As the owner of 4 dogs, and a behaviourist who is out and about in dog walking areas all day, I see all the common mistakes that dog owners make everywhere I go. But the one behaviour that concerns me more than anything else might not be what you expect.
Many owners, when out with their dog, disconnect from their dog – ending up with dog and dog owner on their own separate walks. The owner either is glued to their phone whilst the dog is pulling along on the lead, or the owner let’s their dog off lead – the dog runs off into the sunset, and the owner walks along slowly knowing their dog will come back eventually.
The common theme in both of the walks above is that human and dog are not walking as a pack / team / group / family (pick your own term depending on what school of thought you are in when it comes to dog psychology).
The human in this scenario is missing a golden opportunity to spend some time with their dog, and missing out on all those benefits that come from this, and are also creating bad habits in their dog.
Let’s start with the bad habits. The dog here learns that they can largely do what they want on the walk. They can talk to who they want, chase what they want – the human isn’t going to challenge anything. When your dog learns this, they end up interacting with aggressive dogs (who are on the lead, out of your way, not wanting your dog anywhere near them), jumping on the person walking through the park in white trousers, or on a chase that ends up in a road (or with an animal’s death) – none of these scenarios are ones that you should be allowing your dog to routinely get in to).
There are also legal difficulties here – your dog is never meant to be out of control, so if they are off lead and doing what they want, far away from you, then your dog is definitely not under control. And if your dog gets bitten by that aggressive dog, on the lead, covered in warnings and trying to avoid you, then that could easily be your fault from a legal point of view – not the owner of the other dog.
But when you walk with your dog, good things happen. Firstly, walking with your dog means exactly that – walking around together (on lead or off), giving your dogs instructions, and walking as a single unit. This is exactly how all pack animals walk in the wild, so this will tap directly in to the part of your dog’s brain that tells them that you are a pack. This creates a close bond with your dog – and walking together is by far the best way to create a strong bond.
Also, controlling and dictating your dog’s actions consistently reinforces the idea that you are in charge. Your dog learns to stay in your proximity, to not go off and cause the trouble above unless you say they can. Each walk is an opportunity to reinforce good habits, and your leadership, in a positive way. Training a dog is for life, not for the 10-week Puppy 101 course we teach, so use every walk to create and even more well-behaved dog.
Finally, you almost certainly got a dog to spend time with it. So don’t see the walk as a chore, see it as a time to reaffirm the friendship you have with your dog – they will enjoy the walk a lot more, and love you that little bit more too.