Walking with the Dog

People add a canine friend to their lives to enhance so many activities.  It’s all more fun with a dog!  Taking a walk with a canine companion is one of those great joys.  This is a wonderful opportunity to explore and enjoy the natural world together.  Leash walking doesn’t happen naturally for many dogs.  The over-stimulation of the world at large, certainly, impacts the ability to remain in a consistent position and maintain awareness that there is a human at the other end of the leash. 

It’s a Skill

Leash walking requires a skill set that runs counter-intuitive to the dog’s nature.  Wearing equipment, refraining from becoming engrossed in scent processing, or roaming to and fro are not likely canine preferences.  Finding a harness that inhibits pulling and provides moments to reinforce proper position is the first step.   A structured technique communicates a predictable pattern to the walking routine.  Dogs work best when there is a structure and clear cue directives from the human. Learning new skills is most productive with frequent practice that does not push the boundaries of the dog’s ability to remain engaged and focused.

Competing for Attention to Handler

The outdoor world offers our dogs countless ways to explore and become completely distracted and unmotivated by what we – as mere humans – can offer.  Make no mistake:  our dogs love us, BUT it’s very challenging to compete for their attention in the great outdoors.  They make no moral choices, because they are dogs.

The best way to compete for the dog’s attention is to pack fabulous food, and use it to reinforce behaviors we want from him.  Yes, use chicken, meatballs, steak, hot dogs, cheese, liverwurst, and other high value food. Every time your dog “checks in” by looking at you, deliver a bite.  When he is walking on a loose leash beside you, deliver a bite. 

It’s a Gradual Process

Puppies and dogs who find themselves in new environments have lots of elements to unpack.  Dogs are intelligent creatures, but they are wired in a way where learning takes more time.  Be patient.  Gradual exposure works best.  Often this begins with taking your puppy or inexperienced dog for a walk in the driveway.  Add distance segments to the walk as you observe he’s becoming more proficient with walking on the leash.  Behaviors, such as balking and backing up, suddenly sitting or lying down, and biting on the leash are a result of fear and over arousal.  Dogs can become over stimulated by walks that are too long.  Observe your dog’s distance and time frame thresholds.  Maybe you walked too close to the recycling cans.  Swing a wider berth next time and see if your dog can walk by with more confidence.


Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel  CPDT-KA, 2019  all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC