“The Walk” – The two Ends of the Leash
Once you have worked with your dog to get it used to wearing a collar and practice to walk loosely on a leash, it is time to start communicating through the physical bond which connects you. The goal of this lesson is to teach your dog to accept your leadership during training walks, so that it can fully relax, is trusting and respecting you to lead the Pack safely, even your Pack consists only of you and your beloved fluffy friend.
Every dog possesses an individual personality and a unique temperament, which defines its overall character and is not entirely breed specific. While some dogs are the happy and funny kind of guys, who just love to follow you around, others see their role in your relationship as all knowing boss, determined to proof that it is the master of the leash and certainly not you.
Giving in and allowing your dog to treat you just as the other obedient end of the leash and allow your canine overlord to take full control won’t neither do you good nor your dog. If a dog decides to become the alpha over you, it’s a clear sign that it doesn’t trust you to be a good leader of your little Pack. Thus your dog had to launch a coup and resumed power, which means that not only you are not any longer in control of your dog nor of your life decisions, but also that your dog has taken up the stressful position of ruling 24/7 as an alpha and can therefore never remain in a balanced state of mind when being near you. A recipe for disaster!
Utilising the leash during training walks is an ideal tool to define and if necessary recalibrate the balance of power within your dog-human relationship. The leash is the connection between you and your dog and a means of non-verbal communication between each other. Before even putting your dog on the leash, please observe yourself if you are in a balanced, calm, yet assertive state of mind. Don’t think about yesterday’s disastrous walk when your dog suddenly took off, chasing the squirrel and dragging you behind it. Clear your mind and get mentally prepared without thoughts or fear what your dog might be up to on today’s walk.
Superman and Wonder Woman!
Stand up firm with your shoulders straight and take a few deep breaths. Every time you breath in, remind yourself that you are nothing other than a super hero, full of infinite power, completely in control of the whole interstellar universe without the slightest trace of hesitation nor fear inside you. “If you can’t make it yet, then just fake it!” until it becomes your natural habitude when interacting with dogs.
When I taught young children to lead dogs more than double their weight, I always tell them that now they are turning into a Cowboy, Superman or Naruto and have all the power in the world to make the dog on the leash follow their lead. Every kid succeeded in the end!
Dogs are masters in reading body language and have the ability to perceive directly the energy your body is constantly radiating.
For a dog it doesn’t matter if it walks on your left or right side, but its important that you choose your preferable side and stick to it, consistency is the key! Hold your leash in a relaxed, yet secure way, so that even if your dog is overwhelmed by its natural instincts to chase a rabbit down the rabbit-hole, you don’t headbutt into the ground and find yourself thinking you are now in Alice’s Wonderland.
Start walking with your head held high and your look relaxed but focussed on the way ahead, similar like you are driving a vehicle. Don’t stare at the ground and don’t look at your dog! In a dogs world, staring at a dog, even its yours is not polite but moreover it will distract your dog from the perfect walk.
Be relaxed and enjoy one hour of quality time ahead with your best friend, now it’s time to let go of all the problems you had to face during the day, all your worries and bad feelings. Now you and your dog are all that counts in this world and the time you spend together is precious. Allow yourself to just be in the moment and observe your dog on the other end of the leash: your dog is your mirror.
Walk in a steady pace. Ideally the leash should be hanging loose between your dog walking on either your left or right just a short distance away from you. Both of you should walk with the same speed, which is very difficult for many dogs, as they naturally tend to walk faster than humans.
If you expect that instantly the perfect dog walk is gonna happen, trust me, it won’t. Dogs usually like to pull ahead without the slightest concern that you are holding the other end of the leash. Dogs want to test you out if you are leadership material, so it will try to drag you along with it. Then there are other dogs who for whatever reason are hesitant to walk beside you and slowly troll behind you, stopping every few steps and sabotage sniff for an eternity on every blade of grass.
Some even just sitting down and no matter how much you could pull on the leash refuse to walk another step. In that case, always observe your dogs behaviour and try to find out a possible reason why your dog refuses to walk. Maybe because your dog is in pain? Maybe it feels that a thunderstorm is coming soon or it smells something dangerous lurking around the corner.
Whose the Master of the Leash?
If your dog behaves like it is the Master of the Leash, it’s advisable to communicate very clearly with your best friend that it’s not how things are going to work out between you two.
Immediately stop the walk and remind yourself of your Superhero status and the magic power of assertive calmness. Shorten the leash by wrapping it a few times around your hand without putting too much pressure on the leash until the dog is right beside you.
Don’t interact with your dog, don’t touch it, don’t look at it, don’t speak with it and definitely no scolding. Stopping a super exciting walk is already quite some punishment for your dog and shouting at it never, ever works. It might take time for some dogs to calm down as they are too excited, so just wait until it calms down, then with confidence give a command and not a polite request to signal the dog to resume the walk: “Let’s go!”
What happens in most cases is that your dog will immediately pull the leash very hard again into pole position, as it has not yet understood that the previous sudden stop was connected with it trying to win the race. So give your dog another chance to learn and evolve until it finally has this little a-ha! experience, understanding that if it pulls, the fun-walk stop. “Good Boy!”
So whenever your dog pulls ahead, all you do is to halt the walk immediately. Lead your dog back into position right beside your heels and off you both go again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
When you walk, often take sudden turns to the left or right, stop randomly, alter the speed of your steps, run if you feel like it, then slowly circle a tree. Make the walk exciting for you and your dog, explore new paths and enjoy every moment of your quality time together.
Training a dog to walk at ease beside you is a huge exercise in patience for both of you. While some dogs get the drill after a few walks with you, others take weeks and still no walk is picture perfect. Don’t expect that your dog is a robot and once it has learned to walk beside you, it will never ever lounge ahead if the notorious squirrel tempts it from a nearby tree or yours dog arch enemy walks around the corner.
It takes time for you and your dog to establish this balance of power and become a team in perfect sync. But when this moment finally happens, it is truly magical! You and your dog simultaneously become one, both perceive this immense strong unity of unconditional love, trust and respect which binds you so close together. Words are not enough to describe this fantastic experience. Your dogs knows!
In that moment, observe your dog, its mouth is open in a totally relaxed way, it walks in a steady, beautiful and attentive pace, is enjoying every moment of your walk together. In this moment your dog trusts your leadership completely, it trusts you that you know the way and know what you are doing, so it can allow itself to enter this magical state of balance, which is so essential, so healing for the well being for both of you.
The walk ends, your guidance lives on
Once you are back home safely back, make sure you enter through the door first to „claim the territory of the inside of your house“ in a dogs mind. Have your dog wait patiently while you take off your shoes and then only remove his leash.
Now say enthusiastically thanks to your dog by cuddling it, praise it with lots of „Well done” and “Good boy” even your walk was less than perfect. It’s always the last emotional impression which is the lasting and most important one for changing the behaviour of your dog. Always remember, your dog did the best it could do under the circumstances and even your walk was not the best you ever had, accept that your dog also might have had a bad day. Tomorrow is a new day and a new chance to learn and evolve together.
Give your dog some time to wind down and recover its strengths, then serve a nutritious and healthy meal, allowing your dog to understand that it had to „work“ in order to receive a delicious meal as reward. Tonight your dog will dream of the adventurous journey you both shared this afternoon.