We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot. – Eleanor Roosevelt
WALK THIS WAY
Part 1 of this series on leash walking emphasized the importance of calm. Now that you are able to start your walk in a manner that sets yourself up for success, let’s talk about how it should go once you walk out the door.
While on the walk, make sure that your dog’s head is not past your legs. He needs to be alongside you. If you’re thinking that your dog should be able to enjoy walk time and sniff whatever he wants and decide where the both of you should go, think about what that means for Fido. That means every stranger that approaches you, every garbage bag that flies across the road, and every squirrel that makes a mad dash across your path is a possible threat and now your dog has to be the one to decide if he needs to protect you or not. And guess what, he’s going to protect you and assume it is a threat. That’s a very scary position to be in and makes the walk an activity filled with anxiety for both of you.
If your pup is by your side, he doesn’t feel the pressure of having to decide if that bicycle in the next driveway is going to somehow come alive and attack you. That’s your decision. And you’ll be able to let him know that it’s not dangerous at all.
So, let’s talk about how you get them to the point of being your sidekick instead of your fearless leader ten feet ahead of you. Make sure you have enough slack on the leash that you can give your pup a correction and also allow a loose leash with no tension when there’s no need for a correction. If you need to, a good way to help figure out the best spot, is to find it once and tie a knot where you would like your hand to go. That way, the next time it’s an easy find.
Make sure your arm is relaxed all the way down by your side. You’re not doing bicep curls with your dog, you’re just walking leisurely. There’s also no need to hold your arm out to the side as if you have a toxic dog. You like your dog, so the fact that he’s close to you shouldn’t be a problem. Dog cooties are the best cooties. So your arm should always be relaxed whenever you don’t need to correct your dog.
Example of what your calm body language should look like. Note that the arms are not clenched.
If your pup starts to pull, just make a gentle tug on the leash. Release the tension from the tug quickly. Think staccato for you musicians out there. Or imagine turning on a light bulb that has a chain, it’s a quick motion, but you’re not aiming to rip the light bulb out of the ceiling.
Remember, nothing about the walk should ever include pain. What you’re doing is similar to tapping someone on their shoulder to get their attention back on you and the walk, not the cat across the street. It is a gentle answer to their question, “Can I chase it?” The quick tug is translated by them as “No”.
Sometimes a wealth of stimulation may suddenly come your way (turning a corner to find another dog) and some dogs may lunge violently. Or if your is not accepting the answer to their question through the tugs, you can “slam the door” on them. If you need to slam the door on your dog, remember again, nothing is about pain. Simply pivot so that you are facing your dog and stopping their forward motion. You look exactly like a door that has just slammed in your dog’s face. The best way to do this is quickly and with confidence. If someone spilled an ice cold drink down your back you wouldn’t turn around slowly and timidly. You’d swing around to see who the heck was behind you. That’s how you want to pivot to stop your dog from moving forward. Make sure that when you spin on him you have no tension on the leash.Your arm should be loose, merely a vehicle to hold the leash. If there is, this can be very dangerous for your dog and cause injury. We’re looking to gain his attention and reclaim his focus, not punish him with pain.
Wait for your dog to focus on you, nothing or everything. In other words, he is definitely not focused on that other dog that caused him to react. Or that squirrel. He has accepted the answer to his question. If you want, you can even use the sit command to help him calm down. However, if you’re working with a puppy or a very hyperactive dog, the less movement and energy you add to the situation, the better. Once you feel as though you have control of the situation you can start on your walk again.
Keep practicing and make sure to stay calm. You’ll absolutely be able to handle this. In the next segment we’ll talk about some common instances that you will be faced with on the walk. Think evil rodents, disastrous buildings and other scary canines.
Part Three of the series can be found here
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio