Walking the Dog (Part 1)
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Walking the Dog (Part 1)

Dogs
Education & Training

Taking the dog for a walk should be enjoyable and fun. After all, it's a major part of having a dog. But for some people, their dog's behaviour makes walking a misery - they dread doing it and are glad when it's over. The process of going for a walk then leads to stress for all involved - human and dog - and a vicious cycle begins as the dog's behaviour gets worse due to the human's anxiety. That's not right and it doesn't need to be this way.So, if you have problems when walking your dog, you are not alone, and the first thing is: stop doing it! But don't panic, this doesn't mean you'll never take your dog for a walk ever again and it doesn't mean you have permission to stay in and watch TV or play computer games instead. Far from it. As an alternative, spend the time you would normally waste on a miserable walk going back to some basic training, preparing to go back into the big wide world again. This might take a few days or a few weeks and missing full-length walks for this amount of time won't matter. Many people will be perturbed by the thought of not taking the dog for a full walk every day and will worry that their dog will be hyperactive or unsettled at not getting their daily exercise. This simply isn't true. Depending on how much time you want to spend on it, doing the training work below can give you plenty of exercise! And you'll be doing something positive for the future: a short-term sacrifice for long-term benefit ie for the lifetime of your dog. At all times, before you even leave the house, remember that you are the leader and the decision maker. This means that you decide when it's time to go for a walk. If you have a very set routine and your dog knows when it's walk time and starts demanding your attention when he thinks it's time to go, then it's time to break that pattern and change the routine. Start getting ready a little earlier, before he expects it, or ignore his demands until you are ready to go.We'd expect any dog to be keen and interested in going for a walk but if your dog goes really crazy as you start to get ready (putting on your shoes or coat), picking up the lead or even when you say the magic word "walk", you can desensitise him to this. Start to put your shoes or coat on, pick up the lead or say "walk" but pay no attention to your dog's reaction and go and do something else for a few minutes. This is not teasing your dog but teaching him that these triggers don't actually mean anything any more. When he sees there's no point in getting really hyped up, he won't bother. But if you continue to feed into a ritual by continuing to go ahead with the walk, you'll never break that cycle. So, carry on getting ready, stopping whenever the dog gets over-excited again and you'll find you can gradually get a bit further each time you try. When you've had enough or are running out of time, you can finish the training and have some fuss or play with your dog, some quality time together and feel like you've achieved something, however small, towards enjoyable walks in the future.The same applies when it comes to putting on the lead. You shouldn't have to catch a moving target to do this. It doesn't matter whether your dog sits or stands while you put the lead on, as long as he restrains his excitement and isn't jumping up, whirling around etc. Call your dog to you first and stop what you're doing as soon as he starts fidgeting, jumping etc. Don't say anything or look at him, just stand back and wait for him to work out what he needs to do. You might want to try a "3 strikes and you're out" approach. Stop and wait twice, then when he gets it wrong a third time, put the lead down, walk away and do something else for a few minutes, or until you're ready to try again. However, when he gets it right and lets you put the lead on calmly and smoothly, don't forget to praise him for that.Then you're ready to try going out of the door. As leader, you should go first. In a pack situation, that's the leader's job, so they can check it's safe for everyone else to follow. By letting your dog go first, you're giving him the job of leader and asking him to check that it's safe for you to go out. So this is something else that needs practise, until the movement is smooth and natural - not forced by a lot of pulling and commands to sit, wait etc. Start by opening the door a fraction. As soon as your dog moves forward, pull him back and close the door. You should be able to gradually open the door further and further each time. If you're opening the door on to a secure garden, you could do this without a lead and when the dog dashes forward out of the door, you simply close the door behind him so he's outside on his own. What you're aiming for is for your dog to automatically hang back in the doorway until you have gone through the door first.With all this preparation, it could easily be several days before you're ready to venture outside. The next challenge may be the dog pulling on the lead. This is the dog trying to lead the walk (or the "hunt" as they see it) with you just tagging along behind. Even with a small dog or a puppy, this should not be tolerated. There are numerous gadgets available to "cure" pulling but what they really do is lull you into a false sense of security that you've fixed the problem. You haven't. You may even be physically hurting your dog. And take the gadget away and you'll be back at square one. Instead of a quick fix, work on a permanent solution. Convince your dog that you are in charge of the walk and you will lead it, not him. This can be a very repetitive exercise but well worth sticking with for that permanent fix. Every time your dog starts to pull, stop and wait for him to relax again before walking the next step. Or stop and change direction by turning right or left, or stepping backwards. The emphasis here is not on pulling the dog's head around or "checking" the lead with a jerking movement. You stop first so that you avoid this. You are showing your dog that you are choosing the direction and pace of the walk. Once again, you should be looking for very gradual progress, literally one or two steps at a time to begin with. Build up the distance slowly, don't rush into going too far too soon. When your dog looks at you, looking for direction and what's happening next, praise him: he's finally focussing on you instead of charging ahead and dragging you along behind him. You can practise this in the house and in the garden before going outside, even a small space will do as you can walk in circles if necessary. It doesn't matter whether your dog walks next to you, slightly ahead or slightly behind, as long as the lead is relaxed.The key to these repetitive exercises is consistency, persistence and patience. Your dog will only learn what is expected of him if you follow through. As soon as you give up and go back to what you were doing before eg putting the lead on when your dog is jumping up, allowing him to pull etc, you will undo anything you've already achieved and prove to your dog that you're not in charge and he can just continue as before.Part 2 will look at what happens once you're outside properly: dealing with what scares or excites your dog and going off-lead.

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