How to Walk your dog

So, how *do* you walk your dog, who usually drags you around, sniffing everywhere, barking at passing dogs and people, driving you crazy?

Here it is, boiled down to clear steps:

1.  Before you leave the house, calm yourself.  Don’t let the dog’s frantic behavior when you pick up the leash stress you out.  Stand up straight, breathe.

2. Before you pick up the leash to leave the house (or car) tell the dog to sit.  Move in toward him, calmly, with the thought in mind that he will sit nicely before the leash goes on.  If you get irritated, impatient, frustrated, this will only intensify your dog’s excitement.  Make sure he is sitting before you put on the leash.

3. When you open the door, make your dog wait until he’s calmer – sitting, or standing with a relaxed expression before you let him come out with you.

4.  And, I literally mean – “with you”!  If your dog bolts ahead (this is almost guaranteed to happen if you haven’t worked on this before!), get him back next to you, (even better, slightly behind you), and then step through the door.  Do not start walking down the stairs/walkway/path until your dog is calm, and walking next to you.  Warning:  this step can take a lot of patience and work the first time.  Don’t lose your patience – this will be worth the work!  Every time will be faster, by far!

5. Take a breath, calm/center yourself, pull up your posture to have square shoulders, and your head high, your eyes looking ahead.  Project a Leader energy!  Don’t worry and take tiny steps and look down at your dog.

6.  When you are actually walking, make sure your dog does not go in front of you, at all.  He should be slightly behind, or beside you.  When he surges ahead, a sharp leash snap, or a tap of your foot on his hip or waist will remind him that you are leading this walk – it’s like tapping a person on the shoulder and saying “hey!” Your energy and focus is transmitting the message:  “That person/dog means nothing to us.  Ignore it”  Remember – Maintain calm, assertive energy.

6.  When you walk just a few paces correctly, you will see/feel your dog relax and just ease into the most beautiful calm, follower mentality:  that is your goal – a mental state, rather than a “trained position” like we teach in traditional classes.

That’s it!  You’re taking a peaceful walk, finally bonding properly with your dog, and practicing the most powerful training tool you have in your dog/human relationship.

A few tips:

  • Very energetic dogs may benefit from wearing a doggy pack (available all over in online stores) weighted with about 10 percent of his weight.
  • Very fast/energetic dogs will love having your bicycle/skateboard/rollerblade with them sometimes so they can go *their* pace!
  • Do your disciplined walk before you do any “recess/excitement” activity like ball/frisbee fetching, swimming, etc.
  • When you pass people/dogs and other distractions, redirect your dog’s excitement with a leash snap/tap with the foot before he gets really crazy with excitement, if that’s a problem.  Don’t wait until he’s already lunging/screeching!  Redirect when he just starts staring, or breathing hard or – well – you know what he does!
  • The tap/leash snap needs to be sharp enough to not be a “pull” or a “push” or a “nag”.  You should see a visible switch in your dog’s focus.   If you don’t, you know you need to change intensity, or type of tap/snap/nudge – whatever it is you did.

Most importantly:  Have fun, relax and be PATIENT!  Work through it, (dog NOT dragging you down the stairs, for instance!) until you get the perfect picture you envisioned!

Here’s a good link with photos and instructions

Introduction to the “Leadership Walk”

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:

First: exercise.

Second:  discipline

Third:  affection

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.