A walk does a world of good

| October 2, 2011

walking the dogI have yet to find anything that makes a dog happier or a better-behaved member of your family than exercise. If your dog is like most, there’s nothing he or she loves more than a good walk. Taking a walk expends excess energy, stimulates the brain and is a great bonding ritual between you and your dog.

Unfortunately, not every dog is a natural when it comes to behaving perfectly on a leash, and that can sabotage the experience for both of you. If your dog is a leash puller, chances are you don’t find walking enjoyable. The less enjoyable for you, the less likely you are to grab that leash, and that lack of exercise for your dog may lead to other bad behaviors.

So instead of giving up on the walk, teach your pup to walk correctly.

Training your dog to walk correctly is a pretty straightforward process, according to certified professional trainer, Allison Jamison Woosley, who owns Happy Dog Positive Reinforcement Training here in Louisville.

“To stop a dog from pulling on lead, the pulling has to stop working, which means that when your dog pulls on lead, you have to either stop or turn 180 degrees and go in the opposite direction,” Woosley said.

It’s really a two-step process. The wrong behavior takes away the reward. The right behavior brings a reward. Woosley said a pocketful of small treats will be a big help.

“When I first start training a loose-leash walk, I always set the dog up for success, which means I make sure to correctly position the dog and human so the dog is certain to get a few quick rewards,” Woosley said.

Straightforward doesn’t necessarily mean quick. If your dog has been a puller for years, it’s going to take time, practice and mostly patience to transition him or her into a good walker. In the meantime, Woosley recommends a “gentle leader” head collar to minimize a great deal of pulling.

“There is no substitute for training, but using something like the gentle leader can usually speed up the training process,” she said.

I used a gentle leader with my Labrador retriever mix, Sophie, and it made walks more fun almost instantly. The simple, light-weight device, which attaches to any standard leash, made her easy to stop. The gentle leader gives you control of your dog’s head, just like a halter does with a horse. The body tends to follow the head.

When Sophie walks calmly at my tempo, the gentle leader is slack, and in addition to being more comfortable, Sophie gets lots of praise. It took practice, though, to get those results. And please note: Your chances of success drop way down if you’re trying to train one dog while walking others. Training is best done one dog at a time.

Woosley finds that most dogs will show significant improvement with two weeks of consistent practice. She also warns that you should avoid those flexi leashes that expand and contract as the dog moves away from you.

“They actually reward pulling against tension. If the dog pulls, it’s rewarded with more freedom and room to explore,” she said.

The bottom line: Exercise is good. It’s good for your dog. It’s good for you. So don’t give up the walk just because your dog doesn’t have good leash manners. Your dog can’t train herself, so she’s counting on you.

For more on positive reinforcement training, visit www.happydogky.com.

David Loignon is the owner of Home Buddies Premier In-home Pet Care. You can reach him via email at louisvilleeast@myhomebuddies.com or online at www.myhomebuddies.com/louisvilleeast

Tags: , , ,

Category: The Pet Buddy

About the Author (Author Profile)

David Loignon
After 25 years as a journalist and television production executive I turned
my career 180 degrees and opened a pet care business; Home Buddies
Louisville. I couldn’t abandon journalism altogether though, so now I write
The Pet Buddy, a weekly column to help you improve the lives of your
four-legged family members. When I’m not hanging out with my wife Julie and
our rescued fur-kids you will find me on a bicycle racing for The
TwinSpires.com Cycling Team.

Comments are closed.