A Good Walk is Hard to Beat
There are fewer joys in life greater than a good walk; add a well behaved dog to that equation and in my opinion you have pure perfection! I have the great honor of training and walking 5 Weimaraners twice a week.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are full of exhilaration and exercise, I tell my friends I am Weimar-running or doing Weimar-obics. Although it is a job for me (thank goodness for wonderful clients who rescue dogs) it is an opportunity for me to get outside, enjoy the weather and beat some of my stress.
Last Tuesday, I headed out for my normal routine. First I work with Zach, he is a four year old rescue, and in his former life (if you can call it that) he was tied to a tree. This lack of socialization and the stimulation of watching other dogs and kids coming and going has caused Zach to be quite dog aggressive and easily over stimulated.
However, I am happy to report after a few years of training and desensitization and under the watchful eye of a veterinary behaviorist we have seen a remarkable improvement. In the respect of safety, I walk Zach alone. I also make sure he is always on a gentle leader ® and a martingale collar, this gives me ultimate control in case of an off leash dog emergency.
Many dogs in the South are “outside” dogs and have never seen the inside of a house, and often run in packs. Although we were rushed by two small dogs, Zach has learned to trust in me and give up ultimate authority to me, and I was able to keep them and him at a safe distance while providing him with mental entertainment.
After Zach, the alpha dog, gets his walk, it is time to walk the other four boys. Because we have been working and training together for so long, I am able to walk the other three or four dogs together. I have even trained for a marathon with all of them running by my side in the heel position.
It takes miraculous skill and trust (not to mention a little leash training) to run with 3 or 4 dogs that are over 100 pounds apiece. Ultimately I am able to walk or run all of them with four leashed draped over one finger. They too have learned to listen to respect, and deduce my every movement. We all really enjoy the time we spend together.
On this particular day, there was a man and his dog in the neighborhood as I rounded the corner with the boys. His dog was distracted and not use to walking around other dogs, he kept turning around, barking and growling and pulling on his leash.
My boys, were perfect, although stimulated to see another dog, they were fantastic about staying in heel position and paying attention to my every move. I perceive every occasion like this as a training opportunity, so we fell back about 50 feet and worked on our training.
I varied my pace, changed my direction, made a few circles and encouraged my dogs to pay attention to me with praise and petting.
Unfortunately, the guy in front of me quickly began to lose patience with his dog, and finally kicked his dog in the ribcage and jerked on his leash. For a moment, his dog did pay attention, but it was simply because he was terrified he would be met by the same anger.
I could see his eyes wildly dashing back and forth toward the street and then back to his owner. It was clear his dog didn’t know why he had been the recipient of such rage. In his mind, what he was doing was normal, he was entertaining himself and he was also challenging any sense of danger from a pack of unknown dogs.
I was distraught and saddened that someone would so blatantly abuse his dog however I felt it was in the best interest of the dog to fall back and change directions to alleviate the distraction we were causing.
I Tried to See the Situation from all Points of View
- To me this was a training opportunity, a chance to strengthen and polish my dog’s obedience skills.
- To my dogs it was an opportunity to challenge their minds and add excitement to our walk. The addition of a new dog meant paying more attention to me, changing directions, doing circles and changing paces. There was no time to pay attention to what the other dog was doing.
- To the other dog, who was bored with a slow walk, we provided excitement and stimulation.
- To the owner, he let himself get irritated. He probably didn’t regularly work obedience with his dog at home and he became frustrated when his dog would not listen to him.
It is fairly simple to get your dog to have good leash manners if you understand walking from his perspective. Walking in one direction at a slow pace is boring for dogs and boredom leads to looking for ways to entertain themselves.
When dogs are forced to entertain themselves, whether at home or on a walk, they often choose naughty or what we presume as naughty behavior. They bark, they growl, they lunge, they lead with their noses and sniff, they pull; these things provide mental stimulation for them.
The Key to Enjoying Your Walk Together
- You must provide entertainment for your dog’s mind.
- Vary your pace! Dogs like to walk quickly and walking at a quick pace gives less opportunity for sniffing and pulling.
- Changing your direction, throwing in turns and circles in the middle of the street also teaches your dog that he needs to be paying attention to your every move. If he has to speculate your movement and direction, he has less time to pay attention to distractions and chose those naughty behaviors plus its FUN for you both and it gives you a chance to polish your obedience.
You MUST provide your dog with mental stimulation. The Weimaraners I walk not only trust me that they will be kept safe because I am in control, they also enjoy the fact that they never know how fast or slow, which direction I might turn, if I may just turn around…they just don’t know WHAT I will do so they didn’t have time to care what that other dog was doing and most importantly they were getting praised and petted each time they made a correct choice.
Practice makes perfect! The more you work with your dog the more you will reap the benefits of your hard work and the more you can actually enjoy your time together. I truly believe there is almost nothing better than a good walk with a well behaved dog! A good walk is hard to beat!