It’s well established that dogs need daily exercise. It’s so important to their health, physical and mental wellbeing. Reggie gets daily walks, rain or shine, and sometimes those are stress inducing nightmares- for me, not him.
I’ve talked about Reggie and I being attacked by other dogs, the rude dog (“don’t worry she’s friendly…”), the impulse control problem, and de-sensitization to noises. All of these things assume that you and your dog can walk or have established good walking practices already and are just working out the kinks. But what about just…the basics? There are times that Reggie and I go back to basics on walks, reinforcing the good habits that we taught him when he was adopted when he seems to be getting a little sloppy.
What are those basics? What if you have never established good walking habits, or have a new puppy, or newly adopted dog? I go to my favorite animal behaviorists, Patricia McConnell, PhD, and Dr. Sophia Yin for reference.
No retractable leashes. No shock collars. This seems maybe like common sense to a lot of people, but there are also a lot of reputable trainers that use these items. Here’s the thing: dog goes over to another dog on the walk to say hi and gets a zap because you see it as a correction; he associates greeting another dog as bad and will avoid dogs for fear of getting zapped. It’s not a tool for correction, it’s negative reinforcement. As for the retractable leash, you have no control and a large dog can break (literally) the retractable. Depending on the size of your dog, a 2’-6’ lead is generally appropriate. Collars vary, as well as harnesses and halters. This will depend on your dog and level of training. Play around and see what works best. Reggie wears a Martingale collar. Because of the Greyhound in him, his head is smaller than his neck. When he has a seizure he becomes Houdini and a master escape artist and pulls out of every other kind of collar and will run away.
You know the phrase “you have to walk before you can run” right? Well your dog has to know walk exercises before he can walk. Dr. Yin addresses several foundation exercises such as getting your dog focused on you, heeling, proper speed, and rewarding. She also outlines the very basics of a proper walk in this article. Working on sit-stays and heel exercises in the house (or yard) are easy and can be done frequently, if not daily, to reinforce good habits. One of the important things addressed by Dr. Yin is keeping your dog from pulling on the leash. Reggie learned the command “back up”. We probably taught him that because we didn’t know what else to say but it worked, and now whenever he starts to pull ahead I just say “back up” and he will look back at me and either slow down or stop until his pace matches mine again and we move on.
Dogs sniff, and they will relieve themselves. However, if you are walking too slow your dog will sniff and mark everything because you allow it. If you don’t establish a pace that is correct for your dog’s breed, age, and health, you are setting and reinforcing a pattern that is not only not beneficial in terms of the walk, it is detrimental in terms of training. It is important for dogs to sniff their surroundings; this is how they learn that the female golden retriever that just had puppies lives by the evergreen- because that golden marked there. Reggie actually doesn’t relieve himself on a walk- ever. I take him out before and after the walk, and he doesn’t go on the walk. It just became the established routine- the walk is for walking, not bathroom breaks, and he seems to know this. But he always has certain areas that he must sniff!
Mental vs. Physical Exercise
Even at 6 1/2 years old (which isn’t all that old), Reggie has the spirit of a puppy. That guy loves to play ball and does not know when to quit. But I’ve noticed in the past year that he is slowing down a little. He gets a walk every day for an hour, rain or shine, and then additional play for 20-45 minutes depending on what he needs that day. He’s got gray around his muzzle now and some arthritis in his back leg, and his additional play time never goes for 45 minutes anymore. He barely makes 20 additional minutes nowadays. His play time is getting replaced with mental exercise games instead of physical play. Ms. McConnell addresses this quality of exercise issue in this article. You have to assess the exercise that is right for your dog. A Border Collie is is smart as a whip and will need something different as part of a daily routine than a high energy Dalmatian.
One last note- I found this article by Ms. McConnell that addresses one of my pet peeves, the rude dog (or really the rude owner!) syndrome. Reggie is frequently dog-dog reactive out of excitement, and I believe, leash frustration. This article is fantastic and discusses this issue as well as ways to refocus your dog’s attention on you and not the other dog. Lastly, something I never thought of, when that rude owner is yelling to you “oh he/she/they are friendly” you can always yell back “great I think Fido is almost over his Parvo” or something to that effect. Would you let your kids run up to a complete stranger while shouting to the stranger “it’s ok you look like their uncle”? Would you freak out if that stranger yelled back “oh that’s ok, my parole says I can talk to kids that are over 6 years old”. That’ll teach ‘em.