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Walking the [Structured] Walk: Tips for the most important time of a dog's day

· Training,Behavior,Podcast

The walk is the true conversation that you're having with your dog every single day.

It's the most important part of your their day, period. It's not even feed time nor is it cuddle time. Walking your dog is the conversation that sets leadership. It's the conversation that communicates you as the advocate for the dogs environment.

Remember, I'm not a big guy on you know the whole super-Caesar-Macho-Alpha-dominant blah blah blah. First of all, don't alpha role your dogs. Second, I’m a strong believer in being your dog's advocate. It's such a simple format. What this does is it reduces your dog's decision making, and by reducing that decision making on the walk, psychologically you are telling the dog, “Hey, I'm in charge. I'm gonna go ahead and make the decisions. You don't have to stress.”

I'll tell you one thing. If somebody took me on a structured walk and said, “Hey Jonas, you don't need to stress or make any decisions. I got this, and I'm gonna make the right decision for you,” I would probably pay them.

Let them sniff at YOUR leisure

The ideal walk- Utilizing a 45-minute walk each day in a structured, heel format. No sniffing. No marking unless you deem it. Every. Single. Day.

That's what I want you to be for your dog. The advocate that comes through with structure. An example of you in control of that decision making is through a dog’s sniffing and marking habits. Simply, don’t let them do it unless you allow it.

If you look at dogs running in a pack no dog, or rather no pack, will stop for a dog that's decided to sniff. That dog gets left behind. So think about it from a standpoint of the dog. If the dog makes the decision to start sniffing a very important smell and you acquiesce to that behavior, you've officially told your dog, “Okay, I'm following you.”

Now that doesn't mean not to let your dog sniff or mark on a walk. Holy shit. Don't misconstrue that. However, it does mean that you designate the sniff spot. Here are some tips:

  • They don't even need to be the same sniff spots every time.

  • You can stop at different, grassy areas, fire hydrants, whatever cliche area you'd like to let your dog sniff or hike a leg

  • Regardless of where, use a ‘release’ command to let your dog know it’s ok to pause and explore

My release command is normally a concise “okay,” which means that my dogs know that they can walk freely, get some sniff time, get some pee and poop time... and it's very beneficial for both parties here. You get a break from walking and your dog gets to enjoy their environment. And whenever you're ready to resume the walk, you just start again and make sure they're in a structured format (no leash tension or at a heel).

Note: Listen to the episode to hear how to help correct a dog’s behavior when they’re reactive to any stimulus on a walk with positive reinforcement

Cardio is cheaper than therapy

On a personal note, I suffer from strong anxiety unless I train myself in the consistently in the gym. So why would dogs be any different if you truly think about the psychological benefits of the walk? This structured time with your canine leads to a point of mental clarity. This means that reinforced behavior is more likely to stick and make a stronger impact in your environment.

We as humans have exercise programs that are catered towards specific goals like muscle gain, fat loss, weight gain, or maintenance. In that same vein, I like to prescribe trainings for correcting unwanted behavior (goals) instead of SSRI drugs for canines, like so many veterinarians and behaviorists do nowadays.

One of my friends Kat Atkins summed it up live on the show. She said, “My fave is when people say they can't take their dogs running because they're crazy. No, bitch. Your dog is crazy because you don't take them running.”

That’s pretty close to the truth, except that you don't necessarily have to take the dogs running (it's definitely a bonus), but you for sure exercise them with a structured, balanced framework.

Balanced training is designed to eliminate behaviors. I'm going to give you the secret right now:

  1. Loose-leash walking

  2. Place command

  3. A solid, off-leash recall

If you have that framework down, you shouldn't have any behavioral issues on a walk or otherwise. 

How amazing is that training a dog should have an endgame, a goal.It shouldn't just be a shoot-from-the-hip, general blanket approach. Tricks like hey your dog sits, your dog lays down, etc. don’t mean that you have an obedient dog. You should always work to yield results regarding behavioral changes in your dog’s environment versus creating the trick machine who doesn’t come when you use a recall command.

Walk the Structured Walk

Canines call for training programs geared towards their physical and psychological needs just like us bipeds. If I don't train, I have anxiety. If the dog doesn't train, the dog has anxiety. A 45-minute structured walk is plenty of training each day to reassert yourself as the advocate for the dog and his environment. 

Overall, a program for your dog that’s geared towards an end result regarding behavioral changes is crucial for the canine. It's pretty amazing how it works, right? Not really. It just seems to be common sense. Follow your common sense.  

This has been an excerpt from Heroly's Canine Club podcast brought to you by Jonas Black, our canine behavior modification specialist. You can listen to the full episode on iTunesPodbean, Spotify, Stitcher, and more.

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