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— August 14, 2012 —

Walk the Walk:
What your walking style says about the relationship between you and your dog.

Ever pass a jokester on the street while walking your dog who felt the need to ask, ‘who’s walking who’? Well, before you scoff at the guy, you need to know that there’s a little bit of truth to every joke. There’s definitely a right and a wrong way to walk your dog. You may discover a whole new side to the relationship you share with your furry best friend once you begin to take steps in the right direction.

You walk the dog, the dog doesn’t walk you.
The classic stock image of someone walking their dog shows the dog in front of the human on a lead, everyone’s happy, tails are wagging and pony tails are swinging. However, your dog should not be walking in front of you— ever. There are many reasons for this but the first and most important is that the pack leader leads the pack. If your dog is walking ahead of you, he is also alpha over you and that could potentially lead to other behavior problems, if they’re not prevalent already when at home. As you can imagine, leading the pack is a huge responsibility and it weighs heavily on a dog, causing more tension and anxiety than anything else. Daily walks are one of the most vital things you can do for your dog, and they should be productive, relaxing and a means of exercise. If you are letting your dog lead the course, pull you in different directions and choose when he’s going to stop and sniff or turn the walk around, you are being taken on a walk, not the dog! Another reason why your dog should walk in a heel at your side is that turning corners into the unknown or passing street alleyways, especially in the city of Chicago, can be extremely dangerous when your dog is the first one in sight. You don’t know if there’s another dog, a car or something else that could potentially cause harm waiting on the other end. Always walk your dog in a heel position when he’s not actively looking for his potty spot; it’s the first step to getting on the right track.

Getting out the door.
When you’re leashing up to go on a walk, call your dog over to you. Don’t chase after your dog to put on a leash or collar. A few treat rewards should fix any problems until more obedience is instilled. Retractable leashes are fundamentally unstable and not recommended for any dog of any size, EVER. They can snap, they provide constant tension pulling back on the dog’s neck and of course, this provided that they are walking in front of you, which is incorrect all together! Most importantly: NEVER ever put a pinch collar on your dog with a retractable leash connected. It defeats the purpose of the training collar and you can cause damage to your dog’s neck. Consult with a trainer on how to properly use a pinch collar, and throw your retractable in the trash (don’t donate it either; no one should be using them!)

Before you take your first step outside, make sure you’re walking out of the door first. So many dogs, especially eager, excited puppies want to bolt through the door, almost knocking you off your feet. If this is the case with your dog, make sure he sits and waits until you are ready to walk out. This may take several tries and some treat rewards, but dogs generally catch on pretty quickly. Summon your patience. Being the first to walk out of the door will set the tone for the duration of the walk so make sure you leave on a good, strong note.

Off to the races.
While walking your dog (in a heel) your leash should be slacked and loose. Many people have issues with dogs that pull relentlessly on their leads during a walk and this can be corrected easily with some adjustments to what kind of collar they’re wearing, placement of the collar and also making sure to give corrections to help them understand that pulling is unacceptable. For a dog that typically likes to lead, the first few walks in a heel are going to require some correction. If you have your dog wearing a harness, you may want to reconsider your choice. Harnesses are MADE for pulling. They give the dog a feeling of stability and strength because the harness distributes the weight of him dragging you behind him across his entire body, making it easier for him to pull you around town. There are several different kinds of ‘no pull’ harnesses on the market but none of them will enable you to correct your dog in order to teach them what you like and what you don’t like while on a walk. In fact, some of them can even potentially cause harm to your dog because of the mechanism that causes the harness to pull your dog’s gait together, potentially flipping them onto their backs like a pancake. Once you get walking, don’t praise your dog too much, you’ll snap them out of their rhythm and potentially excite them which will cause them to revert to their old ways. This is hard work and they need to focus! You will see a difference after just a single walk in your dog once you’ve returned home. Your dog will be tired and ready for a nap because not only did they have to work to earn your respect and follow your lead, but they finally got in some good exercise.

Once you start walking your dog correctly, you’re going to become so in tune with their behavior that you will start to notice other things that they may react to and do out of anxiety or habit. A great way to start altering these bad behaviors is to correct your dog when the behavior is presented. It’s not ‘mean’ to correct your dog. They can’t read our minds. They don’t know when they’re doing something wrong or inappropriate unless we tell them in that exact moment. Spanking, yelling and wagging a finger in their faces or having a human conversation with them is completely ineffective and ultimately frustrating for both parties involved. Ignoring a bad behavior, especially if it’s a dog pulling, nipping and lunging at another dog is the same thing as accepting the bag behavior. The basis for all things dog comes down to obedience. If you want to begin to get your dog on the right track, no matter what the dog’s age may be, walking properly and effectively is the perfect springboard. Get your walking shoes on and get started, it’s never too late to walk like a pro.