Let’s talk about how to get ready for a successful walk. I was chatting with some of my Walkin’ and Recall students and we were talking about different types of walks that we do with our dogs. For example:
a training walk we work a lot on skills and rewarding
an exercise walk to tire them out (maybe working recall, jogging, or an off leash hike)
a leisurely walk to explore new places or socialize, allowing your dog to sniff and explore at their pace. All these types of walks are important for us as well as our dogs to have a well-balanced life.
The way that we start all these walks should start the same. We have our leash, harness/collar/gentle leader and treats. No matter what type of walk we plan, we reward the dog for having all paws on the ground (instead of jumping on you), reward them for being beside you (this tells them where you like them to be), reward them for checking in with you (they will pay more attention to you if you acknowledge it when they do). Starting our walk this way gets us walking as a team and improves our relationship.
The situations listed above are examples of Positive Reinforcement. By adding (+ positive) something the dog likes (a treat) at the right time, the behaviour is reinforced (more likely to happen again). This takes some skill on the owner’s part, as you need to reward while the dog is doing the behaviour, but it pays off! Using positive reinforcement allows you to communicate clearly to your dog to tell them which behaviours you want them to do.
The more a behavior is rewarded, the more it will occur so we need to put in the time to train. Although it may be tempting to pull on the dog’s leash or say “no”, this does not tell our dogs what we want them to be doing instead.
Once you get into your walking groove, you can switch gears a bit, for example: tell them to go sniff (leisurely walk),switch to the long line or take off the leash if you are in an off leash area (exercise walk), or start asking for more advanced behaviors (training walk) Try this out on your next walk and let us know how it went!