Loose lead walking tips for an El Nino winter.

Buckley lies down and waits for us to call him for a walk. (See #3)

When clients are beginning loose lead walking (LLW), I have guidelines that help to set them and their dogs up for success.  It occurred to me that winter, especially one with as variable weather as we have had, offers many opportunities to put these guidelines into practice and get ready for long spring walks.

  1. Baby, it’s cold outside! When it’s 14 degrees take short walks. I tell clients who are working on leash manners that it is better, if you can, to take three fifteen minute walks rather than 1 forty-five minute walk each day. That way you have a short time to do a concentrated effort and will be much more likely to avoid burn out (not to mention frostbite) from trying to do something difficult for an extended period of time.
  2. Baby, it’s really cold outside! As the temperature plummets, bundle up and walk fast on your jaunt around the block. It is easier for your dog not to pull if you walk faster! A dog’s natural gate is a trot, equivalent to a fast walk in humans. It is more comfortable for them than walking or running and is easier for them to settle in to. If you speed up, your dog won’t feel the need to surge ahead of you because you’re right there with him.
  3. Baby, it’s sorta cold outside! If the temperature allows for a bit of a longer venture, incorporate other behaviors into your walk. If Fido is surging ahead and you are getting frustrated with his behavior, stop! Re-collect. Breathe. Get situated and ask your dog to do a short series of behaviors, such as sit and stay, or sit-down-sit, or down and stay, so that both of you have a break from the stress and distraction of loose lead walking. Combined with #1, you may not cover a lot of distance physically, but behaviorally you may make a big impact as neither one of you gets overwhelmed by the task at hand.
  4. Baby, it’s almost balmy outside! Be aware of distractions that make it difficult for your dog to concentrate on the task at hand. On warmer winter days when you want to be out for a longer stretch, have a strategy for handling those things that make your dog’s behavior falter. For example, in one of my LLW classes an energetic golden retriever would get excited every time a string of cars went by. The owner, Karen, managed this distraction by having Ginger lie down or sit while a string of cars passed, then getting up and walking while there were no cars. Ginger simply had too much to think about when the cars were passing her. She did a fabulous job, however, when we “took out” the distraction of the cars and let her focus on one thing while LLW.
  5. Bingley loses it in the snow, rolling and rubbing his face in snowy bliss.

    Bingley loses it in the snow, rolling and rubbing his face in snowy bliss.

    Baby, it’s nearly spring outside! Even the most experienced dogs will have moments of lunacy on walks, especially on those lovely days when everyone is out and taking advantage of the El Nino weather. Accept that your dog is not a robot and will have times when it seems as if his brain has fallen out. Take some tasty treats along for those moments when you really need to get him to refocus and pay attention to you and not the cute poodle at the next tree. If one small bit of liver is not sufficient to turn his attention back to you, try a fistful! Show him what you have and lead him away from temptation (keep your hand with the treats right at his nose), giving him a piece or two when you get  sufficient distance from the object of his desire. Then, do a couple of sits, downs, stays, and move along, enjoying the reprieve from arctic blasts. If treats are not in your vocabulary, consider bringing a toy along that grabs your dog’s attention and that he likes to hold. This can be very Zen for some dogs and helps them to relax into walking nicely by your side.

    If you forget a toy, a stick may serve the same Zen purpose.

    If you forget a toy, a stick may serve the same Zen purpose.


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