Happier Walks with Our Dogs

Many dog owners daydream about taking relaxing neighborhood strolls with their dogs while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. The reality, however, is only sometimes quite what we may have imagined. Many of our dog’s paces are quicker than our own, and when we combine that with a world fraught with exciting distractions (like squirrels and other dogs), we may find the walk to be a frustrating experience! Below, we’ll discuss some of our top tips for turning your walks into an experience that is more enjoyable and reinforcing for both you and your pup.


First, ensuring you have the tools to increase your ability to succeed on the walk is crucial. Our first recommendation is a secure, comfortably fit harness for your dog, like the Blue-9 Balance Harness. This will reduce the pressure put on their throats if they do pull, making the walk physically safer for your dog. You will also need to bring along an abundance of tasty treats for your dog, which you’ll use as reinforcement for desirable behavior. These treats can range from treats you prepare yourself at home, such as boiled chicken, to high-quality freeze-dried or air-dried treats. If the increase in calories or quantity is a concern, you can subtract from their regular meals if the treats you’re using are freeze-dried or air-dried nutritionally balanced dog food, foods like Stella Chewy’s or Ziwi Peak. Be sure that your treats are cut or broken up into tiny pieces, less than the size of a pea! Your treats do not have to be large for them to be reinforcing! 


Now that your dog is prepared with his/her harness and leash, and you are prepared with treats, take your dog out on an adventure! Dogs repeat behaviors they are reinforced for, so you’ll want to watch closely for behaviors you would like to see them repeat if your dog walks several steps without pulling on the leash: excellent! Praise and offer them a treat if they turn and look at you anytime; great! Praise them and offer them a treat. If your dog notices a dog or person in the distance and is quiet or chooses to look away from them, be sure to reinforce them with a treat for that fantastic choice! Repeatedly, we’ll want to reinforce our dogs enthusiastically for making lovely decisions so that they begin to find walking on a loose leash and offering you attention is far more reinforcing than anything else. 


Remember that our primary goal is to allow our dogs to attain mental and physical exercise while out on walks. Sniffing is an incredibly normal dog behavior and the primary way our dogs gain information about their world. If your dog is making safe decisions, if they choose to sniff a tree or patch of grass, let them! It may make for a long walk where you don’t go as far, but it will be far more enriching for your dog than just flying by all the exciting smells. If you wish to decrease the amount of sniffing your dog typically partakes in, you should watch and wait for the moment your dog picks up their head from the ground, praise them, and offer them a treat. This will allow your dog to sniff, but long-term should decrease the amount of time they sniff for, as they’ll learn to look to you for reinforcement once they get a sniff in.


We’ve discussed what we can do to set our dogs up for success; now, let’s talk about what to do when things aren’t going well on your walk. If your dog becomes highly focused on something and is pulling towards it to sniff or vocalizing, we recommend you turn and walk in the opposite direction. Once they begin walking with you again, praise them and offer them several reinforcers. Some dogs struggle to take treats when out in the world or are so excitable that it feels like there is a massive distraction every 10 feet! We’ll have to be creative for dogs who are overstimulated, overwhelmed, or refusing food. One of the best places to begin practicing your leash-walking skills is in your home. Put on their harness and leash and stroll up and down your hallway or in circles around the dining room table. Proactively teaching our dogs how to play the game in quiet, low-distraction environments can be massively helpful. Once you feel ready to go outside, be sure to choose low-distraction environments, such as quiet parks where you can strategically walk far away from dogs, people, and wildlife.


Offering fun opportunities for our dogs to exercise their bodies and enrich their minds is truly one of the most enjoyable parts of our relationships. We can support them with these activities by offering increased support and reinforcement. So, fill up your pockets with treats and enjoy your next walk!


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