Right now - most of us are doing on lead walks with our dogs in public places to ensure we can all adhere to the social distancing measures in place and stop the spread of COVID-19.
This does however mean dogs that would normally be off lead and running may be getting restless with the restrictions and those who would normally have dogs off lead my be struggling to make their walks enjoyable now they have to be on lead.
So here are our top 3 tips to making your on lead walks more enjoyable for you and your dog!
1. It starts in the house
How you get your dog ready for a walk each day is going to affect what energy they carry outside and what behaviour they hold once you go out. Ensuring your dog is calm whilst you're putting their lead on and getting ready means they are more likely to carry that calm energy out of the door and into your walk.
We ask all of our dogs to sit on their beds whilst we get ready for our walks, put their leads and collars on and wait for them to be calm before we leave the house. This means that we are setting them up to be calm right at the beginning of our walk and this sets the tone for the entire walk.
2. How you leave the house matters
Now similarly to getting ready for a walk, how your dog leaves the house also sets the energy of the walk. If your dog is pulling you, rushing through the door and being really overexcited, they'll carry that energy through into the walk. This isn't about being the pack leader or asserting your dominance or anything like that, it's about setting the energy from the walk before you even leave the house. Asking your dog to sit by the door and wait calmly until it is open and you are ready to leave means they will be much calmer out on the walk and also more respectful of that exciting threshold.
We ask our dogs to sit by the front door whilst we open it and wait for them to be visibly calm and be relaxed before we leave the house. Once they are calm we reward the behaviour we like and then begin our walk!
3. Is your dog connecting with you on your walk?
Taking your dog for a walk is a great relationship building activity for both of you, but only if you dog actually knows you exist on the other end of the lead! If your dog is out on their walk, pulling, sniffing, tracking and being overexcited then they aren't connecting with you and are more likely to make mistakes. Dogs who are showing unwanted behaviours like reactivity and barking on the lead generally stem from having a lack of connectivity with their owner whilst out on a walk.If your dog is connected to you on a walk and engaging with you and not the world around you then they are more likely to practice good behaviours and be able to deal with more challenging situations because they can rely on you to give them any information they need. This doesn't mean your dog can't ever sniff or track the ground and practice these behaviours as they are natural and you want your dog to be able to practice natural behaviours. However, it is important to set the rules and boundaries clearly so your dog knows when they need to be connecting with you and when they can be freely connecting with the world around them.
We ask that if our dogs are on the lead they they are connected with us and not pulling, sniffing or tracking the ground. We have a command to tell them they can be free to practice these behaviours if they want to (relax!) and if they are off lead and not being asked to be in a 'heel' they are free to sniff, play and track as much as they like!
Just remember whilst you're out walking your dog, this is a difficult time for all of us but if we all do our bit and make the best of this tough time, we'll all be healthier and happier at the end of it!
If your dog has a tendency to run off or go and say hello to strangers, keep them on lead and use these tips to help you and your dog to enjoy these on lead walks - it may be frustrating as we don't know how long this will be going on for but we can make this time enjoyable and help save people's lives in the meantime!