Wait? What? Isn’t this that pesky trainer-lady who keeps telling us to walk our dog more? Well, you heard me, I don’t want you to walk your dog anymore, I want you to walk with your dog.
Over the past few years I have changed some things about how I train and live with my dogs. I was (thankfully) never a punishment-based trainer so maybe my changes are subtler than some but they are certainly still there. My relationships with my dogs have been influenced by several great trainers (Kay Laurence, Kathy Sdao, Suzanne Clothier to name three) but most of these changes were brought about by my own dogs, Georgia, Pua and Rufus and what I have learned from them. Recent scientific research on dogs has pointed out that a dog’s walk is much more about his nose than it is about his leg and lungs and I am interested in enriching my dog’s experience in the world, not inhibiting it.
I suppose you could say I have gotten lax both with my clients and myself. I really don’t care if your dog is in a perfect “heel” position. In fact, I don’t even teach a “heel” cue in my classes. I hear your gasps now. I think a perfect heel is perfectly boring. Sure it may look pretty but really no fun at all. Here are some more radical ideas for you… I don’t care if your dog is a foot (or 2ft, 3ft, maybe even 4ft!) ahead of you, to the side or behind you. I just want the leash to be slack. Do I teach loose-leash walking? You bet I do – not having tension on the leash between you and your dog is important for a number of reasons, #1 being not to cause or exacerbate reactivity. When I’m working with a reactive dog we may start with the dog closer to us just so that we have easy access to get them a treat quickly (and protect them from surprises around the corner) but even with those dogs, we end up giving them some slack (mainly so that they can sniff and learn to make decisions on their own).
Besides leash techniques, I have also changed the pace of my walks for (get ready to gasp again) my dog’s sake. The normal gait for most dogs seems to come in two categories: slow-and-sniffy and hurry-up-human-you-are-too-damn-slow. We used to “make” our dogs walk at OUR (said in a deep, commanding voice) human pace. But why? This isn’t just my walk, it’s our, dog and human, walk. Why do I have to be so bossy? Can’t we both enjoy this? My current dog happens to be in the slow-and-sniffy category and personally, I am more of the let’s-get-this-moving type. So I compromise. Sometimes I make him pick up the pace for my comfort but I also let him have long jags of sniff/pee time as well. If I want to walk “my” way then I can go walk by myself. This walk should be enjoyed by the both of us.
So, go take a walk with your dog.