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Posted on 01-26-2017

January has been deemed ‘Walk Your Dog’ month. Even though it’s cold outside, it is still important to provide your dog the mental and physical exercise needed to remain your well-behaved buddy. Of course there are a few fun things you can do inside with your pet, but to truly fulfill their wild desires, a trip outside is the best prescription.

Why Walk if I Can Run?!

People often feel that to adequately exercise a dog, it has to be a vigorous 10-mile run or bike ride. As someone who HATES to run with a passion, I would like to suggest that a controlled walk at a moderate pace for a reasonable distance is the perfect type of exercise for a pent up pooch. Even if you only have 10 minutes to go walking, it is infinitely better than zero minutes I assure you! Of course, if you or your pet are trying to work off some extra winter pounds, a bit more physical exertion may be necessary.

What Do You Mean By a Controlled Walk?

Maybe your aversion to walking your dog has nothing to do with the cold, but rather an aversion to being dragged down the sidewalk by an enthusiastic blur of fur. You may even feel that your pup is better suited to run the Iditarod and clearly doesn’t know what the word ‘walk’ means.

When it comes to walking Brutus, it took us a solid three years to be able to claim him as ‘bullet proof’. As an 85(ish) pound Pyrenees/border collie mix, he is very capable of dragging me to his preferred location. I can proudly say that, under supervision, my 18-month old daughter has successfully been able to walk him with no problems. This situation is possible for ANY dog, but it takes time, patience, education, and more than likely some outside help from a trainer.

Walking Basics

For dogs that are only slightly challenging, there are a few adjustments to your routine that will help make walking more enjoyable.

First, begin every walk in a calm state of mind for both you and your dog. Grabbing their leash and asking, “Do you wanna go for a walk?!?!” in an enthusiastic way communicates to your dog that it is time to be enthusiastic. Eventually, they will start associating their leash with excitement even before you’ve said anything. Try waiting to put the leash on your dog until they are completely calm. Don’t start this exercise if you have somewhere to be, it could take a while!

Here is what calm looks like:

  • Ears in a neutral position
  • Soft eyes, not darting or wide
  • Body is still, but not tense
  • Quiet, no whining or barking

Second, don’t allow your dog to exit through the front door first. Dogs are pack animals. The leader of the pack always goes first and decides where the pack is going to next. That should be you. If your dog insists on pushing in front of you or walking ahead, just stop and require them to sit next to you before moving forward. Do this as much as needed and eventually they’ll get the message that they don’t get to go anywhere fun unless they are going with you.

If this is all new to your dog, just taking the time to start calmly and leave the house calmly can be a major mental exercise! This is why it isn’t necessary to run a marathon every day, just make it a learning experience. When children first start kindergarten, it is exhausting for them because they are learning rules and new skills. The same goes for your dog.

At this point in the walk if you are experiencing extreme difficulties such as aggression, over-excitement or aversion to walking, I recommend seeking professional help. In our blog, “Making Your Dog’s Trip to the Vet a Breeze” I have listed several trainers in or around the Sugar House area. Kung Fu Canine in the Tooele area is also an excellent resource.

Third, remember to reward your dog once they are walking calmly next to you for a good portion of the walk. I don’t allow Brutus to sniff around or walk in the grass until we have established a good rhythm and I no longer have to remind him to walk next to me. At that point, he gets to sniff around and have some freedom as his reward for following.

Start and end your walks with calm structure and leadership. It’s okay to have fun in the middle, as long as you start and end the walk calmly and in control. I have found that Brutus will start to get naughty in the house when he doesn’t have his structured walk (and since he is a little overweight right now, we try to go about 1.5 – 2 miles per day).

For more information about walking your dog, Western States K-9 College provides a service called Walk and Train where a trainer takes your dog for a 30-minute walk during the day when you are away.

I also like the article 6 Tips for Mastering the Walk. Check it out!

**The advice on this blog reflects the opinion of one veterinary technician who is not a dog trainer, please contact a trainer for more comprehensive training if needed**

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