Anybody who has struggled with a reactive dog will tell you the hell it is walking your dog on a sidewalk. So when I was working to solve both of my dog’s leash aggression issues, I started abandoning sidewalks all together.
“But Wait!” you say. “If not on a sidewalk, where do I walk my dogs??”
I’m glad you asked!
See, sidewalks pose a few fundamental problems that I can promise you aren’t taken into account. More importantly, there’s better options available for your walk with your dog that make success in solving “walking issues” significantly easier and even stack the odds in your favor.
Sidewalks put a lot of social pressure on dogs who either are not well socially adjusted (aggressive, anxious or timid) but more importantly, most humans can’t control their dogs. In my quest to solve both of my dogs on leash issues, I quickly realized that people with happy go luck dogs didn’t’ have the same idea in mind that I did when it came to giving space. In fact, a large majority of pet dog owners still think it’s acceptable to let their “friendly dog” go up and put its nose in the face of anybody who is sharing that sidewalk with them. This has proven funny in a few instances with Rocky, who now deals with this the same way he would off leash–a stern bark to say “back off”. But back in the day when he was 60lbs of leash aggression it was not so funny.
So where do we walk our dogs?
It’s not just where, it’s how. I’m going to give you a strategy that I have employed that works well for both the intent to FIX your on leash problems, but also functions well as a management strategy for the time being.
The first thing you need is a 20 foot long line and a dynamic collar of some kind: a slip collar, chain collar or martingale is preferred. The 20 foot line is not a retractable flexi-lead but a 20 foot nylon leash. This is important for two main reasons:
1. The dog can feel the difference between pressure when he’s out of bounds and a release of that pressure when he’s in bounds. We are applying a passive release in pressure to educate the dog where we want him to be. 20 Feet will feel annoying, but your dog will quickly learn that 19 feet is comfy and will learn to modulate himself.
2. A lack of tension on the leash does less to tell the dog WHERE you are and therefore makes him more likely to keep tabs on you, especially if he gets RUN happy and decides to try and bolt, at which point he’ll be introduced to his limits.
Hold the VERY END of the leash. This means the loop at the end. Again, two reasons:
1. EVERY dog owner who’s dog is a little crazy when given freedom will unconsciously (or completely consciously), remove that freedom to fit their need for control. So they’ll slowly ravel up the line until, wouldn’t you know it, Fido is on a tense, tight 4 foot line again.
2. We as humans all have bad days and our primate urge tells us to use our hands to take our frustration out on things. On a short leash, this typically means being a little to “jerk happy” with our disobedient dog. Holding the leash this way eliminates your ability to take that frustration out on your dog.
Find a green space
A green space is an open space of grass. Many sports fields make great green spaces for you and your dog to explore. Why grass? It’s rich in scents and interesting things for your dog to sniff and explore. This provides him some much needed mental stimulation. This is a good thing. We WANT him adventuring and exploring things because the more he gets the chance to do this, the less novel the world becomes. Novelty is a big thing in dog training. I can tell which children have dogs and which ones don’t when I bring Rocky into a daycare or classroom. The ones who have dogs may not be as respectful as I’d like them to be, but they’re less excited as a rule. This is the same thing we want from this exercise.
So what do I do if there’s another dog?
Because your dog has so much space around you, and there’s so much room from the other dog, the likelihood that your dog will react will be drastically reduced right out of the gate. That being said, if your dog starts to focus or fixate on the other dog to much you have two main options (again):
1. Attempt to bring him back to you by means of redirection. This means calling his name, kiss noises, snapping fingers, patting legs. What makes these successful is your attitude and demeanor while you’re doing them. If you’re trying to “verbally” force your dog back to you, this will likely fail. Most people who say “I’ve tried that” when I tell them to do this are doing it wrong. They are demanding the dog break attention and come back, they aren’t working to be more interesting or engaging nor are they making themselves attractive.
2. Turn 180 degrees away from the distraction and briskly walk the other direction. At some point, your dog will have to follow. Ideally, I want you to turn and walk LONG BEFORE there’s tension on the leash. I also want you to continue walking if your dog is making a fuss. Don’t worry, he’ll come along in a second. Count out 5-one-thousands and then turn around and check to make sure he isn’t tangled all up but don’t stop and check the moment you feel resistance.
By using an area like a greenspace as your walking area, you’ll do a lot of things to make your walk more enjoyable. You’re going to reduce the likelihood of on leash aggression, have opportunities to address it before your dog explodes, you’ll be able to move AROUND the stressful stimuli and not just past it but most importantly are the two main things that your dog gets out of this from an obedience standpoint: awareness of where you are and the reduction of excitement surrounding the world and his own freedom.
This is a mandatory part of my programs. Long line work is pivotal and has been used for decades in dog training. For a more complete look at Long line (Longe Line) work, I suggest reading the Koehler Method of Dog Training.
There’s a belief in dog training that the dog must “do as he’s told because he has to or else” and I just can’t wrap my head around that. In any other relationship in your life, if you attempt to demand obedience from another being without giving something in return you’ll get nothing but resistance, yet this still is the way we train our dogs. Though it’s true that our dogs can get themselves into danger by not minding us, that’s not an excuse to simply demand things of them and not do our part in being the kind of person the dog would WANT to hang out with if he had the liberty to leave.
If you give your dogs what they need (mental stimulation, physical stimulation and clarity), they’ll be happy to give you the things that you need from them, but it isn’t, nor should it ever be a one way street.
“Dog training is a conversation, not a lecture” – Chad Mackin
By Wade MacVicar