I get lots and lots (and lots) of questions on how to walk properly, usually focused on one aspect of a walk. “How do I get my dog to stop staring?” “Why shouldn’t he sniff everything in sight?” “Is it good or bad for dogs to meet and greet?” “I can’t get his leash on him!” and so on.
So welcome to part one of a series (which is to say, I’ll keep writing about the topic until I get bored). We’re going to look at walking and take each bit in stride (ha ha). If you’re wondering why you should bother walking your dog correctly, check out last week’s theories behind walking.
Now, the first part of our walk: Leashing the beast.
If you’re like many other people, just getting your dog prepped to go outside is an endeavor in itself. It’s often accompanied by barking, whining, leaping, and other joyous (but difficult to control) acts. The easiest way to leash your dog is if they’re SITTING. We’re going to assume the worst case scenario: that upon seeing the leash, your dog is going to LOSE HIS MIND.
First off, DO NOT encourage this behavior. Don’t say, “Want to go for a walk? Yeah?! Do you love your walks?!?! YAY WALKIES!” No. Stay calm, as if this is just no big deal. Feeding into your dog’s energy is only going to make them more manic.
Before you mention a walk, go find your dog and some treats, take your pup by the collar, and walk them to the leash. Once you get to the leash, you’re going to ask your dog to sit.
Probably by this time your dog has figured out that you’re going on a walk, and is starting to wiggle. That’s okay! Ask them to sit. If they know their sit but they’ve forgotten it, that’s no big deal. They’re thinking about other things. They ARE NOT ignoring you, refusing, or being stubborn; they’re just too excited to think straight.
Simply pull up and back (gently and steadily) on their collar. The goal here is to shift their weight from their shoulders to their hips, encouraging them to sit down. If your dog starts to back up, pull back less and up more. If they still don’t sit, put a hand on their hips and push down.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled! Probably your dog is spinning around and nearly dragging you off your feet by this time. That’s okay! Stay calm and cool. When he does sit, praise and/or give him a treat.
A note on praise: We want calm, cool praising. Excited praising will only make your dog get more excited.
Probably even before you’ve given your dog their treat, they’ve leaped back to their feet. Pull the treat back if you haven’t given it yet, pull up on the collar and push down on the hips again. It may take several minutes of doing this over and over, but your dog is going to start going, “Gee, I guess maybe we aren’t going for a walk… what was that? You want me to sit? Sure thing, boss!” STAY CALM. Your dog isn’t trying to be bad, they just aren’t thinking. The best way to break through that mania and get your dog thinking is to be calm and persistent.
If it has taken you a little while to get here, then practice sitting for a minute or two, until your dog is mentally right there with you, remembering how to sit, looking at you and sitting as soon as you ask. If they’re popping right back up, don’t worry; just ask that they sit again, and withhold the treat until they do.
When your dog is mentally with you, and sitting is no problem, grab your leash.
Here’s the downside: with a leash in one hand and treats in the other, you don’t really have any hands left for grabbing your dog’s collar and pulling up, or even restraining him as he goes “YAY WALK!” This is why you want him mentally with you a moment before. Stand calmly while he spins and loses his little mind, show him the treat, and ask him to sit. If he really can’t handle it, clip the leash on your beltloop (to free up a hand) and catch his collar again. At this point, most dogs will remember that they’re supposed to be sitting, and you clip the leash on (treat as soon as they sit, clip the leash, ask them to sit if they stood and treat again. If they didn’t stand, then treat again for remaining sitting). You might have to give your dog a moment to remember to sit and think, but once that’s done, you’re on your way!
“But Jenna!” I hear you cry. “Some of our dogs flip out at this point, and I can’t grab his collar!”
No problem! Leave. Go sit down somewhere. Pretend you’re going to watch TV. Do some dishes. Wait for him to settle down, get confused, and come see what you’re doing. (Hopefully, since you clipped the leash to your belt loop, you’re dragging it around.) Then, right there, ask him to sit, give him a treat, and catch his collar. At this point, you might have to set the treats aside — if you try and catch his collar with the treat hand then he’ll try to sniff the treats and you won’t be successful. If you catch his collar with the other hand, then you need the treat hand to get the leash! That’s okay. Set the food aside, unclip your leash (it’s like magic as your dog begins to spin again) and start once more with “Sit.” When your dog can sit while you hold the leash, it’s time to clip him up!
You now have two choices. If your dog is holding it together (ie, sitting when you ask and pull the collar up in between spins — we aren’t expecting perfection, only something better than before) then head toward the door. If your dog is still driving you crazy, then drop the leash (still attached to your dog) and go back to washing the dishes. When, in twenty minutes, your dog truly calms down and gets bored, take the leash off and hang it up. Training is done for the day! Play fetch in the yard to burn off some energy, and do the whole thing again later — as many times in a day as you can.
My dog, Cash, knows full well to sit and stay still when I pick up his leash. He sits, practically trembling, and if I turn away he leaps up to sit in front of me again. It’s hilarious.
It’s also NOISY. He’s a shepherd, and shepherds are vocal. He whines and whines and whines. It was driving me crazy! So I started leashing him up 3-4 times a day and NOT going on a walk. Within just a couple of days he was much quieter, and we started walking again. I continued leashing him up several times a day; in four days total, he’d stopped whining.
If your dog is really losing it when you leash him up, it’ll probably take you longer. But it does work! Keep at it, keep calm, have patience, and be tenacious.