The first question most trainers ask when called in to eliminate Rex’s behavior problems is, “How much exercise does he get?” The vast majority of the time, Rex isn’t getting enough to even take the edge off his “joie de vivre!” It’s much more difficult for a dog to “behave” if he’s jumping out of his skin with vim-and-vigor and mentally bored to boot! A tired dog is a good dog, but few dogs will tire themselves out. Even if Rex has the “run” of a huge fenced-in back yard, he won’t do much running around in it all by himself. Just like us, dogs need motivation; a partner to make him move.
At a minimum, most dogs need two half-hour walks daily — and that’s for the “couch potatoes!” The really active breeds like herders and hunting dogs have been bred to WORK, literally be able to RUN for hours every day, so a walk around the block really won’t do it for them. Individual dogs within the same breed have varying needs. Young dogs will need more exercise than they will when they’re senior citizens. Smart dogs require a lot of stimulation so they don’t have the energy to think of things to do for their own (and never your) amusement. Nervous or anxious dogs require the feel-good hormones that flood the body after a good workout.
In the city-and-subdivision jungles we inhabit, really the only safe way to exercise a dog — unless you have a fenced-in back yard and Rex is a fetching fiend — is to walk him on a leash. (You could send Rex to Doggie Daycare two or three days a week, or invite a different puppy pal to come over for a play-date every day.) Unfortunately, dogs living in the same household gradually play less and less and will still need walking, especially if one is an older dog!
The good news is that walking is really good for us, too — both as exercise and for those feel-good-after-a-workout-stress-relieving hormones! We all know that! The trouble is there are SO many demands on our time and the weather is not often perfect, not to mention that Rex’s leash manners leave a lot to be desired. Just like with anything else, we have to make time to walk the dog. Weather usually looks worse from inside the house – bundle up warmly with good boots and anything other than a thunderstorm really isn’t too bad once you get started. Most DOGS don’t mind bad weather a bit! Some even enjoy it! But the only way for you to truly enjoy the walk with Rex is to teach him good leash manners.
The best time to teach Rex to walk nicely on leash is when he’s a puppy. Puppies have an instinct to FOLLOW the leader (you!) and will quickly adapt to wearing a collar and having that crazy leash attached if we remain positive, and don’t scold him when he’s scared. At first, YOU let the puppy wander about and don’t pull him after you – instead call him in a chirpy, happy voice and pretend to run away. Most puppies will think it’s a game and gambol right after you! Begin early enough (at 8 weeks when most puppies are adopted) and your puppy will grow up knowing that when the leash is on, he’s supposed to follow you. HEEL and other refinements are easy to train after that.
Unfortunately, a lot of us adopt adult dogs from shelters, or have put off walking our puppy until he was in the “independent exploration” stage of development — so we now have dogs that have been practicing BAD leash manners. Pulling, biting on the leash, running around you tangling the leash, fighting the leash like a fish hooked on a line, or sitting/lying down and refusing to move are the most common problems. Also unfortunately, it’s not an easy matter to replace BAD habits with GOOD ones, or we’d all stick to our diets!
Sometimes a change of equipment can change the circumstances enough to give Rex a fresh start on the walking biz. Changing over to a harness sometimes makes a dog feel his front feet are leaving the ground when he pulls, which is enough to give him pause. For some dogs a Gentle Leader works wonders – however I caution anyone wanting to use one of these to introduce the dog to it SLOWLY with lots of praise and treats — and NEVER pull the dog around by the leash (like we do with a regular collar) when he’s wearing the head-collar! I don’t agree with using shock collars or Slip (choke) collars or Pinch (pronged) collars because they are designed to HURT the dog and I want my dog to enjoy the walk!
If you’re sufficiently well-muscled, you can hold the dog at your side by force, but that doesn’t TEACH him to do it on his own. Instead, try coaxing Rex to stay by your side by praising whenever he does and giving him a treat! If he pulls or forges ahead, TURN AROUND AND GO THE OTHER WAY! Though it may look a bit silly walking back and forth in front of your house (or in the driveway) you’re both still WALKING – it’s all exercise! Combine this with praise and treats when Rex stays by you and eventually he’ll get the idea.
The key word here is EVENTUALLY and you need to be consistent. If you give in and let Rex pull you along, that only reinforces the wrong behavior and undercuts the good-manners training you started. There’re a lot of other techniques, and hiring a professional can certainly help you and Rex! But the only way the two of you will learn to make beautiful walks together is to practice, practice, practice!