While I’m writing on an article about body language, I thought I’ll start this blog off with something “more easy” – or at least something I see a lot of people struggle with. Yes, something as basic as walking the leash.
Once you master the walk you’ll have noticed a positive change in your dog’s behavior. Troubled dogs really benefit from this, since the walk is one of the strongest forms of bonding – leading to a lifelong connection.
It’s also a very important form of exercise (and a lot of behavioral trouble with dogs originates from nervous energy and from being confined to a small enclosed area for too long).
You should start training your puppy to walk with you as soon as he comes home with you. You’re imprinting an important routine into your puppy’s brain – that this is how one works for food and water. Keep in mind that wolves as well as wild dogs always moves in pack. Walking with their alpha and the pack is imprinted in their genes. It’s natural and an important part of their socialization.
Lovec was almost 14 weeks when I got him from the kennel Od Úhoště in The Czech Republic. On our way home we stopped for the night in Leipzig and he pretty much got the idea the first time we walked the streets outside the hotel. Now, as with all puppies, you can’t expect a perfect side-by-side or just behind you position for the entire walk. A puppy will easily get distracted by anything new or anything that is moving. Since Lovec knows I’m his pack master (leader), he will not walk off or run when he sees something that catches his interest. He will however look at it. And where the nose points, the body follows. So yes, a puppy will stray off course a little when he gets distracted. If the stray is too intense, it’s easily corrected with a mild pull of the leash – preferable in the direction that get his head to point forward again. The important thing is that the dog or puppy doesn’t pull or walk in front of you (which makes him the leader).
Also, if he starts to track (looking at the ground), simply pull the leash gently upwards to redirect his attention – or you could simply walk at a faster pace, which forces him to focus on where he’s going. And remember, when you walk, it’s a walk and nothing else. Tracking and playing can be a reward once the dog or puppy has walked for a certain amount of time without major interruptions. That’s the way I did it with Lovec. Since a wolfdog is an exceptional tracker, I walked him for five to ten minutes and then took a five minutes break where he was allowed to take the lead and track. This reward was given by a simple command – so he understood that we we’re about to do something else for a while.
From my experiences, these are the most important steps for a good walk:
- You should always be the first one out the door and the first to return back inside. The first one out takes the position as the leader of the walk. The first one in claims the space as his own. If your dog is the first in any of these situations, it will cause behavior problems down the line. My Lovec always stays by the door waiting for my command to either step outside or come inside. After the walk I can leave him outside the door with it opened while I take off my shoes and jacket. Then I ask him to come inside and I take off the leash. This is a strong signal that you’re the leader and also the master of the living area.
- Always walk your dog or puppy beside or behind you. Never let him pull you from the front (that is dominance and a sign that the dog is the leader and is taking charge of the walk) and never let him pull out to the side.
In the beginning when you start practicing the walk and your puppy get distracted, just stop and get his attention, then start again. You can use a treat, a scented toy or a chewing stick to redirect their nose and to get their attention. As he gets older, a mild pull on the leash should suffice.
- Keep your chest and head up. Don’t slouch when you walk. You’re the leader, so show it! Your dog is always observing you – taking cues from your body language. Also, focus your eyes ahead to where you want to go. Don’t look down or look at your dog or puppy. Making eye contact can be interpreted as a sign for the dog to take charge or to play. I make eye contact if I need to make a major correction and then it’s a part of showing dominance (who is boss) accompanied with a strong body language. Lovec can be way too excited when he meet other dogs as he wants to greet and play. That can be bad depending on the other dog, so he needs to be conditioned to approach with submissive energy. And that training has to start early. Also, I make eye contact with him when it’s time for a break and reward (play or tracking).
- Try to keep the tension on the leash as relaxed as possible. Imagine that you’re carrying a briefcase or a purse. Also, it doesn’t matter what side you walk your dog on. Conventional schools teach to keep your dog on the left. That’s just bullocks. You can teach your dog to be on your right as well as on your left or do both whenever you want. I usually walk Lovec on my right, but I switch depending on the terrain and situation. He has no problem walking nicely on both sides. With that said, always start training with one side until your puppy has the walk down cold.
