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Walking My Dog: What do I need to know?

Updated: May 3, 2023

Dog walking is wonderful. It can be a great enrichment outlet for your dog and it's one of the best daily activities that’ll help you and your dog form a strong bond.

Behaviour Modification:

Walking with your dog should be a fun and pleasant experience for you both no matter what. However, the reality is that not all dogs and pet parents feel this way. Particularly if you're experiencing dog reactivity, barking, lunging, or constant leash-pulling, or perhaps your walks are overall great, but you feel like your dog is coming home feeling like he needs to do more, or overstimulated and can't easily relax.

Regardless of what you're going through, the most common origin of leash walking concerns is a potential disconnect between the pet parent(s) and their dog. I believe that establishing a solid, trusting, and positive relationship and connection with your dog is the golden key to then being able to more successfully and reasonably expect them to make good decisions on walks, and in general.

Here's how you can go about establishing the type of relationship with your dog that'll help provide you both with pleasant experiences on your walks:

- Play different daily types of games indoors with your dog. Mental and physical stimulation games are the starting point to making your dog feel good, and like they just couldn't ask for anything more. Running around together, playing fetch, tug & pull games and some friendly wrestling will do the trick! And for mental enrichment, you can check out our Enrichment Ideas page.

- Now that you're forming a fun and engaging connection with your dog, go through the following steps to help them feel good about the simple idea of going for a walk with you. Yes, you read correctly. Ensuring your dog feels good about the mere thought of going for a walk with you is extremely important, a part of proper socialization, and the starting point to what will ultimately help them leave unwanted behaviours behind, replacing them with choosing to focus their attention on you!

Step #1. Make sure you're feeling good yourself! Are you in a bad or unhappy mood? Perhaps it's best to stick to some fun indoor games, and a quick bathroom break, and leave it at that for now. This is because our dogs can and will pick up on how we're feeling through our emotions and body language.

Step #2. Make sure you have the proper gear! My personal favourite walking tool that I trust the most when taking a dog for a walk is a dog walking harness, particularly a freedom harness. I find it's the most comfortable type of harness for dogs of all sizes, breeds, and demeanours. While it also eliminates any and all pressure on their neck, minimizing any risk of injury or discomfort.

Step #3. Take things slow and be as patient as you can. Your dog will be in no rush unless you are. When going for a walk there is really no clock or timer, at least not for your dog. And so it's important that you really take your time when stepping out of your home, or going through any step in your journey together, for that matter. When starting your walk, you can even try pretending like you forgot your keys or wallet and head back in, and back out, and repeat as you walk a little bit further out each time. This will encourage your dog to pay a bit more attention to you as you change directions.

Step #4. Be considerate and mindful of how your dog is feeling as well. Dogs learn by association and every step you take with your dog, it's a step that is reinforcing how your dog is feeling as a result. This means that if your dog is feeling nervous, unsure, or worried, it can be a good idea to take a few steps back, reset, and re-asses. Instead of trying to nudge, force or talk your dog into moving onward with the walk. Doing this will let your dog know that you're paying close attention to how they're feeling and not pushing them too far out of their comfort zone just yet.

As a result, your dog's trust in you will only increase with time, and encourage them to more confidently take that next step (or leap!) with you, wherever you go together.

Step #5. Be as aware and in tune with your environment as possible. Dogs react to the world around them and not everything makes 100% sense to them, no matter how obedient or well-trained a dog is. This is why you want to keep an eye not only on how your dog is feeling but also on what's going on around them. A helpful idea would be to leave your headphones at home!

For example, if your dog hears a loud motorcycle approaching and he's acting hesitant at the idea of walking in its direction, you can help your dog by taking space/walking away from it for now. And on another walk, you can tackle that particular concern by walking near a parked motorcycle to start and rewarding your dog for feeling okay near it, moving a little closer to it each time.

Try these steps, and feel free to treat dog walks as though you're introducing the concept of going for them to a brand new puppy! Doing so will allow you to take a good step back and see where your concerns with your dog lie and why so that you can further break down those situations and environments, and make them more manageable for you both.

- If you're having difficulty handling your dog, before you've even left your doorstep, chances are your dog is either feeling overly excited or aroused, under/overstimulated, or perhaps even fearful. In this case, you can take a page out of step #1 and keep the walk as short as possible.

