Walking the Dog
Easy isn’t it – pop the lead on, off you go and don't forget the poo bags.
But actually, walking your dog is a skill, for some of us it's an art form and for those new to dog ownership it can be a minefield of social faux pas, and soon-to-be-behavioural problems.
First of all, manners maketh man – and dog. It's your job to ensure your dog is not a nuisance to anyone else, one of the common rules is that if you see another dog up ahead on a lead, recall yours and either keep him close as you pass or use your lead until you have passed.
Personal space – we all like it, dogs especially, so wherever possible, avoid walking your dog head on at another dog. If they are both on leads you could inadvertently be building the foundations for a behaviour problem. Arc around the other dog and owner with your dog on the far side of you, and move briskly, holding your dogs’ attention with an interesting voice and perhaps food rewards if necessary.
If you want your dog to play in a suitable off lead area then ask the other owner first – their dog is probably on a lead for a reason, which may just be because they are unsure whether your dog is friendly, or it could be a health problem, or because their dog is not friendly, or has a poor recall.
A walk is not the place for lengthy chats on your phone or wandering along thinking about what's for tea or the state of the economy. A walk is for your dog's mental and physical well-being and if you are boring and predictable, your dog will get bored and find his own amusement. This most commonly manifests itself as a dog that refuses to recall and instead runs off out of sight for long periods.
If you ensure that you are armed with a good toy, a pocket full of various treats, some high value, some more mundane, you are instantly more interesting to your dog.
If you alter the direction you do certain routes, if you vary the routes as much as possible, if you play games and do a spot of training in different locations each time, you make yourself even MORE interesting to your dog.
If you get involved in games of hide and seek with your dog, take to suddenly running off away from him, if you recall and put his lead on for a quick tracking session or close heelwork session and then release him to play again – you make yourself highly unpredictable and extremely rewarding.
Your dog is then unlikely to want to vanish and amuse himself and his walks will be much more fulfilling.
One of the worst habits I see dog walkers fall into is that of seeking out other off lead dogs for their dog to play with, whilst they stand around chatting with other owners.
Allowing your dog to play with other dogs from time to time is no crime, but it is almost entirely for your benefit, not your dogs. Dog play is really, dog practice – practice at hunting, practice at fighting, practice being a bully, practice herding. Some of it is fine and fun, when both parties feel the same way; if you see a pair of dogs taking it in turns to course one another, neither party looks worried and both are easily recalled to cool off, that isn’t a problem at all. But where you find one dog constantly being chased, the other dog always the chaser, where you know that play will last a few minutes before someone gets annoyed and shouts at someone else – that sort of play is not innocent and fun.
Your walk with your dog should be about you and your dog – you are the person who enables all the fun stuff and by all means, provide and allow that fun stuff, but in moderation and within certain rules. Allow play with willing parties but insist that your dog recalls back to you for a break from time to time. Spend some time walking with the dogs your dog plays with, on lead without any play to re-affirm the idea that not every encounter with another dog means wild free for all play.
The one sort of play I never allow is wrestling however – wrestling will almost always turn into bullying by one dog, and submitting from the other. It is about testing strength and finding out who is the toughest, and by the time you discover that your dog has either learned to be a bully or to grovel to every dog he meets, it's too late to stop it or easily fix it.
Teach your dog an automatic 'sit to greet' – and any dog you meet on a walk or indeed anywhere, ask them to sit for you.
If we all did this, we could really make a difference to the anti-dog brigade who particularly hate dogs who belt up to them and then jump on them, muddying up their nice clothes or knocking their children over.
Ideally every dog in the world would have a perfect recall but that’s unlikely to happen – if you teach your dog to sit in front of every single person he meets and wants attention from, then you have a second line of defence. It isn’t particularly hard to do and with the aid of a clicker you can even proof your dog against people who wave their hands in the air or squeak or do silly things!