Recently I’ve been doing some day training with a few different client dogs (I take them on training walks minus their owner). It’s gotten me thinking about what I look for, really, when I’m walking my own dogs or any dogs- what does a good walk feel like to me and how would I define it. There are a few behaviors I look for from my canine companion and they coalesce nicely into a few distinct training games that I like to play when walking a dog.
Loose Leash Walking
Nearly any basic manners class you enroll in (including ours) will focus a significant part of the curriculum on teaching your dog not to pull on leash: teaching the dog to keep the leash slack. This is a very important skill and one that I work on extensively with clients by treating the dog for staying at their side, but it also isn’t everything. I’ve walked dogs that haven’t pulled at all and yet I’ve still felt completely invisible and like my being there was really incidental to the walk. This to me is not a good walk: loose leash walking isn’t enough, but it’s a good start.
Response to Name
The other skill that I frequently build into the beginning of walks, especially with a new dog, is a quick response to me saying their name. If I need to get the dog’s attention, I want a quick “Fido!” to be enough to make them look around at me. The last thing I want is to be faced with something strange or unpredictable coming our way and me standing there saying “Fido Fido Fido Fido”, while Fido completely disregards my existence. It’s annoying and it’s also dangerous. A quick round of “Fido!”, looks at me à click, treat solves this problem nicely and starts out our walk with a connection.
Turn Around when Pressure is Applied to the Leash
One of my biggest pet peeves is when I stop and the dog just keeps going. It tends to be uncomfortable (if you have a large dog who pulls you over!) or at least indicates to me that while I might be walking with a dog, the dog is really just walking… I work almost immediately on stopping, waiting, and when the dog finally turns around to see what the heck is going on, clicking then treating. It doesn’t take long for a little tension on the leash to cue a check-in.
I don’t actively cue the dogs to look up at me at intervals while walking, but I do like it. Just an acknowledgement that we’re both still together and that we’re “working” on a common goal: a good walk. This usually arises through training the previous two behaviors. As the dog starts to realize that I frequently reward for looking at me when cued (either by voice or leash tension), they start checking in on me if there is no cue. At that point I’ll often offer them a cookie, or a little sweet talk, or an ear scratch- depending on the dog!
It really doesn’t matter much to me if a dog is a bit in front or a bit behind me. I don’t mind if they stop and sniff and check out the world. I just find it very difficult to walk with a dog that doesn’t seem to notice I’m on the other end of the leash. These four behaviors have really emerged for me as the cornerstones of a good walk. What about you? What behaviors do you like to get from your dog while walking?