Next, when it's no longer an immediate need to go walk, and your dog has done his business outside, an exercise you can practice is bringing out your dog's leash and/or harness back out again from the drawer, when he's feeling calm and relaxed, and just placing it on the counter nearby. You can do this often and at random times, for short periods. Doing so will get your dog's brain thinking, wondering why you're not heading out for a walk already. But the moment where they decide to settle and relax (all while you about your day), you can then provide them with a tasty treat in small pieces so you can repeat this often. This lets them know that you were just bringing out their leash, simply to associate a calm feeling to the idea of it.

- Want to work on training your dog to heel, recall, and/or overall good leash manners and obedience on walks? Awesome! The best route for that will definitely be either hiring a private trainer or joining a group class. Either way, Having practiced our ideas and methods will make it much more likely for your dog to succeed and reap all the benefits from the training program you decide upon. Just make sure that you and your dog feel 1000% comfortable with the ideas, methods, and tools your trainer presents you with.

Unfortunately, items like shock collars, prong/pinch collars, and halties are easily recommended to pet parents purely because they can provide you with 'quicker' results and get your dog to do what you want on walks. But aside of being harmful, uncomfortable for dogs to wear, and mostly taking into consideration what your wants are first, instead of the dog's needs, another problem with these products is that they don't address the root of an issue, thus making it possible for another unwanted behavioural issue to take its place. A dog that feels misunderstood, forced, stressed, and uncomfortable will need to resort to ways of coping with those feelings, and that can lead to further barking, growling, digging, lunging, fearful reactions, and even aggression.

- If you've gone through all our suggestions from this article and our others on dog walking and leash training, and you're having moments or even more so random surprises or instances on walks where you're just not sure how to help your dog behave calmly, and it feels like they're no longer listening, the best thing you can do is remain calm and take space with your dog.

What happens in the outside world is and will always be out of your control, but no matter what happens, what will remain after you experience a speedbump along your walk with your dog is their leftover feeling from it all, and you. And so our recommended go-to response to any unpredictable situation is to remain calm and sure of yourself, as you guide your dog by walking them away. I don't personally recommend using any verbal or physical cues if your dog is feeling stressed (save those for later!) but rather just use your body to move away and your dog will naturally follow, walk on, engage, and reconnect with you., Right before you bring out and present them with a nice rewarding treat, in the form of a tasty snack, your voice, and your affection.

Practice this regularly enough the above, and you will find that your dog will get closer and closer to making wonderful decisions all on their own!

Who should walk the dog? We sometimes get asked this question, and if all family members are available to walk your dog together or separately, you should be able to do so! Just make sure that you practice all options with your dog regularly. Even if you decided that your dog is mainly one house member's responsibility to feed and walk, please remember that your dog or puppy likely doesn't see things that way and that it takes a village. Ultimately the entire family will get to reap the benefits of a happy and fulfilled dog.

When should you walk your dog? Outside of potty training breaks (which don't always need to lead to long walks and vice versa) you should be able to walk your dog whenever you'd like! If you have a young, inexperienced, or sensitive dog, you might to avoid super early or really late-night walks as that's when pet parents of reactive dogs tend to prefer to take theirs for a walk to minimize the chances of running into other dogs.

Where should you walk your dog? Everywhere! Part of the fun of taking your dog for a walk is that they get to discover and take in new smells, which tells them so much about their environment. That said if your dog walks the same route each day, you're going to need to consider adding new and different destinations to your walks to further enrich your dog's experience and engagement with you.

Considering a dog walker? Whether it's one on one dog walking or group/pack walks, we strongly recommend thoroughly reviewing the pros and cons of this idea. Nowadays our day-to-day world just seems to get busier and our schedules sometimes allow us very little personal time, making it difficult to find the time, or sometimes even just the energy and desire to walk our dogs and that's okay. This is why dog walkers exist and they can help ensure that your dog still gets their daily walks and comes home happy. There are more and more alternatives such as apps and websites that will facilitate this for you.

My first suggestion is that you carefully interview the person with whom you are entrusting your dog's care. Other than your dog's physical safety, their mental well-being is something you want to closely monitor by knowing how each one of your dog's walks goes, through feedback, in order to avoid any unwanted behavioural surprises that may come from them. If you decide to get a dog walker, still do your best to find time to engage and do activities with your dog either indoors or outdoors. Even a few minutes here and there will ensure that you continue nurturing and caring for the relationship you have together.

To wrap things up, don't forget to make your dog walks fun for you and your dog! The more engaging they are, the more fulfilling and beneficial they will be for you and your dog. Even better if you try bringing toys or games with you, as well as their kibble or treats, for them to have to scavenge along the way. This can be a great way to keep their mood up and reward them for choosing to focus their attention on you, despite all the distracting things around you both!


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