Do you walk your dog, or does your dog walk you? Unfortunately, many pet parents struggle with what is supposed to be a fun activity with our furry friends. From pulling to sniffing to plain refusing to move, California trainer and founder of The Pooch Coach, Beverly Ulbrich, walks us through the biggest leash blunders and how to correct them.
Any seasoned pet parent has seen it, or maybe even suffered through it—dogs straining at the leash, pulling their human in all different directions. There may be a number of factors at play, but often pulling is due to a lack of focus and excitement on the walk.
“If you’re walking slowly with no energy, who is going to follow that and be interested?” Ulbrich asks. “Anything is more interesting than you at that point.”
Trainer Tip: Keep the leash really short and make unpredictable movements—stop, start, and turn. Make the dog realize they have to pay attention to you because he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. This way, he has to follow you to keep up.
“Once you really bring up your energy, walk with purpose and make yourself more interesting, the dog has something more interesting to follow,” Ulbrich adds.
It may also be time to go back to training 101 and properly teach your dog the heel command.
trainer Tip: If you’re in the house or a safe, quiet off-leash area where you want to work with your dog, take a squeaky toy, ball, or cookies—anything that’ll keep your dog’s interest. Keep it by your side and as your dog follows by your side, give them the treat and say, “Good heel!”
“This works better in an undistracted environment like your house or yard, but not walking down the street or at the park,” Ulbrich says.
Stop Constant Sniffing
Does your dog want to stop every five feet on a walk to sniff, dig, or mark his territory? This might be due to the type of leash you’re using—a retractable leash where your dog can wander far away or a harness where you have no control over his head are not ideal.
“The two biggest problems with these types of leashes are leaving too much slack on the leash and a lack of control,” Ulbrich says. “You have to teach the dog to follow you, which goes back to the method of preventing pulling.”
Trainer Tip: Teach your dog that sniffing is okay, but there are times for it. Dedicate part of the walk to walking, and part of the walk to sniffing and exploring.
“Walk to your destination—say the dog park—let them sniff and play, and walk home again,” Ulbrich explains. “The path to and from the destination should be completely work related.”
Ulbrich says this is the nature of pack animals, called the migration path.
“By following this method, you’re recreating that structure in the dog’s life that every pack animal needs,” Ulbrich adds.
Move It Along!
Some dogs pause during the walk and refuse to continue. They are simply frozen in place and no amount of coaxing seems to work.
What not to do:
- Don’t feed your dog when he stops. “A lot of people think a cookie will lure their dog to get up and walk again,” Ulbrich says. “The problem is you’re rewarding them for stopping, so they’re going to keep stopping to get more cookies.”
- Don’t pull on the leash. “Pulling on the leash doesn’t work because the dog’s mind is locked—they stubbornly think they don’t want to move,” Ulbrich explains. “By pulling, all you’re doing is getting in a battle of line, and they are just going to stay locked in that mindset.”
Try this instead:
- Change the dog’s mind about wanting to move. “Think of them as being stuck in a daze and you have to get them out of it,” Ulbrich suggests. “Do something strange that distracts them, like whistling or squeaking a toy, anything to get them to pay attention to the distraction and not the fact they don’t want to move anymore.” Remember not to actually give the dog the toy, which would reward the stopping behavior.
- Touch the dog somewhere he doesn’t expect you to, such as a tap on the back or tail. “It’s not petting or being affectionate, which would also be rewarding the behavior, it’s just a little poke to get them out of their locked state,” Ulbrich says. “You’re doing something that’s a little bit weird and because they’re wondering what it is, they get up and start moving again.”
Stopping mid-walk can often occur with fearful dogs, perhaps rescued animals. Some pet parents notice their dog’s natural instinct is to run back towards his house, so the walk home is always smooth.
“Have a friend drive you and your dog a few blocks and drop you both off, so the entire walk is coming back to the house,” Ulbrich suggests. “Over time, increase the distance. Slowly break them of their fearful habits until they learn walks are fun and not scary.”
Teaching Puppies Leash Etiquette
Getting off on the right paw is crucial to teaching a puppy proper leash etiquette—and the sooner, the better.
“As soon as you get your puppy, put him on a leash in your house and play with them inside,” Ulbrich says. “If you wait several days or weeks to introduce the leash, they’re going to be confused as to what it is and fight to get it off.”
Once your puppy is used to the leash in the house, walk them in the yard, eventually progressing to walks outside. If your puppy starts to pull on the leash, Ulbrich suggests the game “red light-green light.”
“With a puppy starts pulling, you stop dead,” Ulbrich explains. “The dog learns pulling makes you stop, which is the opposite of what he wants.”
Ulbrich notes this method only works with puppies and not with dogs who are already pulling.
“It’s too late if a dog is already pulling,” Ulbrich adds. “Those dogs think it’s a game of pull-stop, pull-stop.”
The Bottom Line
Our furry friends need the exercise and stimulation of a walk on a daily basis.
“If your dog isn’t walked every day, that’s going to cause problems,” Ulbrich explains. “They’re going to be so eager to be out that their energy level is too high and they’ll walk erratically and pull. If they go out often, it’s not as big a deal and they’ll be much more calm.”
