick training session built into your walk. I usually do this a little after the midway point in our walk.
A lot of pet owners and even sport dog owners get stuck only training at home or at a training facility. So early on I start building training sessions into our walks. I don’t teach new behaviors in this situation but practice known behaviors that need to be worked on in new situations.
If your dog can sit, down and stand reliably for you at home, can they do it out in the world? A lot of times the answer is no at first. When you change something in your training, like the location, you should always lower your expectations.
Let’s say at home you have “sit” down pat and don’t need to reward for every rep anymore. The first time you ask for a sit outside of the house, you should be rewarding your dog for each sit and be prepared to maybe even lure the dog into the sit the first time.
How long it takes for the dog to sit for you outside like it was sitting inside will really depend on the dog and your training. But the more training sessions you do in novel areas, the easier it is for most dogs to generalize their training.
The video below is a quick training session with Freya in a parking lot.
Do you want help making the most of your walk with your dog? Click below to contact me.