I grew up with a Jack Russell Terrier who pulled like a demon. From start to finish, whether we walked, ran, or cycled, Mickey would be out in front pulling for all he was worth. It was frustrating, and somewhat embarrassing as Mickey choked his way (sometimes loudly) down the street, but his small size meant it became something we all put up with.
My current puppy, Wilbur, is very different. He walks like a champion beside me on his little front-attach harness, and I couldn’t be happier…until he hears something, or sees something, or smells something. Wilbur stops dead in his tracks to investigate. His ears are pricked forwards, tail relaxed, and his little nose is twitching as he sniffs the air. He is a well-socialised young puppy discovering that the world has yet more to offer. In it’s own way this is frustrating too!
Us humans, myself included, go out for a walk with a view to cover ‘x’ amount of time or distance. We’ll go for a 30 minute walk, or perhaps we want to cover our favourite 5km loop. We don’t want to stop.
Our dogs live through their senses. We take them out of their well-known house or yard, and out into the world of new sights, smells, and sounds – but we don’t want them to stop. How do we explain that to them? How does that even make sense to our dogs? “Hey dog, i want you to keep walking and not stop to sniff or pee or look. It’s called exercise, it’s fun!” ….riiiight!!
Wilbur isn’t being stubborn, he’s not trying to dictate what we do or be alpha, and he’s not being lazy. He’s being curious, inquisitive, he’s being a puppy. That goes for your dog too. Dogs don’t act for no reason, look at the whole situation and try to think what could have your dogs attention. Could you spare a moment to let him sniff? Does he actually need to go to the toilet? Can he hear something that you can’t?
So what can you do, when like me you’re standing there while you’re dog is being a dog? Reactively I want to tug on the lead and pull Wilbur along, but that’s not what a leash is for. I don’t want to tug, jerk, or pull when Wilbur is just trying to discover something new. I want walking to be a comfortable experience for Wilbur, and that isn’t what i’ll achieve by jerking on the leash. Instead i give him a moment, then encourage him forward with my voice. I reward behaviour i want to see more, like trotting along beside me. I walk proactively, sticking to the road or centre of the path where i know the scents aren’t so interesting, and i try to stay one step ahead of him – if i see a dog or person up ahead, i’ll step off the path with Wilbur and ask him to sit. This puts him in a position where i can reward him, rather than waiting until he is fixated on whatever is approaching.
Being a good leader for your dog is about being patient, setting them up for success, and rewarding good behaviours. You can’t achieve this by making your dog uncomfortable. And at the end of the day, I’m taking the dog for a walk. I wouldn’t be out there if it weren’t for him, so i do want to indulge his senses and offer him an enriching experience. Over time I can teach Wilbur that he can indulge in those fun doggy things while still in motion, or that he can take that opportunity when i release him to do so, but now while he’s a pup we will keep discovering the neighbourhood together. He’s learning more about the world, and I’m learning more about being a kind and patient dog owner and trainer!