by Robin Grossman
A dog may spend upwards to a total of 22-23 hours a day inside your home or apartment, if you don't have a doggie door. So how stir crazy would you be if you went outside for less than an hour a day? If it weren't for you, your pets would be trapped in your home. It's not like they can operate the doors, right? So when you consider this, think about what you to keep your pets happy and for my money, it's the dog walk.
I had a client who complained that their dog pulled and pulled all the time and was really stubborn on the walk. I didn't know what they were talking about because he didn't act that way with me. They were really frustrated with their dog and often would pull him hard (unfortunately he has a neck collar and not a harness). Those walks were pretty miserable for both dog owner and dog. And this is basically what I told them:
Your dog is stuck inside all day and has maybe two hours outside. He gets to make ZERO decisions while he's in your home. None. It's your home and you make the decisions. So when he's on his walk, let him choose the path. Let him investigate everything. Let him lead you by his nose, which the dog's strongest sense. This will help your dog unwind. This will recharge your dog's curiosity and a lust for a longer walk. (Now of course this all means within reason.) You are your dog's seeing eye person. You're there to keep him out of trouble; you keep him from peeing on flowers and you keep him safe from traffic and figure out what your dog enjoys on his walks. Indulge him. If he likes to pee on trees, then lead him to every tree. Even point out trees he may have missed. Let go of any frustration that he wants to pee on every tree. Just let it go. This is his time, but of course you're in charge of the length of the walk, be it 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour or longer.
To keep things moving along at a good pace, you may want to set a soft time limit on every sniff spot. Give him a few seconds and then tell him, "This way" or "Let's go." But don't pull yet. In fact, don't ever pull. Lean.
If your dog doesn't automatically follow you or even refuses to follow you -- We all have to head home sometime, amiright? -- then lean in the direction you want to go with the leash taunt, but not yanking, until your dog has to take a step in your direction. Keep doing this until you essentially force him in the direction you were both heading before he stopped; he will eventually give up fighting you because you're just heavier than him and what you say goes. This is a good time to give you a warning: absolutely make sure his harness or collar are secure. You don't want him slipping free and running off to who knows where. So give your dog the verbal cue first. If he doesn't come, give the cue again, and then lean and move in the direction you were both heading. You will win out, but he will also win because he will encounter new smells. But if you have treats, use that, but don't rely on it. Leaning reinforces the idea that you're the leader, without yanking or jerking the dog's collar.
So what happened with my client? They called me back the VERY next day after letting their dog lead the walk instead of forcing him to do the walk they wanted to do and they just couldn't believe it. He was a completely different dog. He didn't pull! He wasn't frustrating! He was happy and wanted to go on even longer walks. Why? Because now dog and dog walker are in-sync with their pupper and everything is copacetic.
I do pretty much the same thing with two dogs of different ages or sizes. One dog that pulls gets to pick the direction and the smaller dog (which usually gets pulled around by the bigger dog) gets to pick all of the pee stops. So I keep an eye on the smaller dog; any time he stops to pee, I give the command to "wait" and the bigger dog waits because he's still getting what he wants -- he wants to pick the direction. Both dogs get what they want and I get a stress-free walk.
So I'm describing a bargain you make with your pet(s). "I will let you visit every spot you want, within reason, within a time limit, but I say when we move on and I say when we head home. Okay? Okay."
But there's one more part to this deal: it's pace. Keep up with your dog. If at all possible don't make him slow down for a comfortable walk for you. Again it's his walk, not yours. He's got four legs and you got two. Dogs are always going to be faster, so up your walking speed and let your dog walk at a speed that is natural for him. This will be good for both of you. He stretches his legs and you do too. So don't dawdle. He's stuck indoors all day, so don't ruin his rare moment of outdoorsy stuff by walking slow or strolling.
And what if your dog is very fast? To get in sync with a fast dog, just watch your dog's hind legs and make sure one of your steps matches one of his hind steps and then just keep up your pace. If your dog is still too fast for you, then throw the ball for him in the backyard first to tire him out a little. Ultimately, the pace should be swift, but there should still be a loose leash as opposed to a taut leash, which is indicative of pulling.
Also notice -- if your dog stops in his tracks, he may want to turn around or go in a different direction. I've had this happen to me with many different dogs. They stop and give me a look, so I stop. But he's not giving any indication of what he wants, so I take a step in a new direction. He doesn't follow. I try another direction and he doesn't follow. Then I step in the direction he wants to go and suddenly he's trotting like he was before. This is communication. We're having a conversation here! I'm validating his choice here, which means he will continue to let me know what he wants without pulling!
So let your dog sniff and explore to his heart's content until it's time to go back inside. You and your dog will be happier and healthier for it. And please pay attention. Don't keep your face buried in a your phone. The entire walk is a communication between dog walker and dog and it's the best part of the day, yours and his. Honor your lovable pet by giving him or her your full attention for the entirety of his walk. Watch his ears to see if they pick up some alarm. Watch his gait, if he's stepped on something. Watch his whole person for unusual anxiety. He is telling you things, if you only pay attention. And remember, dog walking is something you do together and he often looks to you to confirm his choices.
Now, of course, this kind of a walk is a privilege. Bad behavior gets the leash shortened and gets a walk far away from the nice smelling bushes and trees to where there are no smells. But honestly, I don't punish for long. I see bad behavior as an opportunity to correct behavior. I give the dog plenty of opportunities to prove himself to be a better pupper, so we try again and again until he gets it right. It's means patience and correction, but not anger. Eventually he will get it.
And "getting it" is the end result of communication. All dogs want to please, so trust in that. Respect that. Honor the dog's intelligence, his choices, and interests. If your dog sees that you're interested in what he thinks and chooses, I think he will find other ways to communicate with you. This may not always work, but you will create a stronger bond together that makes sitting indoors roughly a total of 22 hours out of the day worth it!