Sunday, 1 July 2018

Training Walks

One of the main reasons owners join our classes is because their dog doesn’t come back when called and/or generally doesn’t pay much attention when outside. How can you address this?

Most owners walk their dogs to the park, let them off lead and then just let them get on with things. They feel that walking time is for the dog only and don’t initiate much interaction so the "dog can be a dog". This means that the dog will find his own entertainment and everything else around him (especially other dogs and people) will be much more interesting than their owner – and then the owner wonders why the dog isn't interested in coming back when called, especially at the end of a walk.

I don't agree that a walk is just for the dog, but for both the owner and the dog. It's time to spend together, to bond, to have fun... both of you, not just your dog!

So to change this situation and make your dog more responsive (or to set up your new puppy/dog on the right path from the start), do training walks until your dog enjoys being with you and doing stuff with you and with that is as responsive as you want him to be when you need him to be.  

My formula of a training walk is:

¼ playing
¼ training
¼ dog time
¼ resting/settling

So half the walk is spent interacting with you, some is spent resting and for some of the walk, your dog gets to do what dogs do like socialising with other dogs, people, mooch around, sniff, chase etc.

This can include tug of war, throwing and retrieving toys, chasing games (dog chasing you and/or you chasing dog), hide and seek, finding hidden toys etc... any games that include you playing and interacting with your dog. Of course the games that you chose must be fun for the dog too; it isn't very beneficial if you play chasing games with your dog if your dog hates being chased or if he can't be bothered to chase you! 
You can play with your dog just as a stand-alone activity, or you can incorporate it with your training and use it as an actual reward instead or in addition to treats. 

Doing it correctly, training is really just an extension of playing and some games and training exercises can easily be classes as both playing and training (e.g. search games). This can include any obedience exercises, tracking, doggie dancing moves etc. Making training fun is an excellent way to improve the bond with your dog and most dogs absolutely love training if done right.

I read a saying recently (unfortunately I can't quote an author as I cannot remember who it was and I cannot find it anymore) which summarises training exactly how I see it. It goes something like this: Don't incorporate playing into work, but incorporate work into playing.
So when you do training, have fun, intersperse it with playing and use playing as a reward too if your dog enjoys a good game. 

Keep training sessions short, a couple of minutes here followed by playing, and another couple of minutes there! Lots of short training sessions are more beneficial than one long one!

Dog Time
Of course dogs need enough time to do doggie things like sniffing, playing with other dogs, running, exploring... These activities are very important and allow the dog to satisfy their natural needs and instincts. So don't stop your dog from being a dog, just allocate some time during the walks for other things too.

This seems an easy and almost pointless thing to do, doesn't it... NOT SO! Even though most dogs get more than enough time to rest and settle indoors when their owners are working for example, many dogs these days don't learn anymore to switch off outdoors and therefore find it difficult and in some cases even impossible to rest and settle away from home. So it is really important to teach your dogs to do this, be it in the park, in the countryside or even in a cafe or pub. Take out a few minutes on each walk (do this in one block, unlike the other activities) to just sit down with your dog on a short lead, and let him watch the world go by. 
If your dog is not used to chill out and relax outdoors and finds it really difficult to switch off, then you need to start with just a few minutes, just long enough for him to calm down a bit, but not too long to build his frustration. By keeping the lead short you limit his ability to roam and entertain himself. Once your dog is happier with this, you can always bring a book along (or alas, use your phone) and have a little read whilst practising. Or of course you can practice this in a cafe or pub, which you may find a more appealing option.
However you practice it, DO practice it. Dogs that can't settle away from home and are constantly high on adrenalin from the moment they leave the house until they get back home again, are more difficult to control which means it will be less fun to take your dog out and about with you. 

So to summarise: 
Half of your walk should be spent interacting with you, be it training, be it playing... But do this in short spurts throughout the walk. This will also have the effect that your dog will keep a closer eye on you (and probably roam less far) and will be more responsive when you do need him back swiftly because every time you call him he will be looking forward to the next mini fun session with you. 

Once your dog is as responsive and controlled on your walks as you need him to be, you can relax this routine a little. However, your dog will always enjoy impromptu training and playing sessions, so don't forget about them. It will also keep any skills sharp and you can continuously expand on training without making it a chore. 

Walks are there to have fun TOGETHER, not to go your separate ways until you clip the lead back on. Enjoy your time with your dog and make the most of it. 

I will cover some of the training and games you can play with your dog when out an about in a later blog. 


Here's my saluki Flash just being a dog and enjoying a paddle in the local river.