by Hope Saidel
If you don’t speak dog, that translates to “Do you want to go out?”
It’s a phrase that every dog knows, every dog owner says, and is followed (generally speaking) by jumping for joy, wriggling with glee, and barking with boundless energy.
Keeping the subsequent time as much fun is usually more difficult. Most dogs are familiar with two kinds of “going out.” There’s going out to “do your business,” which is its own art form and a subject for another day. The other is more fun, time-consuming, and depending on the dog, stressful in itself.
Every dog, regardless of age, size, breed or temperament can learn to walk nicely with her person. It does take some patience, some time, and a willingness to be more stubborn than your dog. If you refuse to be pulled along, eventually your dog will stop trying. Like toddlers who constantly test their boundaries, dogs will always try for a mile when they get an inch.
When you’re teaching your dog to walk with you, don’t count on getting anywhere. This is just a short exercise, not a way to get your fitness walk done for the day. You’ll need about 10 minutes, a pocketful of treats for your dog, and a six-foot leash. Make the treats tiny – you’ll be giving a lot of them. Your dog should be wearing a flat collar or harness. You should be wearing comfortable shoes that give you excellent traction – this is not the time for clogs!
Put your dog’s leash on and head outside. Talk to your dog constantly – you’ll feel funny about it at first, especially if you live in a busy neighborhood, but you’ll get over it. At least if you have a dog with you, people assume you’re not talking to yourself.
Set out with a “Stay with me!” or “Watch me!” – very positive and happy. If you’re the most interesting thing around, your dog will pay more attention. Being the most interesting thing is easy if your dog is food-motivated.
As soon as your dog looks at you – give him a treat. Just for looking at you. It won’t take long for Fido to figure out what a good thing he’s got going.
Start walking at your normal pace. As soon as the leash tightens as your dog pulls away from you – STOP! Don’t say anything, don’t tug on the leash, just stand still. As soon as your dog looks at you (trying to figure out what the heck’s going on), give her a treat! Say “Good Watch!.” When the leash is no longer taut – continue walking, even if it’s only one more step. When the leash tightens, stop. When the dog looks at you – give him a treat!
Be sure your dog comes to you to get the cookie. This way we make sure the dog knows being with you is wonderful, the leash loosens up, and you have some slack to start walking again. Be prepared to stand there for a while – it takes some dogs time to figure out what you want, and how to get what they want!
Eventually even the most stubborn dog will figure out that being with you gets her what she wants – a nice long walk and cookies! As your dog learns the exercise, space out the treats randomly. Dogs are eternal optimists and will always hope a treat is forthcoming. As long as they get one sometimes, they’ll hope forever.
Hope Saidel is the co-owner of GollyGear.com, a bricks-and-mortar and online small dog shop featuring fun, affordable and practical products for small dogs. She has trained and competed in Obedience with small dogs for over a decade and is President of the North Shore Dog Training Club.