Walking our dogs should be one of the most rewarding and happy experiences for not only your dog but also yourself, it is a time to get outside away from the usual stresses of daily life to walk, breath in and enjoy nature as well as playing a key ingredient to bonding with our best friend.
But so often this, what should be an enjoyable time turns into a fear filled anxious experience for dog and owner. I can't even begin to answer all the complexities that may occur for individual experiences but if I may indulge in a few techniques and offerings of advice which may help in some way.
Bonding- To have a great relationship with our dog it essential we find a way to bond with them. Feeding time is a good experience for a dog. Regular times and the fact you are providing for your dog will build a bond, try adding in some training, such as making him wait until instructed to eat, this will increase in your dog's mind of who is the leader and someone strong to follow.
One of the highlights of our dogs day will surely be his walk, of course when you come home from work or have been in the loo for 2 minutes and he sees you again is a massive highlight but the excitement of actually getting outside to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells after being enclosed inside our houses for hours is heaven to most dogs.
The lead experience!! - Most people will relate to this, we haven't even put our trainers or boots on and our dog knows what is happening! he is conditioned to understanding exactly what is coming and the excitement levels start to peak, then the lead comes out and oh! my gosh all hell breaks loose, jumping up, barking, knocking things over as he twists and turns with pure joy and wagging of tail.
This can be alleviated by a better conditioning of training from a young age or even start now on an older dog. Try at random times putting the lead on your dog or pup and leave it on, go and make a coffee, do the washing up etc... but in that time don't in anyway engage with our dog, at first he will be hyped up as he knows what is coming, but as the hype ebbs away he will go back to a calm state, when ready(have boots & fleece on already), make no drama and no touch, speech or excitement, pick up the lead and walk out. If the excitement goes from 0 to 10 then stop close the door and start again, waiting until he is in a calm submissive state again, this may take a few goes but he will soon learn that over the top behaviour doesn't receive reward(the walk).
One of my biggest bugbears when I'm out and about doing my daily job of professional dog walker/carer is mobile phones. Yes I'm guilty too sometimes but if you see me with my phone out it is so I can photograph the dogs and animals I'm working with(99% of the time) and you can follow my instagram on walkingtall.pets but if we want to truly engage with our dogs, staring into a screen and reading boring facebook posts will not make our dogs engage with us & he will find other things to do if we aren't any fun. A dog's social media is when he reads the "pee mail" left by other dogs telling them who they are and where they have been. Try talking to your best friend next to you instead of "friends" we hardly ever see. He will love it if we play, talk, walk, run and just have a lovely one to one time with him.
"what about if i have more than one dog?" I hear you ask, so if you concentrate on the dogs, the bond will grow and grow and you as "pack leader" will have the control through that bond of love and joint respect for each other needed on a walk.
Many dogs are reactionary when they meet other dogs whilst walking, most times this is excitement to meet and greet another, as dogs are incredibly social animals.
I sometimes use a dog park in Essex to let my pack I work with socialise and build friendships with other dogs, this is a beautiful thing to observe, when they see their mates they charge in and run around together, then after the initial joy, it balances out to play, sniffing and just being in each others presence happily, then the next dog arrives and it all starts again! But many of us don't let our dogs be dogs, we like to be anthropomorphic, or humanise them. so when they go to do an essential butt sniff, we stop them, thinking, it's gross or intrusive for the other dog, which of course to us, it is! but to a dog it is needed, as their noses read so much from that encounter, the sex, breed, personality, what they have eaten, energy, friendly or not, the list goes on. so by us stopping this, we take away the bonding with the dog they have met, unbalancing the meet and greet and changing the whole situation, which can lead onto defensiveness or aggression, all because our dog has felt tension from us and communicated we shouldn't go near that one!
Often when we are lead walking, we may walk up a path and see another dog coming towards us, most paths are narrow so in our minds we are preparing for "what happens next", that slight anxiousness will instantly be felt by our dogs, to them their owner is in potential threat and over time, especially if our dog walks out in front of us, he will become the leader and feel that aggression may be the best way to see off the threat approaching. The other owner may be going through the exact same thoughts, making the whole situation of passing a tense, tight lead affair.
So what if we changed this, We see the owner and other dog approaching, we take a deep breath to calm the mind and energy starting to build up, take control of our dog, by turning him gently away from facing the incoming dog, and make ourselves the attraction with a treat or favourite toy(only give if in a calm state), to snap the mind out of the impending confrontation. Dogs don't like face to face or eye to eye confrontation, so walking towards each other brings this aggressive position into play without anyway of getting out of it, so the dog if it can't flight(run) will turn to fight.
This wouldn't be an instant fix if our dog has done this for years but one step at a time. If you walk more than one dog you could lead them away form the path greet and let the dog and owner through, so the dogs can just sniff the air to see who the dog is. Take charge though, don't let them lunge or bark, be the boss and bring them to a calm state before moving on, you will be surprised how quickly they will learn they don't have to respond this way.
As humans our biggest problem is we stop to chat with the other human leaving our dogs face to face whether they like it or not.
Socialisation is the key to a happy dog walk, if we constantly keep our dogs away through fear of what may happen, our dogs won't ever know another dog and how to behave around them. Many people with smaller dogs pick them up as a way of protecting them, but this leads to massive issues along the way, as bigger dogs won't understand and may jump up to see why the little one is up there! The small dog will eventually turn aggressive as it believes it is protecting the owner. I understand the need to do this as we love our little dogs and want to protect them, but it would be better to never get into that situation at all and turn away and walk away rather than pick up.
I know many people hate the "pack" word, but I believe it's still in our dogs DNA now as it always has been, just because we breed new looks and sizes, dogs are still dogs needing a leader in a calm balanced confident state, or they don't understand and aren't happy without leadership.
So next time we step out with our best friend, try these techniques before leaving the house and then on the walk too. Picture yourself as a great leader,my hero is Jesus, so I take a deep breath and bring the mindset of how He may be as a leader, showing guidance, love, respect and self control- that can then transfer down the lead to our dogs, they will find a calm balanced leader taking them through life, without them carrying the responsibility.
We as owners love our dogs so much we often cause the behaviour issues they develop by just not understanding they are a totally different species to us, it's a miracle dogs choose to live and tolerate our crazy ways, so in return for their devotion and trust, we must study and learn their world of behaviour, body language and how they see the world, it is our duty to them.
Remember these are only my ideas and thoughts as a blogger, seek professional help locally if you feel you have an issue.
I hope you enjoy my ramblings,if you do , please share and tell others.
until next time...