After many years of training dogs to heel for competition and high scores, I still had never perfected a method to teach dogs to simply walk politely on leash on casual, every-day walks. Using clicker training, treats, old-fashioned leash-jerks and verbal corrections didn’t work very well when my dogs pulled on the leash. Since I had always believed that dogs needed mostly a lot of off-leash running and playing, I took all of my dog walks off-leash, thinking this would wear them out the best, and give them much needed sniffing, zooming about, stick-chewing fun. This works pretty well with dogs that are trained very well to come when called, but it really does nothing for the bond between you and them, and does not protect them from dangers like aggressive dogs, running deer, bears and wolves approaching around a blind corner. (All of which we have run into many times over the years.)
When I first watched “The Dog Whisperer”, Cesar’s talk of the importance of “The Walk” and how it must be done was intriguing to me. It took me two months of pondering, reading his books and watching him work with clients before I tried it myself. It was so instantly transforming for my dogs, then for me, that I haven’t taken my dogs for simple undisciplined off-leash walks since!
The crucial points of “The Walk” are, that the dog sees you clearly as the leader: you go through doors first, the dog walks beside or slightly behind you, and always walks carefully and human-speed down stairs (and slippery water ditches on logging roads!), the dog walks with respect and care when their human is gingerly navigating sheets of ice on the road. Even more usefully, when the dog is walking, they do no engage loose dogs, dogs being walked by their owners, passing people, and other distractions.
What is different about Cesar Millan’s “The Walk”, compared to a simple command/reward heel behavior like I’d trained and taught to others over the years, is that in The Walk, the dog isn’t following a command, its brain actually switches into an entirely different “mode”: The Follower Mode. The head goes down, the topline relaxes, the tail relaxes. They don’t stop to lift their leg every two minutes, they don’t hunt passing birds, they don’t rush hysterically up to approaching dogs and people. Best of all – they DO NOT pull on the leash! You can hold the leash with your pinky finger. It’s relaxing, and it’s more fun than off-leash walking because your dogs are there with you, not running ahead of you, hunting for things to roll in or chase, 100 yards away. It feels like great bonding, because it is!
What the walk also does, is exercise the dog’s mind instead of just their body. When they come home they are more worn out than with the off-leash running, because their entire being has been stretched and worked: emotionally, mentally, physically. When I walk my dogs we walk on-leash early in the morning for twenty minutes, then they sit quietly while I remove their leashes and Levi’s weighted backpack, then Levi gets to play tennis ball fetch for ten minutes while I have some tea, while Ludwig wants massages and a bit of fetch with little sticks. Then, it’s back home for breakfast. It feels so natural to them to go out as a pack and explore, or as Cesar says “migrate”, then return home to eat together – sort of mimicking a pack hunt.
We also do one other outing most days, before their dinner, sometimes a bike ride, sometimes a walk, sometimes a short walk to the beach for tennis ball fetching in the saltwater.
I’ll talk more about the fine points of The Walk, and Cesar’s crucial emphasis on how to live with a dog.
The crucial order to have balanced dogs:
More on the being the pack leader, using backpacks, how to get your dog to sit politely while preparing for walks, and some of the interesting, positive changes in my own dogs since starting “The Walk” in future posts.