Improving walks with your dog

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Fall is upon us and hopefully it brings more frequent, longer and brisk walks with our furry best friends.  That is, of course, unless you have a bulldozer at the end of your leash! You know, the dog who is straining, choking and yacking from his collar practically decapitating himself as he pulls you to wherever he wants to go?  There is hope for fixing this situation and making your walks enjoyable rather than feeling like you just got out of the ring with a sumo wrestler.

First step is to make sure you have the proper equipment for your dog.  There are many collars and harnesses on the market to aid in training your dog to walk properly.  Head halters help control the dog by placing slight pressure on the snout, training harnesses usually put pressure across the chest and martingale collars tighten if the dog pulls and loosen up as they relax, thereby being a self-correcting collar.  Whatever you use, it is important to keep from jerking and yanking on the dog to pull him back to you. This does nothing but result in the dog trying to forge ahead even harder.  One thing you can implement is to just stop.  When the dog realizes you’re not moving forward and turns and comes back to you then move ahead.  It may take you a while to get down the block, so make sure you leave time for this exercise.  This is enough for some dogs to say “hey, everytime I pull I don’t get to go where I wanted to but when I walked nicely I got to go forward” and eventually can extinguish the pulling.  Make sure you bring the dog over to the place or object he wanted to see as a reward when he is calm and walking properly.  It’s kind of like telling your kids if they eat their broccoli, they can have some ice cream.

You can also change direction rapidly. Make an about-face, right turns, left turns or walk backwards (dogs love when you walk backwards).  Do this quickly and don’t wait for the dog – it is his job to keep up with you.  He will start to pay close attention to you and walk next to you because obviously you have lost your mind and he needs to keep and eye on you!  Keep your walk at a brisk pace especially when first starting out.  Dogs lose interest in our slow poking rapidly.  Your dog doesn’t have to be in a perfect “heel” position at your leg unless that is what you prefer.  It is perfectly acceptable for him to be a bit in front of you as long as your leash is slack and your arm is relaxed and not being pulled out of your socket. I know these maneuvers sound silly but try it for a couple of weeks and you may be surprised. Talk to your dog and be interesting so that you become more interesting than the dead squirrel in the road he wants to roll on!  Happy walking!

Maureen Henderson is a a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and a registered nurse who trains in the Tampa Bay, Florida area.  She volunteers at the SPCA TampaBay and Florida Boxer Rescue.  Maureen owns five dogs: an 11-year-old lab/chow mix, a one-year-old boxer, a four-year-old and a five-year-old old chihuahua and a four-year-old xoloitzcuintle (who just finished shooting a commercial for Kahlua!) She is the owner of Sit, Down,Stay Dog training where she does private, in-home training and behavior modification.

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