Thursday, October 17, 2013

Establishing a Positive Walk with Your Dog

Walking a dog should be a fun event for both the dog and their handler.  Many of us visually witness inspirational examples of dogs walking well.  Whether it is on T.V. where shows such as Cesar Milan’s “The Dog Whisperer” transforms the most wily dogs to obedient angels or even in our own observations where a dog is walking perfectly next to their owner alongside a busy street, these examples brings about a desire to replicate the same kind of success with our own dogs. Unfortunately, many exasperated dog owners experience just the opposite.  Constant pulling, lunging, and barking (to name a few) can turn our own walk into an eventual nightmare. This oftentimes results in allowing the misbehavior to continue, or abandoning the walk altogether. Although it seems hopeless, it is certainly possible to redirect your dog’s on-leash behavior into a very pleasant experience for both of you.

There is a sea of information available on the subject of on-leash walking.  Various tips and techniques can be just as overwhelming as the problem behavior itself.  Therefore, rather than add to the technique file, I would rather take a different approach by providing you with the less talked about elements to taking a dog for a walk.  This brief list of insights will only aid in your training efforts and serves to give you a better understanding of the learning process in which all dogs go through.  Things to bear in mind when incorporating a routine are:


1.      Carefully choose the method of obedience training to follow and stick to it.

            Conduct research and talk to peers that have attained success with their own dogs about training styles that best fit their belief system with regard to effective teaching.  I would encourage everyone to put themselves in their dog’s paws in seeking the most influential method using their past experiences in deciding what method works best.  You may narrow your search by knowing that there are two types of training: A training method that primarily employs the use of punishment for when a dog misbehaves or a method that consistently rewards dogs for when they do what you want them to.  These methods are most commonly referred to as “Traditional” and “Positive Reinforcement”, respectively.  Whatever you decide, it is always best to commit to the chosen method to avoid any confusion.  Dogs learn best when there is an element of consistency to their training routine.

2.     Practice the techniques and add distractions as the behavior improves.

            I am often asked, “how many times a day should I work with my dog?”  The answer to this question depends on the dog and how well they incorporate what was learned into their routine.  A handler should also consider location and types of distractions present when teaching proper technique.  Most   behaviorists initially recommend several brief sessions and the least amount of distractions. With regard to how many sessions one can do in a day, think in terms of our ability in acquiring a new language.  A person can learn a great deal by spending a lot of time on the subject if he commits himself to it on a daily basis, whereas if one decides to study only once a week, the result in learning takes a much longer time.  Therefore, it is quite common that most dog trainers recommend incorporating multiple sessions throughout the day.

3.     As your dog advances in his leash walking ability, do a reconnaissance of your newly intended route if it is outside of your immediate environment.

            Careful planning is a must when you have determined that both you and your  dog are ready to make that leap beyond your home environment.  Unless you are familiar with the area that you intend to take your dog to, be sure to do a thorough check for the prevalence of other dogs, traffic flow, and type of environment.  These factors can contribute to the success or frustration  that most handlers often experience.

4.     During your walks, avoid all distractions that take your attention away from the dog.

            Exposing a dog to the novelties that the outside has to offer marks an exciting time for both of you.  The dog’s impression of the new environment can either cause fear or fun depending on how much a handler pays attention to both their dog and cues of the environment.  In a few of my past experiences working with a client’s dog, I can’t help but notice the number of people absorbed in their mobile devices while walking their dogs.  More often than not, the dogs are often pulling or barking at my client and everything else that comes within sight.  I often point out the lack of attention from the owner as a behavior that was created out of the offending handlers inattention of their dog’s activities.  Therefore, paying attention is always key in shaping the behavior and response that you want to obtain from your dog.

5.      It is important to go into the training session being as confident as you can be.

            Being a pillar for your dog to lean on during what they perceive as scary times is a state of mind that most handlers have to develop.  In addition, realizing that you are the source to your dog’s comfort when faced with things that can elicit fear should prompt most dog handlers to be the strength that their dog can draw positive feedback from.  Therefore, it is critical that handlers keep their own fears in check and provide the confidence that the dog needs to help him through his reaction.  Developing a loose leash walking protocol and being as relaxed as one can be can easily be practiced at an environment allowing the least amount of distractions.

There is much to prepare for when it comes to teaching your dog to walk well.  One can certainly attain the success that he desires by not only developing an effective technique, but by being mindful of the dog’s present skills to the distractions that you choose to set before your dog.  Through successive training in a variety of environments, you will be able to develop an understanding of the causes to your dog’s fears and how to effectively deal with issues as they develop.  As your dog becomes more and more confident working in a placid environment, you will certainly want to add more challenges and locations to expand both your horizons.  Therefore it is always best to seek out challenging yet safe areas so that you may continue in your journey.  However, it is important to know that these areas will be challenging at first.  By paying close attention to any areas of your dog’s concern and maintaining a positive demeanor during your walk, you will certainly be able to increase the level of confidence and attention that you desire.    

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