- For puppies, as they need to be trained to be house broken, you can practice the walk for five to ten minutes every time you go outside to let him pee. In the beginning, I went outside six times a day with Lovec. After a few weeks I could reduce it to five or even four times if the weather was really bad. Since puppies grow very fast, don’t walk them for too long as this will stress their bones and growing ligaments. Keep the walks within ten minutes and add in some time to play. And for puppies with short legs and/or a short attention span, 10 minutes are more than enough. Also remember that small puppies has a built-in limit to how far from home it’s all right to wander. This will expand as he grows, but don’t push it.
For adult dogs, I recommend a minimum of at least two longer walks a day (30 to 60 minutes per walk, depending on the size of the dog). And then some time for play and training on top of that. If you’re stressed for time – use a backpack or a weight west when you walk your dog, as it will drain their energy a lot quicker.
Even if you keep your dogs in a big size pen and let them run around most of the day, you should still make time for walking with your dog/s. As mentioned earlier, it’s really important for building that lifelong connection with your dog/s.
If you can’t walk your dog for at least two times a day, you should – in all honesty – not be a dog owner.
- The best leash to use is in my experience a short and simple one. The most important thing is that it’s comfortable. If you want a longer leash for tracking, simply wind it a few times around your wrist and hand while walking – or change leash when it’s time to track.
The collar should be close to the puppy’s or dog’s head to allow better control if or when a correction is needed. This is really important if your dog tends to pull, since a collar low on his neck will give him tremendous power. In these cases a choke chain can be a viable option. But you should never have to use one if you start practicing the walk early.
Now, I know that some people will be hung up on that a puppy’s immune system is not fully developed until they’ve had their third round of shots at around sixteen weeks. That might be true, but the psychological development of your puppy is much more important. You simply have to keep an eye on him and not let him eat other animal’s poo or playing with other dogs or puppies that are sick. From a psychological and behavioral standpoint, keeping a puppy confined inside a house or limiting his ability to exercise is not only cruel, but a sure receipt for disaster and behavioral problems.
A puppy grows and develops fast. Just imagine how it would be if you kept a human child locked indoors until he was a teenager. What kind of person would he become? Would he know how to interact with the outside world and other people? Probably not. So do not do that to your puppy!
If you’re not sure you can control your puppy or keep it safe, simply practice the walk in your yard, on your driveway, on your sidewalk or any limited space outside your home that you know well and that is clean (or easily can be cleaned). Also make sure that your puppy interacts with other dogs and animals that are healthy and mentally stable from as a young age as possible.
When I walk with Lovec and we see someone struggling to keep their dog in check or someone who is getting pulled by their dog, we avoid them at all costs. They obviously has no idea what they’re doing and their dog is clearly dominant and does as it pleases – and that is not a good example for my puppy. Dogs that takes the lead and pull on the leach often see themselves as alphas and the protector of the pack. Their owner is simply one of his pack members. Dogs like these can be very protective and will surely show aggression towards other dogs. So yeah, avoid them!
On the other hand, if we see someone who has mastered the walk and their dog is calm and happy, we approach and I ask if the dogs can greet one another. In situations like these, the dogs should approach from the side or from the back. This will usually be the case without you having to lead, since it’s the normal way balanced dogs approach each other. Only aggressive dogs or dogs playing goes head to head (if your dog approaches an aggressive dog from the front so they are head to head and makes eye contact, it can lead to a fight – so be careful).
To keep this from getting in to a full length article I will round it off here. Please remember that these are my opinions based on my experiences with dogs during a span of more than 30 years. It’s your right to disagree and I won’ be offended.
If you have questions, please post them below. If you have tips and stories from your own walks, please share them by leaving a comment. As the article grows older, the best comments will be re-posted as its own article – so don’t forget to post your full name and/or website if you want to be credited.
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