Most trainers agree that it’s important to walk your dog correctly (for a given value of “correctly” — that will differ slightly depending on the trainer and the theories they subscribe to). The reasons why vary from it relating to dog behavior to simply teaching the dog to listen and keeping them out of trouble.
I’m going to give you the theories I subscribe to. There are many others, but most of them boil down to the same result: whatever the reason, you should walk your dog correctly.
When you have a pack of dogs, you have two alpha dogs. There’s a lot of misinformation about alpha dogs; ideas that they pin each other down and roll each other over, and in general are nasty, mean, authoritarian leaders. They’re not.
Which alpha dog leads in any given situation depends on a number of factors: how comfortable they are in that situation, how confident they’re feeling, who got a better night’s sleep… (Kidding! Sort of.) Those alpha dogs have a huge responsibility: they find the food, the water, the shelter, they mediate dog fights, they protect from predators, and they decide what to do about strays. They don’t pay much attention to the other dogs; the other dogs pay attention to them, always listening for what to do next.
You’ll often hear that alpha dogs walk in front. This is partially true. Alpha dogs decide where the pack is going, but other dogs will zip up ahead to smell something interesting, or wander off briefly to do whatever they feel like doing. Alpha dogs don’t worry about it; their posture tells the other dogs, “yeah, you do that, but I’m still in charge.”
Sadly, we don’t have that posture. This is where walking comes in. Since walking in front is something alpha dogs do most of the time, and they always have the correct posture, if we walk in front all of the time but can’t have the correct posture, our dogs will still get it. They’ll listen better to us in general because we’re leading, and often become more relaxed dogs as well.
You most certainly can have a dog that walks beside you and is still an alpha dog, or still dog aggressive, or still anxious, distracted, etc. But walking beside you is a first step.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to break down a walk so you can start walking — enjoyably — with your dog. Ready? Let’s go!
…In seven days.