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Top Tips for getting your dog to be calm and listen to you on walks

Updated: Jul 17, 2023


Our dogs don't instinctively understand how to walk properly on a lead and behave when out in public, and it's up to us to teach them how this works. It would be great to be able to help your dog be calm, happy and confident when walking - which will in turn make you happy when walking them!


It's an awesome aim!


Three things that people consistently ask me are:


  • "Why does my dog do XYZ when I walk him? Can't he just calm down?"

  • "How do I know if I'm doing things that could be fueling our walking problem? I want her to be confident when we go out."

  • "What is the best way for him to be walking? I want to make sure he's not reacting to other dogs."


These are the things that we are going to take a look at!


Imagine feeling confident that you know what to look for, what to encourage, what to discourage and what you might need professional help with!


How good would that feel!


Understand that all dogs are different, so your dog could be showing behaviours that didn't make it onto this list that are contributing to their massive over-stimulation, reactivity or inappropriate walking style.


So let's have a look at some of the behaviours that might be happening with your dog.


Five dogs go for a nice walk together
Five dogs go for a nice walk together

“Gosh it’s so annoying when we go for a walk and he pulls my arm almost out of its socket the whole way – I dread going!”


“I get so tense when we go for a walk because I just know as soon as he sees another dog, he’s going to lose the plot!”


Is this you?


I know so many clients who have said these exact things about their dogs, and sadly finished with “I love my dog but sometimes I dread walking him!”


If this is YOU then let’s look at some of the things that YOU may be doing that set your dog up for failure on a walk. And most of them are things that you are doing BEFORE you leave the house.


Here are my top eight things you may be doing – BEFORE you even leave the house - that set your dog up for failure on their walk!



1. Do you razz them up?


Have you ever said to your dog “Are you ready?”

or

“Let’s go for walkies!”

or even

“C’mon let’s go!”


Think about the tone that you’d be using when you say these types of things to your dog, as it’s generally exciting, stimulating, and revving. You want them to be excited to go for a walk, but you may tend to rev them beyond what they can cope with at that point and by the time they hit the pavement they are already revved beyond any hope of using self-control.


Solution:

Try being casual, keep your tone low, and initially avoid trigger words or phrases.


2. Are you predictable?


At the same time every day, they demand their walk because it’s their right and you comply with their demands. You tend to feel like they need the walk, they have been home all day, potentially on their own, and this is their time. However, walks should be mutually enjoyable and for the benefit of humans and dogs alike. If they know they are in control of when they go out on their walks - they're likely to be in control of other things as well - where we go, how fast we go, and how we act.


Solution:

Change up the time of the walk so they never know when it’s going to happen. Then you can also change the duration and the destination. You set the parameters.


A German Shepherd holds his drop
A German Shepherd holds his drop

3. Do you provide consistent triggers that overstimulate them?


Whilst razzing them up with the voice tones you also tend to provide visual cues that further their excitement and send them hurtling towards complete overstimulation.


Do you put on sneakers, add keys to your pockets and put on a certain jacket? Then to further compound their heightened emotional state do you go to that certain cupboard, drawer or hook and we grab their leash? They are now revved beyond reason.


Solution:

Get the leash in and out a dozen times a day, when it means nothing and no one is going anywhere. Same with the sneakers or anything else that triggers their over-excitement. Practice often so that you can refrain from rewarding over-stimulation with the desired walk - you'll simply not be going anywhere with them until they are calm.


4. Do you reward over-excitability and ignoring?


Having revved them up you now implore them to calm down, at a point at which they are beyond calming down, or worse you reward their inappropriate jumping, barking or grabbing the lead in their teeth – by putting on the walking equipment.


Yes, this alone is a reward that you are giving for a behaviour that you don’t want.


Solution:

Walking equipment gets put away as soon as someone behaves in an overexcited fashion, and naughty behaviours are dealt with in your usual fashion (if you have an established process). Reward calm, polite behaviour by putting on walking equipment.


A Rottweiler walks nicely
A Rottweiler walks nicely

5. Do you choose equipment that will give you no ability to help them with self-control because they don't like the equipment that gives you control?


You know because media, friends, your vet, or someone at the park told you that the kindest piece of equipment is XXX and that is the best thing to use for your dog because it’s kind to the dog.


Okay, but what about you?


It’s not kind to the dog to get no walks because you are afraid of getting your arm torn out of its socket, and it’s not kind to the dog for them to end up stuck in a backyard or surrendered, because of increasingly poor behaviour that was facilitated by a "kind" piece of equipment.


Any equipment choice that gives YOU control and allows you to teach them correctly, is the long-term kindest piece of equipment. What you put on them matters.


Solution:

Research all different types of equipment with an open mind and choose the one that’s going to give you the best control in your opinion. Find out how to fit it and use it properly, and make sure everyone walking the dog knows how to do so as well.


6. You require nothing of them?


So, your overexcited, already not listening dog is rewarded with a walk without having to do anything to earn it. A walk is seen as their right, not their reward.


Solution:

They have to practice a stay before you go, they have to hold a boundary before you go, and they have a task to set them into a listening state of mind. Then they are rewarded with a walk they deserve. A dog who is not listening at home isn’t going to start listening mid-walk when the stakes are higher.


A dog walks alongside a pram
A dog walks alongside a pram

7. Do you complicate the situation?


Do you take the baby in his pram along on the walk, a child on a bicycle or your other dog? You provide so many distractions for yourself that it’s already a mammoth task to walk the dog, supervise the kids, deal with a pram on an uneven surface, and watch for who or what is coming along towards you, even before you add in pulling or reactivity. Your dog very likely knows that you are distracted and cannot do anything about his behaviour.


Solution:

Make time for a walk with just the dog who needs your attention, set your expectations and you’ll have the time and focus to teach your dog what you require of them and what is unacceptable. Once that is happening well, introduce the other distractions, one at a time. Alternatively, take two adults along so someone else can supervise the kids etc whilst you teach your dog and reinforce your requirements.


8. Are you just assuming they should know how to walk properly?


You feel like they should just know how to walk on a lead, it’s not that hard, it’s just walking. They should know how to walk in a straight line or behave nicely when meeting other dogs. You haven’t been to any classes, lessons or done a course but you feel like you have trained them so they should know.


Or perhaps they did go to some training, but it didn’t address this situation for them or you. Perhaps they DON’T know how.


Solution:

Seek some professional help, in a method that fits with what you believe in. The local classes that are on at a convenient time are not the ones to choose if you don’t believe in and follow through with their training, consistently and on an ongoing basis.


Retraining takes time.

And dedication.

And motivation.


So now that you know some of the things that YOU can change at YOUR end of the lead, let’s try changing our habits and see what improvements we can implement before we expect them to use their self-control when they may not have any.


Then we can start to teach them how.


Give me a call if you need a hand and we can work on it together!

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