"How do I make my dog stay next to me?"
"Should I allow my dog to walk ahead of me? Or will he think he's in charge?"
"How do I make my dog listen to me around other dogs?!"
I spend a LOT of time fielding questions like these, and I totally get it! Loose leash walking is one of those elusive behaviors that most people really struggle to teach; with the added complication of myths around this particular behavior (i.e. your dog can't walk ahead of you or they'll think they're the alpha, your dog shouldn't be allowed to sniff, etc. etc.) it makes it even tougher to teach! But have you ever spent any time thinking about the rules YOU should abide by?
I like to say that polite leash walking is like a dance (I'm sure that's not an original thought and I read it somewhere, so thank you to whoever first came up with that!). Sure, your dog should be able to focus on you some, but there should be a little give and take. You can't possibly expect your dog to stay focused on you 100%of the time if you aren't doing the same! And so I've come up with the "Rules for Walking Your Dog: HUMAN Edition"!
1) Thou shalt PUT THE PHONE AWAY
One of my big rules for myself and my dogs is that the phone stays home when we go for a walk. If I'm going somewhere new and need the phone for safety, I keep my phone in my pocket but do not look at it. I don't talk on the phone, or listen to podcasts or music. We are a totally technologically addicted society; I am guilty of this as well. However the walk should be time for you and your dog to bond and connect. Expecting your dog to walk politely next to you while you stare like a zombie at your phone screen is completely unfair, and if you want your dogs to pay attention to you, YOU should do the same.
2) Thou shalt always bring food on walks
This one throws a lot of my clients for a loop, but I'm a pretty firm believer in ALWAYS bringing food on walks. This way, you always have something to reinforce your dog with for making good choices. It's basic behavioral science that when we reinforce a behavior the behavior strengthens or at least maintains it's current frequency; there is no good reason NOT to reinforce the stuff we like! Think of treats as being on the same level of importance as poop bags; most responsible dog owners wouldn't leave the house without poop bags, and they'd even go back to the house to get them if they did forget! Treats should be the same. Keep the treats near your leash as a reminder (or if you use treats that aren't shelf stable keep a post it near the leash as a reminder!) The other day I was wondering, was the first person who suggested bringing poop bags on walks to pick up dog waste looked at as a crazy person? I would imagine so. I can't wait for bringing treats on walks to be the rule, rather than the exception!
3) Thou shalt allow sniffing
Look, I'm gonna be frank here. For most dogs walking is THE MOST exciting part of their day. Most of our companion dogs are expected to lay around all day, not get into trouble, and wait patiently for their walks. Fortunately for us our dogs are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active during dawn and dusk and fit in well with our everyday lives! They are happy to be active in the morning and evening and sleep during most of our work days. But we should be aware of the fact that if walks are our dog's main enrichment, it's THEIR time, not ours. Sniffing is hugely important to our dogs;