Honestly, I think I could just leave this blog post at those two words. Those two words bring fear, anger, anxiety and frustration into the hearts of dog owners everywhere. Why? Because this is the HARDEST thing in the world for dogs to learn.
Don't get me wrong, other behaviors are hard, but this one goes against every natural instinct your dogs have. Dogs want to explore the world, not be tethered to a slow walking human. They want to run and sniff and play and learn.
And we tell them they can't do that.
But--What if we let them?
(Pause for effect)
And what if I told you I don't make my dogs walk at my side all the time during walks.
(Oh the shock, the horror, the madness!)
Okay. Now that we are over that, let me explain.
Both of my dogs have great leash walking manners. They have good position. They have good focus and they have no tension on the leash. They were taught early on how to do it. Why? Because it creates a well mannered dog who can go out in public and not knock everything off shelves. And because I didn't need my arm ripped out of my socket. And because for Gracie, as a therapy dog, it is imperative she can walk nicely on a leash through crowded places.
I spend a lot of time teaching and talking about leash walking in class. We talk about methods, harnesses that can help us gain control (like the Balance and the Freedom) and how to make walking loose lead SUPER reinforcing. One of my favorite methods of leash walking is the 300 Peck method that reinforces a dog for each good step he makes. We want being near you with the leash slack to be the most awesome place in the world. We find what motivates the dog, use it to our advantage and when it clicks, it is awesome to see.
When I first started working with dogs, I believed that a dog right by my leg without moving ahead or sniffing or exploring was the only way to walk. They weren't allowed to sniff unless given the go ahead. They weren't allowed to be even the slightest bit ahead of me.
It wasn't until I started realizing I wasn't enjoying our walks that made me think maybe they weren't either. And it was hurting my relationship with my dogs. I was frustrated. They were frustrated. And something wasn't working.
So I let up a little. I gave them a little more leeway. I let them trot ahead. I let them sniff. I let them pee on everything. We stopped to smell the flowers (or whatever scent the previous dogs left.) We strolled along. And something amazing happened--they were perfect. They never pulled. They were having fun.
And so was I.
Now when we go for a normal walk, my dogs routinely trot a little ahead, sniff things, pee on things and they check in with me when we are walking. They don't surge ahead. They don't pull me down. They are often ahead of me, sniffing, trotting along and checking out the world. And if asked, they return to my side without an issue. And they are happy and tired at the end of a walk. I am, too.
Why? Because they were getting more stimulation than just a simple walk. Garmin in particular has benefited from this new "sniffy" walk structure. Or lack of structure.
Once your dogs understand leash walking behavior and that leash slack pays off, you can actually start to give the dog a little leeway in where they need to be. But they have to REALLY understand the expectation (no tension on the leash) before you can give them a little freedom. Freedom doesn't mean pulling you down the street. Freedom simply means freedom to explore on walks. By doing so, you aren't letting them control you or the walk. You aren't giving in to their demands--you are letting your dog be a dog.
If you have questions about leash walking or any of the methods or equipment I mentioned, let me know. I will be glad to help you and your dogs enjoy your walks.
Until then, happy training! (and happy dogs)