You may have heard of the joke that the dog is walking the owner and not the other way around. Although funny, it sets a standard that we are supposed to be walking the dog. It once again puts us in a position of power, a position to control the movement of a dog.
A look back in history
My parents, grandparents and generations before have all had dogs. Not a single dog was ever walked on a leash. The concept of a leash did not exist. Dogs were also free to go on a walk by themselves, whoever they wanted. Because traffic wasn’t an issue, dogs were free to walk and were able to navigate the pathways, people, other dogs and vehicles with ease.
This was probably the golden generation in dog’s timeline. Easy food access and plenty of freedom. And then came urbanisation. It wasn’t just the buildings that were rising but so was our population. Rapid urbanisation has seen an increase in new businesses that were established on land which was earlier unoccupied.
Buildings, vehicles and population all started growing at a fast rate. To some extent, street dogs are managing to adapt to this change. We still see plenty of street dogs in crowded places, perfectly navigating traffic and waiting outside meat shops for their meals. However, the same cannot be said about our pet dogs.
As apartments became the norm of living, dogs became restricted to four walls. They could no longer go for a walk whenever they wanted. They became depended on their humans for basic movement. There are still some dogs we see who walk on their own, but that is a rare sight and now deemed as irresponsible ownership.
So now here we have a dog, who for thousands of years was free to move, is now restricted to a few metres of freedom on a leash. And yet we expect them to be calm, relaxed and walk right besides us.
What can we do to help?
We have change our perspective when it comes to the dog’s walks. Firstly, the walk is for the dog. So let’s try to make the walk good for her from her perspective. To understand what is good for her, we should know more about what happens during a walk.
What does a dog do on a walk?
Walks are not just about peeing and pooping. That is just one part of it. During a walk, a dog gets to see, hear and smell so many different things.
A dog can see movement better than humans. A small insect on the road can appear stationary to us but your dog knows it is moving. Certain movements can also trigger your dog’s hunting instinct and cause her to move faster towards it.
Dogs can hear sounds which we cannot. For example, dogs can hear bats. So when you’re walking, a dog is getting a lot more information which we have no clue about. Your dog is processing and reacting to it if necessary.
Almost everyone who knows a little about dogs knows that their sense of smell is amazing. For everyone other drug smugglers, sniffing is a boon! When utilised positively, sniffing can help a dog calm down and understand more about their environment.
Some dogs do not get any time with other dogs to play. Play is a crucial part of their well-being. So when a dog who lives without other dogs, the only time she gets to meet other dogs is on a walk. If she is friends with the other dog, it is likely that she wants to play with her. This isn’t always possible on a busy street so we tend to discourage her and pull her back. What does this cause? Frustration.
Dogs are curious by nature. Sometimes they want to just be still and observe. For us it might seem like they’re doing nothing. But for them, they are having a great time just looking at different things.
The factors that influence a dog’s walks
As stated before, using equipment for walking a dog is a relatively new concept. For thousands of years dogs walked free. So when we use equipment we have to be mindful about what we are using.
As a golden rule of walking, a well-fitted harness and a long leash are necessary for the dog’s wellbeing. A long leash gives your dog more freedom to explore, sniff and move. She can change directions and follow different smells as she pleases. When she is free, the walk will automatically be calm and there would be no need for her to pull.
A collar can cause damage to your dog’s throat. If it keeps happening, the dog starts getting nervous about walks.
For example, let’s think of 15 month Indie dog Mike. He lives in an apartment and goes for a walk twice a day. The problem stated was that Mike is aggressive of other dogs when on a walk. When he meets dogs off-leash at the ground, he is very polite and playful.
Instead of branding Mike to be aggressive, we need to look at it from his perspective. Mike’s natural environment is outdoors. If he gets to be there for only one hour in a day, he is bound to be excited to go out. When he sees another dog, he tries to pull to go meet the dog. But because Mike is on a collar, the jerk causes pain. This keeps happening over and over again until the pattern is so firmly set that seeing a dog is going to cause pain. Isn’t that such a terrible sight to witness. A simple switch to the right harness would have cause no pain. He would have still been frustrated to not get to meet the dog, but there are kinder solutions for that.
A walk on a collar is a risky affair and it can have a long lasting impact on the health and behaviour of your dog.
For a good walk you need just two things
Long leash (3+ metres)
Mike associating the sight of another dog is just one of the many patterns they make during a walk. A lot of pulling complaints are also because of patterns which the dog has learnt. If we move when the dog pulls, the dog learns that pulling is a good technique to make you move.
Patterns are also created based on the movements in your neighbourhood which leads our dogs to form associations with traffic, people, other animals, etc. It is our job to create positive patterns so that the walk is not stressful for our pup.
The environment also plays a key role in your dog’s walks.
Where is the walk taking place?
Is there a lot of traffic?
Are there many people?
Is there any nature?
To give a simple example, my dog’s walk on the hill is far different than his walk on the street. It wouldn’t take a genius to guess which walk is better.
All this is great, but what do I do when my dog pulls?
The information above is not for a canine manual but for us to be more mindful about our dog walking activities. For us it might be a simple stroll but there are a lot of factors that impact your dog.
To break the pattern of your dog pulling, stop the walk if he pulls.
During the walk wait for your dog to finish sniffing whatever he is sniffing - car tyres, plants, stones, etc. Even if it takes 10 minutes at the same spot it is fine. Sniffing helps dogs calm down and have a relaxed walk.
Give more freedom by having a long leash. If your dog is on a short leash, he is unable to explore different things on the walk. We should give him the freedom to do that. A long leash can be easily shortened when there are a lot of vehicles and the distance can be increased whenever possible.
Teaching your dog to heel is counterproductive because on a heel command walk, your dog will not sniff and instead keep looking up expecting a reward. We want the dog to look ahead and see the world and not look at us. We are really quite obsessed with ourselves where we want the dog to look at us all the time. We know how important vision is for dogs. Asking them to look at us instead of observing is a cruel thing to force upon them.
For in-person or online guidance, we are always a call away. You can book a session below or reach out on 9049056193.
Recommended readings: My Dog Pulls. What Do I do? By Turid Rugaas.