Walking is the best way to begin a "get healthy" program.
However, taking a walk with our dog is not always a relaxing, pleasurable experience. Dogs pull, get wrapped around trees, chase squirrels, sniff nonstop and can complicate a stroll with any number of annoying deeds. Many pet owners will not take the dog along because it is unpleasant, and that is sad for both.
The first step is to look at your expectations for walking with your dog. Do you walk in a city neighborhood where there are people and cars and other dogs all around you and quite a bit of control is required? Do you walk in the country where the dog can run from side to side catching all the smells? Either way, you want your dog to be paying attention and respond to you. You want him to have some freedom to check things out, but also, you want him to quickly come under your close control when needed.
In a column in the recent issue of AKC Family Dog, titled "Working on Your Dog's Walk," author Kathy Santo came up with some excellent pointers for increasing the pleasure of the walk.
She recommends dividing the walk into stages.
The beginning of the walk should be controlled. Keep your dog walking quietly beside you. Walk at a brisk pace and remind the dog that you want him to stay in this position and praise and treat him for doing so. Santo emphasizes the need to determine what you expect, put a vocal command to the action and insist that it is followed. She uses the word "let's go" for this stage of the walk. If he is pulling, stop. He will eventually realize that if he pulls, the walk stops. Use words like "no pull" and "good no pull." Walk as fast as is comfortable so that you both get a workout.
Later, when he has been good and there are some open spaces, she uses another command to let the dog know that he is now allowed to move to the end of the leash and explore, sniff and check out the squirrels. This is when a Flexi leash is terrific. This command might be "check it out." Santo says, "go play," but I use that at home to encourage the dogs to run free. Choose whatever words work best for you. The key is to always use the same words and demand the behavior that is connected with those words.
If the dog is on the "check it out" phase and you see dogs, people or traffic coming your way, call him back to the "lets go" position. I would probably use a word less stimulating for this, such as "side" or "walk along." Just so you and the dog know what the word means. Walking multiple dogs simply requires strict enforcement of the rules.
Walking on leash is a good time to do some training. The stop command is easy to teach and comes in unbelievably handy fairly often. As you walk along with the dog close to you, say "stop." You stop and hold firm on the leash. He will have to stop. Praise him and give him a little treat from the treat bag that should be part of every walk. As he understands the stop, use it from greater distances. When well trained, he should stop immediately upon hearing the word, even when he is off leash. This command could save his life.
Another command is the "come." When you say it, mean it. Say "come"; pull him to you with the leash and then praise and treat. Demand that he come immediately. You will be surprised how quickly he responds when the praise is flowing and the treats are terrific.
The difference between an orderly, pleasant walk and a disaster is discipline and training.
A dog pays more attention to us than we think. If we allow lousy behavior most of the time, he is going to constantly be testing us to see how serious we are. If we allow him to have some freedom and still expect him to come when we call him and not pull our arms off, and are firm in enforcing our rules, he will obey quite well. Walking is enjoyable when the dog knows the rules and knows they are to be obeyed.
Christy Powers is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.