By Jennifer Kyzer, Master Trainer and Behavior Specialist
So, it is time to get out and about – the weather is starting to cooperate, and you and your dog need some exercise! The warmer weather motivates us to get outside with our dogs. Luckily, in Richmond, there are a lot of choices of activities, parks, festivals and more. However, your dog is leash reactive, overly excited, or pulls on leash to smell every blade of grass. If this is the case, you must first master a structured walk.
A structured walk is a walk with your dog by your side on a loose leash. This walk is for both mental and physical exercise. A walk with little to no interruptions. It simply means that you are leading your dog and they are following you. A structured walk is a key element to achieving a balanced dog. Teaching your dog requires a calm, confident demeanor and a little skill.
The structured walk starts before you even walk out the door. Putting on your coat, shoes and grabbing the keys and leash are all part of the walk. We start by creating the calm. To create a calm environment, do not ask your dog questions such as, “Want to go for a waaaalk?!” Instead make a statement – “Time for a walk,” or better yet, do not say anything. Dogs are smart enough to know that when you put your shoes on and pick up the leash, they are going. When you ask a question, you are creating unnecessary excitement and arousal. If your dog gets aroused as you pick up the leash, you are going to wait for the calm. Waiting for the calm is just that, waiting, with no verbal command or corrections, just a deep breath and waiting. While standing near the door you will face your dog and take a deep breath. You are now calm and ignoring any arousal from your dog. You may notice several different behaviors in your dog before he calms. That is because he is processing what it is that you want. As your dog calms, put on the leash. If this arouses them, again, face them and breathe deeply, again, waiting for a calmer state. The calm may take some time when you first start, but the calm will come quicker each time.
There are many methods to achieving the loose leash heel walk: long lead approach – using a long leash to change direction as your dog passes you, stop and start approach – stopping each time your dog pulls, or the lure heel – luring and treating a dog as they walk beside you. As you explore the approach that fits your style and your dog’s personality, the structured walk can be accomplished. Most dogs benefit greatly from 15-30 minute walks daily. (Younger and more active breeds may need 2 longer walks and structured play/commands/games.)
Transitioning the structured walk to different environments can be challenging. Just as you have taught your dog to sit, stay or come, you will have to practice the walk, in a variety of settings. Once you are out and about with your dog, you must become aware of your surroundings, alert to distractions, knowing your dogs’ strengths and weaknesses, confident in your abilities to react quickly and change behavior if needed. We call this becoming an advocate for your dog. Whether your dog gets over-excited to meet people, jumps on people, or is fearful or protective, aroused behavior can occur quickly and with little warning. Knowing how to deal with these behaviors can be the difference between a successful outing or an incident. Not allowing behaviors to escalate, calming aroused behaviors and displaying leadership are key components to being an advocate for your dog.
As you master the walk, you should see positive changes in your dog’s overall personality. Giving them the mental work along with the physical exercise is a key element to creating a balanced dog. A balanced dog is eager to please you, follows commands, rests when not engaged, follows the rules and does not demand attention.
Have fun mastering the walk and getting out and about to enjoy Richmond!