Happy Spring – well, almost. This is the time of year when those of you who shortened (or eliminated!) your daily walks with your dog are looking to bring them back to full distance. Maybe some of you have a new puppy or adult dog and are trying to teach him how to walk politely on a leash. You’ve come to the right place! Put yourself in a “Sit / Stay” and read up on how to teach your dog the mechanics of a walk that will be fun for BOTH of you.
I use the command “Let’s Go!” as opposed to the ever popular “Heel!” command. Is it me, or is most every person who says the command “Heel” barking out the order sternly, with an equally serious look on their faces? Let us not explore your inner prison-guard tendencies, and instead, use a pleasant tone and the command “Let’s Go” prefaced, of course, by your dog’s name. Even if your dog has already been taught to heel by another command, from here on out use “Let’s Go” (or any other pleasant-sounding command you feel inclined to use). My psychic abilities lead me to believe that the command your dog has now isn’t working for you, so rather than struggle to change his idea of the old command, teach him a new one – it’s a lot quicker!
Define “Let’s Go”
So let me ask you – what does the command “Let’s Go” mean? Before you teach it, you have to know exactly what you’re asking of your dog. It can’t mean one thing today and a different thing tomorrow; that’s how dogs get confused and frustrated. Think about what a bummer it would be if you were praised for doing something at work today and then got yelled at for doing the same exact thing tomorrow. (Lucky for your dog, we’ll never yell at him for anything!) You’d be stressed out and more than a little unhappy. Being consistent with your expectations makes it easier for your dog to do what you want him to do.
We still need a definition for the command, so I’ll give you the one that my dogs know: if they could speak (in human terms) they would tell you that “Let’s Go” means they have to walk at my left side, their front legs even with my legs, keep reasonable, (peripheral) eye contact with me so that when I change direction they aren’t ahead or behind me; they can’t sniff the ground (we aren’t looking for lost children – we’re on a walk!), or randomly stop, bark, lunge, cut in front of me. They can’t go to the bathroom and mark every tree or grass blade in sight, and when I give them the “side” command, they have to switch to my right side. And last but not least, they have to automatically sit when I stop. No fun, you say? Well, yes and no. The “Let’s Go” is a controlled walk and I use it when I’m passing something I don’t want the dog to go near (other dogs, people who look frightened that a dog is coming near them, glass on the sidewalk, etc.). This is my idea of a good time because I’m not allowing chaos to ensue during my walk. However, since this type of walk doesn’t allow the dog to sniff, explore, go potty or just be a dog, I release the dog from it by saying “OK, go play!” At that point, my dogs understand that they can go to the end of the leash and be a dog – within reason!! If at any point they engage in behavior that I feel is inappropriate – lunging, refusing to walk or trying to drag me behind them like the winning entry in a cart-pulling contest, I’ll use my handy-dandy “Let’s Go” command and restore order.