Mastering the Walk

Written on by Steve Del Savio

As a Dog Behaviorist, one of the questions that I am regularly asked is, "how do I get my dog to walk calmly on a leash?"  During the day when I'm out in Hoboken, I'm usually with a pack of up to 10 dogs all walking calmly on leash regardless of the countless distractions that Hoboken has to offer.  I'm constantly getting looks from people who seem to be astonished by this. It's pretty common to have people say, "I don't know how you do it" or "wow that's amazing!" I wish I could say I have magical powers but in reality it's pretty simple. The dogs see me as the Pack Leader.  Here are 7 tips to help you establish yourself as the pack leader and master the walk.

  1. The walk starts from the moment you grab the leash inside.  It's a common misconception that walking your dog begins once you are outside.  However, the moment you grab the leash is when the walk really begins.  What state of mind is your dog in when you grab the leash?  It's quite common to see people putting a leash on a dog that is in an excited state of mind.  Therefore, the dog see's the leash as something that represents excitement which in turn means that the walk represents excitement.  Take your time and always wait for your dog to be in a calm submissive state of mind before putting on the leash.
  2. Walk through the door 1st with your dog following you.  Another one I commonly see.  The door opens and the dog bolts out with the human following.  Whats the big deal right?  Well from the dog's perspective, he has already established himself as the leader of the walk and you the follower.  Have your dog sit calmly as you open the door.  Stand there with the door open and wait again for your dog to get into that calm submissive state of mind.  There's no need for a verbal command here.  Wait for eye contact then calmly and assertively walk out the dog with your dog following you. By doing this you are creating an experience where your dog is practicing a calm submissive state of mind while being in the follower position instead of the leader position.
  3. Always walk in front of your dog.  In the dog world there are 2 positions: leader and follower.  When a dog is walking in front, they see themselves as the pack leader.  It's as simple as that.  This can cause them to pull, bark, lunge, smell everything, mark constantly and pretty much do whatever they want because they feel as though they are in control.  By having your dog at your side or behind you it allows you to be seen as the pack leader who is in control of all situations that may occur while you're in the outdoor world.
  4. You decide where and when your dog can sniff around and relieve himself.  If your dog is walking calmly at your side or behind you, that is the perfect time to reward him by allowing him to relieve himself and sniff around.  Make sure that you also decide when this reward time is over.  You can do this at different points of the walk as well but remember to always keep this reward time less than the time spent focusing on walking in a calm state of mind.
  5. Be aware of your energy.  Are you in a calm assertive state of mind?  If not, your dog knows it.  As much as you may try and fool them on the outside they know what you're feeling on the inside.  If your feeling tense, nervous, fearful, anxious, frustrated, angry, etc. your dog will pick up on it.  Dog's will not follow any of these unstable emotions so it's very important to be aware of your energy.  Be honest with yourself and recognize how you feel in every situation.  By being honest with yourself, you can learn how to deal these emotions and grow as a pack leader.
  6. Set aside time for the walk.  Living in the NY Metropolitan area, it's inevitable that people are always on the go.  Unfortunately, in a dog's eyes they don't care that you have to go to work, have an appointment or going out for a night on the town.  Always make time for the dog walk.  I recommend at least 30 minutes to an hour for a morning walk.  Even if it means getting up a bit earlier, the benefits of a proper dog walk will have an overall positive effect on the relationship you have with your dog.  Be sure to monitor your dog's overall behavior to make sure his physical and mental needs are being met.
  7. End the walk just as it began.  When returning home, be sure to enter your home the same way you left.  Wait for your dog to be in a calm submissive state of mind and then enter your home 1st with your dog following you inside.  Have your dog sit and remove the leash only when he is relaxed.  This is a fantastic time to feed your dog and provide water.  This gives them an experience of having worked for their food and water instead of just getting it for nothing.


Remember to set a good example and always pick up after your dog!  Stay calm and assertive pack leaders!

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