Tips & Tricks: Walking
Today let’s talk walking. Spring is in the air and many of us are getting back outside. One of my favorite outdoor activities is a Go Sniff Walk with my dogs. This is what you see everyday pet parents do as they walk with their canine companions on a leash up and down the street, the human enjoying the exercise and the dog thriving on the smells. Just like it is for you, getting out and about for your puppy while walking is much more than just obtaining exercise and fresh air, it does wondrous things for his overall health and happiness, as well as assisting to substantiate his exposure to life all around him for socialization purposes.
Moreover, it is not much more than attaching a leash to your dog, walking wherever your heart desires and appreciating all the sights and sounds that come your way. For this type of walk, a 15 foot leash is really nice because it allows your dog freedom to sniff and take in the world around him. I practice recalls using a come or touch cue (I like to mix it up) to encourage my dog to check in with me often and eliminate pulling. This type of walk is so rewarding, much more relaxing and I highly recommend it. Do follow the basic walking rule of never following a pulling puppy though! Rules still apply.
Whether you use a six foot leash or 15 foot leash, you can practice recalls, attention by saying your puppy’s name, and check-ins (whenever your puppy comes to your side, give him a treat.) By defining and rewarding a reward zone, your puppy will want to walk next to you or at least check in with you every few minutes for that treat! This is the behavior we like so be sure to reward it!
The Heel Walk is more technical than a regular walk. This walk is when your canine companion is walking not only directly by your side as before, but also focuses his full and complete attention on you throughout the duration of this portion of the walk. This walk is otherwise known as a "HEEL." I think of HEEL as a position more than anything else. I want my dog on my left side directly behind my heel parallel to me. As you can likely imagine, looking at you while walking perfectly at your side - not in front of or behind you, takes a lot of concentration and commitment on your puppy’s part. In fact, it can be both mentally and physically exhausting for him and therefore is why the Heel Walk is ONLY RECOMMENDED for short distances.
Impressive to observe when done correctly, much like what you may have seen on TV during a dog show, the Heel Walk can be so helpful to you under the right circumstances and will require a lot of time, patience, practice and persistence to get it right, but don't worry, it is well worth the effort in the end!
In the middle of these two types of walk is an Attention Walk. I use a six-foot leash and my dog remains in the “kitchen area” next to my left leg. They don’t need to constantly look at me and they may go slightly ahead or slightly behind at times but they do know where I am and keep themselves in good position to me. They match my speed when I go faster or slower and are quick to change directions with me.
This type of leash walking starts inside my home with a puppy around 11 weeks of age. I teach the puppy to follow me off leash, then we work on following on leash. We practice in and around furniture before taking it outside to my yard with added distractions. Initial sessions are spent around home building up the basic skills of leash walking while I wait for vaccinations to be completed.
Many people get a puppy and think taking it on a walk is the best thing for them. Recognize your puppy does not yet have leash walking skills and walking through a park is something we’ll need to work up to. This takes time and lots of patience so go at a pace that works for you and your dog. Set a goal to make small achievements weekly and before you know it the consistency pays off! A nice loose leash walk is a wonderful activity to do together so long as you AND your dog enjoy it. It is NOT the only way to exercise your dog so if your dog would prefer to play fetch and that is more enjoyable to you, go for it!
NOTE: Speak with your vet on what is recommended in your area and wait to do these types of walks out in public until cleared with them.
Amy (of Baxter & Bella)