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Walking is something we do WITH our dogs

Picture this: You and your closest friend are walking in your favorite downtown area on a beautiful fall day, taking in the sights and the sounds. You couldn’t ask for better weather, and you don’t have a care in the world. You decide to stop at one of the store windows to read a poster for a local band, and your friend yanks impatiently on your arm. “Come on, let’s go!” You’re mildly annoyed, but you were just checking something out, no big, so you keep moving right along.

 

The next time you stop they do the same thing. “Can you please just wait one second?” you say. Nope, YANK.  Next time, the SAME thing. Then, you see a poster with your favorite author on it, and you immediately put the brakes on. You NEED to read this poster! Are they coming to town?!

 

Your friend says “Come on, let’s go!” and tugs on your arm when you stop to read the poster. You plant your feet. This is important! Then they say “Seriously, hurry UP.” And pull harder. Ouuuuuch! What would you do? Put yourself in these shoes, and really imagine just how tolerant you would be of this behavior from someone you consider your closest friend. I know I wouldn’t tolerate this kind of behavior from someone, no matter how much they meant to me.

 

And yet I see this behavior ALL the time, just not between two people. I see this behavior all the time when people are out walking with their dogs. Dog stops to sniff, human keeps walking, gets to the end of the leash, and YANKS. Sometimes the dog is on a harness if they’re lucky, but many times (unfortunately), the dog is on a choke chain or prong collar.

 

In a dog’s life their walk is one of the most mentally and physically enriching activities they get. They spend an awful lot of time indoors, biding their time until we decide to interact with them again. Shouldn’t we, as owners and guardians of our dogs, respect their walks then?

 

The fact is, dogs see the world with their nose, and every time they stop to sniff, they’re learning tons about their environment. What other dogs were here before? Any other critters? Ooooh, someone had a hamburger wrapper here a few hours ago… It’s similar to how we would stop to read a sign or poster, or even how we stop to talk to our neighbors.

 

I know what some of you are thinking: “If I let my dog sniff everything they wanted to sniff for as long as they wanted to, my walks would all last five and a half hours!” And that’s fair. I’m not asking you to always let your dog fully investigate every tree they come across, but I am asking you to compromise with the canine companion you chose to bring into your home by making the walks as much about their enjoyment as it is about yours.

 

So, what can you do? Here are some tips and ideas:

 

1. PUT THE PHONE AWAY. The fact of the matter is that, in the digital age, it’s hard to unplug from our texts, emails, and facebook. But when we’re out walking our dogs, we are walking with our friends, and having  a phone in our face the entire time definitely takes away from that. It’s not really fair that we expect our dogs to stay engaged and focused on us, but we don’t reciprocate, is it? Plus, it’s probably good for you to take a break from the web (take it from someone who is addicted to the internet! It’s nice to have a long walk totally unplugged).

 

2. Give a cue to let your dog know you’re moving! It’s amazing how often we forget that we have trained our dogs to certain cues that can work in this context. Call their name, if they respond, praise them and reinforce them (if you have treats, use them! Dog trainer confession: I always have treats.) and then keep going. You can ask your dog for their recall cue, or ask for a nose target “touch!” to your hand. I don’t like overusing my dog’s recall cue, so I decided to train an entirely separate cue called “let’s go” that tells him that we’re getting ready to move. Think abou