How do You Spell Love? W-A-L-K
By Candiss DelCastillo
If bonding with your dog is important to you, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s delve, not only into the process of the structured walk, but the reason why it is the most important interaction you will ever have with your beloved canine.
As I mentioned, dogs are pack animals. The pack never separates in the wild. A wolf pack (the dog’s cousins) will migrate up to 150 miles a day for food. When dogs are walking together, they are on the same team. They are a complete unit. Thus, when you take your dog out for a structured walk, he has the same mind set: “We are a team. We are bonded. This is right for me. This works.” Note: I did not say that your are ONE with your dog. You are clearly to be his leader and he is your follower. Can you see the confidence you need to have to take on this role? It is essential to the security of his existence. This is why owning a dog causes us to grow as individuals if we are to have a successful relationship with them.
At the risk of sounding like a instruction sheet included in a box that contains an appliance that needs to be assembled, I will lay out steps for you to follow when you and your family set out for a structured walk with your dog.
If you have never done this with your dog before, don’t be surprised or discouraged if it takes the whole 30 minutes just to get him leashed up, out the door, down the front steps and out to the end of the driveway. If it does in fact take that long, and that is all the time you have to devote to it for that day, be assured that your dog has experienced a mental draining which is just as important as the physical drain he gets when he is actually walking with you. He may be quite tired from this exercise the first day or two and, even though he didn’t walk far, you may see him flop in a heap for a nap when you are done.
Every step forward is considered a reward to your dog. Don’t move him forward until he is in the appropriate frame of mind that you want him in. Affection is also a reward and your dog is innately designed to earn it. Be aware that if you reward unwanted behavior, you will be instilling in him the very thing you don’t want him to do! Now can you see why it can take 30 minutes just to get to the road?
Before I start you through these steps, I want to insert that it is essential that you use some type of slip collar or leash vs a flat buckle collar. (Harnesses, unless being used for cart pulling or hunting, are useless to both dog and owner, and give the dog the advantage over you because it rides across his brawny, strong chest. This applies for small dogs as well. Flexi -leashes allow the dog to be out in front of you where you don’t want him. In essence, they make good hockey pucks when it comes to using them for this purpose).
I won’t be giving brand name suggestions in this article, but the key here, is that the collar or leash you use must have the ability to tighten around the dogs neck and then release. I call it ‘tug and release’. It is the best way to maintain control of your dog and avoid his pulling or escaping from you during your time on the walk.
Now, let’s take our walk:
1.) The walk actually begins when you first decide it’s time to take one. Quietly and calmly go get the leash and require your dog to come to you. In a dog pack, the follower always comes to the leader. If you know that he won’t come to you, have someone else in the house calmly bring him to you. Slip it on quickly and hitch it up high on his neck, right behind his ears. This will give you the advantage, as the top of his neck is weaker than the base. Have your jacket, mitts and hat on before even going for the leash in cold weather.
Note: If your dog is not used to the leash, or you are trying a new one on him and he protests, then spend a long time acquainting him with it so he associates it with a positive experience. Treats and affection may be used, but don’t reward behavior such as growling at you or biting.
2.) Now that the collar and leash are on, just stand there for a minute and breathe deeply to calm yourself and your dog. When he is settled down, move toward the door. Once at the door, stop and repeat this calming exercise. If your dog is a willing student and already calm and submissive with you, then you won’t need to elaborate on the breathing. If you have someone with you, have them open the door and hold it open while you and Fido wait. Waiting is a tremendous mental drain for a dog and it should be done often, throughout the day with him, even if there is no reason for it at all.
3.) While the walking session is on, you should be in front of your dog. You are the one leading this expedition. This includes going out of and into the house, which you may practice a few times, as well as up an down the steps. When you get to the road stop again and wait. It is best if he is in a sit, as that is a more submissive position for him to be in. I highly recommend that your dog learn the basic obedience commands. They will not rehabilitate an unwanted behavior, but they will instill an element of respect for you that he won’t have without them.
4.) Saying ‘heel’ is optional. When you move forward, your dog is smart enough to know that it’s time to move out. A ‘let’s go’ or ‘ok’ is fine if you really need to say something. It is a matter of personal preference. Talking to your dog is fine, but the less chatter from you on the walk the better. Your dog operates on the energy you exude far more than your words. Silence is much more intimate to a dog. It’s also more therapeutic for you.
The structured walk is:
A) The one experience in which your dog is more closely bonded to you than any other.
B) It establishes your leadership over him.
C) It is also the way to drain his nervous, excessive and ultimately toxic energy which, left undrained, is a huge contributing factor to the unwanted behaviors dogs can exhibit, ranging from nuisance to destructive to dangerous.
Are you beginning to see why I put such an emphasis on this daily routine?
5.) The reason I stressed the importance of the slip leash, is to redirect your dogs attention with a quick tug and release, which will bring him to the forward direction of the ‘migration’ process you are in. This will keep him from becoming distracted, obsessed, pulling on the leash, wanting to stop and sniff etc.
6.) At the ½ way point in your walk you can let your dog roam, sniff and lift. Give him to the end of the leash if he wants that much. Only let him off of the leash to run and play if you are in an enclosed area or you are 100% certain that you can get him back. Always have at least 2 poo bags with you for obvious reasons.
7.) After 3-5 minutes it’s back on the road to find your way home, unless you have a play session planned. Approaching you house, if your dog pulls on the leash once his yard is in view, remind him that it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Slow down and keep a taught leash. Take a step and stop, then repeat all the way home if necessary. You can relax the leash when he stops pulling. This is all about establishing your leadership over him and the walk is carried out on your terms.
8.) Once you are both fully in the yard, and his leash is off, you can delve fully in as much affection and playtime as you want. Toys, tussling, snuggling etc. are fully permissible at this point. It is also a good time to practice obedience commands or behavior modification that you may be working on with your dog. His head is clear now, he is bonded to you, loyal and ready to hear what you have to say. When you enter the house, remember, you are still the first one in.
9.) For a dog, everything is an event. His primary drive (when it’s not mating season) is food. Since he has migrated with you, his pack leader, he is now ready to eat. In the wild, a dog pack would have been hunting for food, caught it, killed it and eaten it in that order. The concept doesn’t change for domesticated dogs. Walk first, then eat. The only difference is that instead of deer, or elk it’s probably going to be kibbles. Keep it healthy. It will prolong his life and reduce those vet bills.
Stir up his food with your bare hands to get your scent on it. This is yet another way to generate more dominance on your side. It’s doesn’t always have to be difficult to chalk one up for you! Have him sit and wait while you stand there with the bowl of food. Get his eye contact for approximately 5 seconds. Then simply put the food down in front of him and back away. I usually say, “Good. Eat.” In 20 minutes the dish comes back up. No all day at the smorgasbord grazing. This is an important bonding event for you and your dog, as well as an extension of the walk you have just taken together.
The structured walk, and the food event will make or break your relationship with your dog and give you and your family the position of authority that you need to attain your dog’s respect and fulfill his main primal needs.
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Last Updated: Wednesday, July 28, 2010