Dogs don’t like to follow our random leash rules that we make up for them. It’s not natural for them to want to walk beside you like little robots. Your leashed dogs are more like little kids on recess, looking for their friends, things they can chase, exploring, and finding new adventures.
Of course, dogs pulling on a leash can be difficult and sometimes dangerous for the owner, so we work on teaching polite walking skills – but at The Clever Dog training, we like to teach it in a way that’s fun for dogs. I like to make polite walking a game. Dogs love games, and this new approach can make walking on a leash more relaxing for you, and more interesting and fun for your dogs. Before we even start walking, I like to concentrate on focus exercises, to teach your dogs to look up at you when you ask. So if you say “Watch,” your dog makes eye contact, and you mark that look with a click of the clicker, and then give a treat. The click comes just as your eyes meet, and your dog thinks, “OOHH, that’s what my human wants!” A tasty reinforcer (treat) always follows the click. Your dogs start to listen for that cue (“Watch!”), knowing that all they need to do is make eye contact to get a click, and then a treat.
Then we practice this exercise while walking. Dogs who are watching you, or checking in with you while walking, are focused on you. They understand where you want them to be, and are caring less about whether or not their friend is home, whether that leaf blowing down the street needs to be chased, or if that squirrel is going to run across the street in front of them – especially if the reinforcer (treat) is tasty. They understand the walking game means good things are going to happen if they stay connected to you. Soon your dogs are checking in and looking at you without even being asked, understanding where you’d like them to be, and they are comfortable walking beside you. I love to see a human walking a dog with the owner smiling and the dog’s tail wagging. Walks should be fun and should help you connect with, and communicate with your dog. Put your phone away and give your dogs some attention. Tell them about your day, sing to them (who cares what the neighbors think), make the walk fun, and keep the focus. Give them sniff breaks and potty breaks. Keep smiling and most importantly, keep that tail wagging!