Blog

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Walk like a dog

Lily Harenberg, walking like a dog

Loose-leash walking is a wistful dream for many pet owners. Dogs just don't walk like us. They are olfactory; we are visual. We lock our eyes on goodness knows what in the distance and march in a straight line at an even pace. Has anyone ever told you to stop and smell the roses? Well, that was a dog, except that someone changed "urine" to "roses".

Observe or imagine a variety of dogs walking freely along a forested trail. Some might be frolicking through the woods, wrestling each other, jumping over logs, and splashing in streams. A gentle, old soul might be meandering along stiffly, mostly sticking to the paved path. But none of them will be walking at an even pace in a straight line. Their noses will be engaged, moving up, moving down, spinning their bodies around. Motion, stop and sniff, motion, stop and sniff. It's a common theme that underlies a natural dog walk, and one from which we can learn.

Here's how to walk like a dog, with a dog:

  • Give your dog some slack - literally! If there is no one within 20 feet of you, then he can have the whole 4' or 6' leash. Give slack, then ask for it on his end too.
  • Let your dog be your guide, following him at a calm but brisk pace whenever the leash is slack.
  • Be a tree whenever your dog pulls. Don't pull back, don't coo or correct, just do nothing. If you absolutely must prompt your dog, then use rapidly repeated notes, such as "up-pup-pup-pup" or smooches. Click, treat, and move when your dog looks back at you or slackens the leash on his own.
  • When your dog slows and stops with a slack leash, slow and stop with him. As he's exploring the ever-changing smells, do the same with the seasonally-changing sights. Notice something new - do you know what kind of tree your dog is peeing on or when it blooms? Engage with your environment together.
  • Last but not least, notice and reinforce all the nice little things that your dog does. At first, click and treat every single time he looks at you. Click and treat when he reacts appropriately to passing cars, people, other dogs, and cats. Click, treat, and scratch him behind his ears when he chooses to walk beside you for a bit. Eventually, you can incorporate verbal cues, such as playing the name game during walks: use regular treats for automatic check-ins and good behaviour, but keep three or four super exciting tidbits with which to surprise him for responding instantly to his name.
If your dog already thinks that he's training for the Iditarod, then he'll need some baby steps before proceeding to the above, but this post is about the human side of walking with a dog, and how we can offer our dogs - and ourselves! - a more natural way to walk. Stay tuned for tips on how to re-train your dog the basics of pull=stop and slacken=go.

About the Harenbergs

Audrey, Aipa, and Steve Harenberg on the Blue Ridge Mountains

We build strong working relationships between dogs and handlers through the use of modern learning theory and the development of technological aids.

Audrey has been involved with numerous non-profit organisations, as foster mom, therapy dog handler, and obedience instructor. In addition to teaching private lessons, group classes, and in-home training, she's busy creating free blog articles and books to help make progressive dog training accessible to all.

Steve is finishing his PhD in computer science and will be taking over technological development once he is freed from academia.