Are we having fun yet? How to make on-lead walkies more of an adventure for your dog
During this strange summer of different degrees of lockdown, dogs that are used to enjoying carefree times off the leash are being kept on leads in areas used by other people. As it’s possible that dogs could have the Covid-19 virus on their coat or collar if they've been in contact with someone carrying the infection, keeping your dog on a lead in public places, along with maintaining social distancing, remains an advisable approach.
And, if you introduce some new distractions, your dog won’t feel too hard done by. Animal charity Blue Cross advises: “It’s a misconception that dogs can only enjoy off lead exercise – plenty of dogs need to be kept on lead for health or behaviour reasons and they still get the exercise and mental stimulation they crave.”
1. The thrill of the sniff
Smelling stuff is really, really important to canines – it’s how they interpret the world around them and doing it makes them feel good. So, when your dog stops to sniff yet another lamp post, let him or her have a moment to fully enjoy it. It’s a dog’s way of checking on and communicating with other canines in the neighbourhood. The information he or she is taking in is a lot for a doggie brain to process, which will provide plenty for your four-legged chum to cogitate on as you make your way around the block. Find out more about the benefits of letting your dog stop and sniff here >>
2. Walk this way
Variety is the spice of life, so even if you have a limited number of everyday routes, employ an innovative approach, for example, walking routes in reverse rather than always going in the same direction. Your Dog suggests: “Walk on different sides of the road where there's a pavement and you can do so safely, as although it might look the same to you, there will be different scents for your dog. Be imaginative and use what's available to help spice up walks a little, asking your dog to jump over or limbo under a fallen tree trunk for example, or even to walk along it a short way if it's broad enough and safe for him to do so; weave in and out of fence posts, jump on to and walk along or wriggle under a park bench.”
3. Change pace
Vary your speed – slow and steady is great for stopping and sniffing, but add in some time of brisk walking, or even a little jogging, so both you and your dog get a good, all round workout in the fresh air. Your dog should find the unpredictability an exciting element and will watch you closely to see what you’re going to do next.
4. Follow you, follow me
Rather than you dictating the direction of the walk, why not let your canine pal choose the route? Ok, so your dog might end up leading you over to those special trees where the squirrels hang out or criss-cross to every scent-marked lamp post down the street but letting them choose is a really nice way to give your dog a chance to show you what they find interesting. Find out more about why giving dogs choices is so important >>
5. You have my full attention
Walkies is a time for both you and your dog to enjoy each other’s company – so avoid the temptation to plug in your ear buds, chat on your phone or check your Facebook status. Give your furry best friend your full attention and make your walks together a time just for you and your dog to focus on each other. Find out more about why you should talk to your dog >>
6. Dog in training
You can also use this time to practice training exercises. Start by rewarding your dog for turning to you when they’re on-lead. This will help establish a good recall once they are off the lead in the future. Blue Cross suggests training your dog to sit at the kerbside. This will keep them mentally stimulated and has the added benefit of keeping them safe: “Before you begin asking them at the roadside, make sure they know how to sit when they are by your side – most dogs learn at first by ‘sitting’ front of us. When they have this mastered, you can take your training to the kerbside. If you do this regularly most dogs quickly learn to sit at the kerb as soon as you approach one, giving you some peace of mind when you’re approaching a road with a lot of traffic.”
If your dog has a tendency to pull on walks, it’s the perfect opportunity to teach them that walking without pulling is actually far more rewarding. Using treats, reward your dog when they are walking next to you on a loose lead. This helps them to understand that being by your side is a positive thing. Find out more about teaching your dog to walk nicely on the lead here >>
7. Walk the long line
In the park, try attaching a long line to a harness to give your dog more freedom to explore. Dogs Trust advises: “Allowing them to follow scents around the park and taking a dog-directed route could be fun for both of you. Playing with a toy or scattering treats for them to find will also keep their brain active.”
8. Embark on new adventures together
Famous beauty spots are best avoided, but there are all sorts of crowd-free hidden gems to be discovered across the UK. Your Dog recommends: “Spend some time studying a map of your local area – you might think you know it pretty well but looking at a map can often reveal some places you perhaps haven't explored yet or never thought of going to.” Ordnance Survey Explorer maps are ideal, showing good detail – or visit the following sites for ideas for places to go: Woodland Trust, Forestry England and Natural England.
HAPPY LEAD ENCOUNTERS CHECKLIST
Sometimes, even the most placid, well socialised and friendliest of dogs decides that an unfamiliar canine just has to be growled at when they’re on the lead. Here’s some helpful advice on managing on-lead encounters with other dogs:
• When you spot another dog, ask their owner if it’s okay if your dog says hello. Not all canines like to greet dogs that they don’t know.
• Avoid letting the dogs rush towards each other for a head to head greeting. This makes it very hard to read each dog and watch for signs of trouble and, in terms of dog etiquette, is just plain rude.
• Avoid standing just out of reach of the other dog so that your dog lunges and barks. This just builds frustration and the chance of a disastrous meeting is high.
• When you are ready to let your dog say hello, ask them quietly to sit. This calms them down and ensures that you are still in control of the situation. Now give the command ‘Say Hello’ and walk towards the other dog on a loose lead. Remember, tight leads build tension.
• Allow the dogs to sniff each other and circle while making sure you and the other owner don’t get the leashes tangled.
• After several seconds say in a happy voice ‘Let’s Go!’ and confidently walk away, rewarding your dog with a food treat when they come with you. End each greeting session on a good note.
Find more troubleshooting tips and advice here >>
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THE VALUE OF REWARD-BASED TRAINING WITH YOUR DOG Focusing on and rewarding what your dog can do, rather than what they can’t, makes training a much more positive experience for canines and humans alike
BRUSH UP ON YOUR DOG PARK ETIQUETTE Summer fun in the park means good times for groups of sociable dogs. However, like any social activity, it’s important to know the basic rules of etiquette to ensure everyone stays safe and has an enjoyable experience
Sources: dogstrust.org.uk, bluecross.org.uk, yourdog.co.uk