Recently, I was talking with a friend whom I’d been helping to train her dogs. Her younger dog is especially difficult for her to walk on leash, but after showing them how to leave the house calmly, and to walk properly, the dog easily switched into a calm, follower frame of mind.
A few days later, my friend reported that it was wonderful to walk her amazingly improved dog, but then a few weeks later she started to report that the dog had reverted to pulling her and ignoring her. Another few weeks later, she reported that she was utterly fed up, and was looking forward to sending the dog off to a doggy daycare where the dog would finally maybe be “fixed” because of all the off-leash exercise.
It is true that some off-leash running, sniffing, leg stretching is vital for a dog’s mental and physical well-being. Every walk should ideally be mixed with something close to twenty minutes of on-leash walking, ten or fifteen minutes of off-leash playing like fetch, swimming or other games, then another twenty minutes or so of on-leash walking to finish the outing in a follower state of mind.
Wearing the dog out with too much unstructured running with other dogs, such as in dog parks, is actually detrimental for dogs. I had a hard time believing this at first, until I watched the dogs first hand, and did more study. The mental discipline of walking beside or behind a pack leader is more tiring for a dog than just careening about, following every scent, or chasing and wrestling with other dogs. Some of the dog-to-dog play is very, very good for them, obviously, but if it is sandwiched between the disciplined walks, they will be actually more calm and worn out than if they’d had only off-leash play.
Too many people think of training their dog as “fixing’ their dog. There is often a mindset with dog owners that the dog has a flaw and that things would be fine if it could be “fixed”. I’ll tell you simply: the solution lies in changing your own behavior. The great news is, that you aren’t a helpless victim of a “bad” dog! You CAN change your own behavior, and thus re-balance your dog’s mind.
When acting in the role of leader for a dog, if you have the mindset that “she ALWAYS does that”, or “he’ll never be able to walk by that dog without attacking” – you’ll be tense, you’ll be weak, and your dog will fulfill your expectations. Remember that you are the leader, you set the expectations and you set up the outcome. Dogs live right in the moment. Relax, stand up tall, envision exactly what you want the dog to do, where you want him to be, then follow through and do not give in until you get that. Don’t give up and blame the dog. If you are thinking: “My dog is doing what he always does, I just can’t stop him”, or “She can’t help it, she’s afraid of small dogs running up to her”, then I can guarantee you that you, are also “doing what you always do”. That might mean you’re getting angry, frustrated, tense, or simply just giving up, thinking you’ll never accomplish what you want.
Don’t give up. Don’t blame the dog. Review yourself: Are you calm, relaxed, assertive and confident? Are your shoulders back, are you breathing easily, feeling positive, envisioning success?