Growing up in a doggie walking family, my least favorite chore was dog walking. (Well aside from being the pooper scooper) I think what made it so unsatisfactory was the constant pulling. While I grew up walking chocolate and black lab mixes, any dog, big or small can be a tough walking companion.
On September 2nd, 2015 I got my husband a sweet little puppy for our anniversary. She is a broad shouldered Blue Heeler, Border Collie mix.
While she was an easy puppy to train as far as behavior goes, she struggled on a leash. This just was not going to work for me and my husband. At the time, we lived in a small fifteen foot travel trailer. We needed to be able to take her to the beach with us and around the block. But, we didn’t want to get pulled along after her.
After a year of working with her I think we finally have figured it out. We can now manage a comfortable walk on leash with our medium to small furry friend. We did in 3 steps. (Full disclosure. I’ve never tried this with a Great Dane, but I’m sure it could work with them too. )
#1 The Stance
Dogs are pack animals. They respond well to authority when that authority is firm, but not abusive. When you walk your dog keep your shoulders back and your head high. Try your best not to slouch. Slouching, to a dog, can resemble cowering.
Like any animal species where there is a ranking system, the underdog is always looking for a chance to rise in the ranks. My furry friend, Lightning, was no different. She was always looking for a slip in posture or attention. She was looking for a chance to push that barrier just a bit.
I started keeping a firm grip on the leash with my chin up, and my shoulders back. It made a difference. Lightning started looking to me for permission. So, lead with your body language.
#2 The Puppy Bank Account
In healthy relationships with our fellow humans we learn that there is give and take. As an example, I want my husband to take out the trash. So, I need to make sure I am fueling that response from him by giving in return. Maybe it means making sure his laundry is done or giving him that back rub he’s been asking for.
Whatever it is, the same goes for your canine family member. The puppy bank account needs to be filled as you go. Reward your dog for good behavior. It’s way more likely to remember and maintain good behavior than one that is not rewarded. Keep a few small training treats with you in your pocket or a small pouch that’s easily accessible.
When training your dog to walk with more grace and less pain use the same words for each expectation. For Lightning we use “With me” when we want her to heel or stay by our side. Watch for signs of distraction. (With Lightning, this usually means in little whimpers or slight tugs). If it happens, we use a gentle extended “No,” or “No bug.”
If she gets rowdy and manages to get away from us we snap our fingers and point at the ground. We follow this up with a deep low “Come.” If she is good and responding to signals we encourage and reward her with an overly enthusiastic, “Good girl!” We follow this up immediately with a treat.
After a few successful walks they will start to realize the connection between their movements, the words and pitch of your voice, and the presence or lack of a tasty treat.
The most important thing is to be consistent. Especially when you are first trying to instill this behavior in your companion. When you have a healthy rhythm going I encourage removing the treats and getting your dog to respond to just words and loving pats.
Continued in Part 2…
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