A quiet, relaxed walk with my dog can quickly become testing if I go through a neighborhood nearby when the weather is nice. The last notable night brought out kids on scooters racing out of their garages and down the sidewalk; small yippee dogs straining on leashes; lawn mowers whirring and a sad pair of dogs straining at the edge of their electrocution fence at the front of the yard just begging for a sniff or a nip.On this evening there also was a woman pushing a stroller with two older girls in tow. As we passed by I heard a shout from across the street of something unintelligible. I turned to look and it was one of the girls jumping and pointing at us asking “Does he bite?” I replied with “He certainly will if he is frightened of you. Thank you for asking first!” and we moved on quickly before they crossed over to our side of the street. Sometimes stopping can be seen as an invitation to come over for a pet.
My dog Neko has one cue that is more often than not quite stellar especially on walks. “Leave It” means for him to not approach, not touch or bother the people, pets or things. This cue was not something he was born with knowing. We have worked on this since his puppyhood. The cue also does not stand alone when it is time for walks as it is accompanied by a few other important steps to keep our walks together polite and safe.
Depending on where we are going I may choose to use his 20 foot long line so he can have an easier time to sniff the edge of the woods and not drag me through the trees to do it. I may opt for his 6 foot leash which allows me to keep him close and quickly draw him to me if the situation necessitates it. Neko already knows that his leash should have a soft loop hanging between us when we are walking. That relaxed leash shows that he is not pulling. No slack leash – no walking. It is a simple rule that he learned a long time ago and it is a skill that we constantly refine. As he learned and demonstrated he understood that pulling equals no walks, I changed him over from a body harness to a flat collar and leash. More manners equal more freedom.
To be sure Neko’s eyes and ears are sharper than my own and will invariably find something fun before I do. Just the same it is my job to keep my eyes off of my cell phone and on the road. Scanning the environment for things like traffic, bikers and walkers approaching and other dogs loose and otherwise are all things that I look for, evaluate whether we can pass by safely or decide they are things we need to avoid.
Leave It – helping your pup to learn patience with clicker training
Begin the ‘leave it’ exercise by putting a treat in your hand. Let your pup know it is there by letting him sniff and then close up your hand. Your pup will paw and lick to get the hand to open. Look for the opportunity to click when he pulls back, turns his head, or other ways that he is showing that he gives up on trying to force your hand open. Only release the treat from your open hand when he has pulled away. Next, practice the open-hand leave it by progressively adding on a few seconds to the time he waits between the ‘click’ and the release of food from your open hand challenge. Next show him the treat (or the thing you want him to leave alone) and in a firm happy voice say “Leave It”. Close your hand. Open or close your hand as appropriate according to his treat seeking or holding back. Generalize this cue by experimenting with other items that, if he got to them, would not hurt him. Try setting items down, tossing them on the floor to land near your pup using the leave it cue. These are all ways to push the boundaries of the leave it cue as you move you way up to leaving people, things and pets alone outside.
Love walking your dog
Walks should not be just about giving your dog a chance for a wee and a poo or rudimentary exercise. Do not take for granted the physical connection of the leash between you and your pet. He stops, sits and pants, looking expectantly up into your face. Reach down and give him a soft pet or a scratch behind his ears. Let him lick your face. Look at him with soft loving eyes and be present with him for just a moment. You’ll miss these moments later on.