Walking the Dog (Part 2)

Walking the Dog (Part 2)

The outside world is an exciting or even scary place for a dog. All the things we take for granted can be a complete mystery to them: cars, bikes, other dogs, cats, joggers, horses - to name just a few. Any of these can lead a dog to react by barking, pulling, jumping up or refusing to move. Everyone believes their dog loves going for walks and hopefully, most of them do because it's a fun experience. But if your dog does show any of the reactions listed, then this may well be a sign that he is really quite anxious about being outside. Look for excessive panting too. If it can't be explained by the dog being very hot or physically tired, it may be a sign of stress. He shouldn't be panting when walking at normal pace over a reasonable distance in moderate temperature.If you have done your preparations at home first as described in Walking The Dog (Part 1) your dog should be ready to trust that you are in charge, will make all the decisions and protect "the pack" when outside too. Your confidence, or lack of it, will be recognised by your dog and will determine how well or how badly the walk will go. So you will decide where you will go, what the rules are while you're out and when it's time to go home again. This means you need to be ready for anything and be prepared to be flexible so that you can change your planned route if circumstances require. Be on the lookout for potential problems and pay attention to what's going on around you - which you can't do if you're concentrating on something else eg talking on the phone or listening to music. And if you've worked hard at getting ready to go out calmly, don't spoil it by letting your dog pull you when you get outside. Keep up the stopping, starting and changing direction every time the dog starts to pull. Similarly, if your dog jumps up or bites at the lead, pay no attention (ie no speaking or eye contact) until he stops then move on. And having practised going out of the door before the dog, the same applies outside with gates, narrow spaces and corners: you go first to check it's safe.If your dog reacts to any of the triggers listed above (or anything else), don't make him confront them in order to overcome the fear. What this does is confirm to your dog that a) his reaction causes the threat to eventually go away and b) he's protecting the pack, not you. In any animal, fear or stress causes the hormone adrenaline to flow around the body and this creates 3 possible responses: flight, freeze, fight. So how does this work when walking your dog and he sees/hears/smells something he's not sure about? His first choice should be flight, ie get away from it. But if he's on a lead and you're taking him towards this "threat" that removes the flight option. His second choice would be freeze. But again, if you're continuing to walk your dog towards this possible threat, that's not an option for him either. Therefore, he's only left with fight and so the lunging, growling, barking etc starts. So before it gets to that stage, use the option that he would choose for himself and walk calmly but purposefully away from whatever it is. If your dog tries to protest, don't tell him off or reassure him with baby talk, but keep walking and either say nothing or just say something like "come on, let's go" in a calm, matter-of-fact voice. This shows your dog that you're not bothered about this thing and your decision is to simply walk away. It also breaks the cycle of your dog believing he has to bark, lunge etc to make the threat go away as he'll start to realise it goes anyway. If space is limited, and you have nowhere to flee to, use freeze by moving away from the oncoming threat, putting yourself between it and your dog, preferably with your dog facing away from it (particularly important with other dogs to avoid direct eye contact between them) and wait until they've gone before moving on. If possible, distract your dog with treats or a toy. This acts as a reward for not reacting to the threat and also allows time for the threat to pass without your dog having to go through his usual repertoire. By the time he looks for it again, it's already gone. At all times, your calm reactions will be of enormous help to your dog and these situations will get easier to deal with each time.Letting your dog off lead also requires preparation and a gradual build-up. We all do recall training when we first get a dog, especially at training classes - but then what? It's probably happened to everyone at some point - the dog is off lead and runs off where he shouldn't, possibly towards danger, and you hope that your shouting and yelling will bring him back. Think of the now famous YouTube clip of Benton chasing deer and his panic-stricken owner going after him - disaster. The key is not to let it get to this stage. Don't abandon recall practise but keep at it all the time, make a game out of it - at home, in the garden, with the lead and without, and in different situations - so that your dog responds no matter what's going on around him. And remember the golden rules:

  • Always sound inviting but calm. If you sound panicked or angry this will not entice your dog to come back and may be interpreted as "go on, get it, kill it".
  • Don't go after your dog while calling. This confirms that you are following him in this chase that he's started. You might as well be calling: "wait for me, I'm coming".
  • Stay still or move in the opposite direction as you call so he realises you are getting further away.
  • If you really do need to go and get your dog, don't call out as you go.
  • When you do catch up with your dog, don't tell him off. It's already too late for that. If he has eventually come back to you, praise him for that so he is encouraged to do it again. If you tell him off for what he was doing before, he won't realise that but will think he's being punished for the last thing he did, which was come to you.
  • Always reward your dog for returning - with praise at the very least. Extra fuss and treats are optional or could be reserved for extra-fast returns eg without stopping for a sniff on the way. Holding out a treat as a lure for your dog to come to shouldn't be routine (what happens if you haven't got a treat handy?) but might be useful in a real emergency. However, don't be surprised if your dog is too distracted to be tempted by treats.
  • If your dog is making a habit of running off, go back to basics.

A retractable lead or long "tracking" lead might be a useful alternative when you're not ready to let your dog off the lead or in a place that you're not sure about. You can continue your recall practise from a distance but with the option of reeling the dog in if he's not responding. However, do use long leads safely - in wide open spaces and with a lead that's strong enough for your dog's size. Keep the lead short when next to the road, when there are other people and dogs around, or when you can't see what's ahead eg around corners. If something goes wrong and your dog decides to go after something or suddenly change direction, you need to be close enough to keep control.Do the groundwork and make sure all your walks are happy, fun and safe!

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