But how you walk is just as important as how often. Following these tips and starting the walk as calmly as possible, making your dog sit and stay before walking out the door, should help lead to a more manageable and productive outing.
Check out this video by The Pooch Coach for more tips on walking:
The old rule of thumb for calculating a pet’s age in “human years” is simple: Just multiply by 7. By that common guideline, a 3-year-old cat is a young adult, equivalent to a human 21-year-old. And a 10-year-old dog is akin to a human retiree.
Unfortunately, this explanation doesn’t quite paint the full picture of how pets age.
In fact, a dog’s aging process is accelerated during the first few years of maturation and then slows down after that. After one year, a dog is actually considered to be 15 in human years.
Further, the specific breed of dog plays a factor in lifespan. Smaller dogs tend to live longer than medium-size dogs, who in turn live longer than large dogs.
“Although smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger dogs, they may mature more quickly in the first few years of life,” says the Lawrence Vet Hospital in Lawrence, Kan. “A large dog may mature more slowly at first but already be considered elderly at age 5. Small and toy breeds don’t become ‘seniors’ until around age 10. Medium-size breeds are somewhere in the middle in terms of maturation and lifespan.”
This Pet Health Network chart, courtesy of Fred L. Metzger, DVM, DABVP, offers a handy guide.
(Chart courtesy of Fred L. Metzger, DVM, DABVP)
The Pedigree website provides an automatic dog age calculator for those who don’t want to bother with the chart. Simply select your dog’s age and breed from the drop-down menu and the site will give you your dog’s age in “human years.” Of course, these charts and calculators are just guidelines. Owners should ask their vet about their pets’ specific aging issues.
What about our feline friends? Like dogs, cats mature more quickly during the first couple of years and reach adulthood relatively soon, but then age at a slower rate as time goes on.
By its second birthday, a cat has matured to about the same point as a human in his or her mid-20s. But from then on, you can add four “cat” years for each subsequent human year.
On average, Siamese and Manx breeds are said to live the longest, according to Purina. Some rare felines live past the age of 30 — which is pushing 150 in human years.
P. Elizabeth Anderson once had a daughter named Grace. Like any parents would, she and her husband cared for her, nurtured her and tried to keep her out of trouble. They took her on vacations and enjoyed her company around the house. “She was my constant companion,” says Anderson, a journalist in the District of Columbia.
So when Grace died unexpectedly at age 14, the couple was crushed. But because Grace was a dog, “I was unable to talk to anyone about this immense grief,” says Anderson, who wrote the book “The Powerful Bond between People and Pets: Our Boundless Connections to Companion Animals.”
The depth of Anderson’s devastation surprised her, but it’s common to feel that way after the loss of a dog, says Lori Kogan, associate professor of clinical sciences at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Some people feel so sad, in fact, that they wonder if the death of a human companion would have been easier. “People feel guilty because they feel worse when their dog dies than if a family member dies,” Kogan says. “And then they think they’re a bad person.”
But in reality, it’s normal. “There’s a reason you feel that way,” she says. One of them? Unlike the mixed feelings we have toward each other — and that arise after a person’s death — “our relationship with dogs is so uncomplicated,” Kogan says. Some might call it true love.
Research suggests the connection many humans feel with their canine companions is a lot like love. In one recent study in the journal Science, for instance, researchers found the same hormone associated with maternal love and passionate love, oxytocin, increases in both pups and their owners when the two species do no more than lock eyes. The same can’t be said for humans and wolves, the researchers found. The results suggest “a coevolution between human and dogs,” says lead study author Takefumi Kikusui, a professor in the Department of Animal Science and Biotechnology at Azabu University in Japan. That’s part of the reason why, he says, “it is very natural to form a bond between dogs and humans.”
Stanley Coren, a professor emeritus in the University of British Columbia’s department of psychology says dogs are a man’s best friend because we’ve domesticated them to be that way.
“We invented the dog and we invented it to fit in a certain niche in our lives,” says Coren, who’s written a series of popular books on pooches. “And so for at least 14,000 years, we have been … creating an animal which understands our communications and we understand its communications and they have a bond with us.” For example, if a person points to something in a distance, a dog will look in the direction of the finger, just like a human. But if the dog was a wolf? It would simply look at the finger, Coren says. “We’ve sort of wired the dog to read our communications,” he says.
For Anderson, who’s now a mother to a Maltese and a Yorkie, dogs can be more lovable than humans because “they absolutely go out of their way to please us,” she says. “They want to do whatever we want to do, their love is absolutely unconditional, they’re affectionate to a fault — all the kinds of things that humans enjoy in a relationship are the kinds of things dogs excel at.”
Over 54 million U.S. households own more than 77 million dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association. And those pups are pampered: Dog moms and dads spend $83 on grooming, $47 on toys and $330 on food and treats for their furry children each year, according to the association’s most recent survey of pet owners. “We have completely embedded pets into human culture,” Anderson says. “We give our dogs human names, dress them up for holidays, give them gifts, take them to church and grieve deeply when they die.”
Is that healthy? By most accounts, yes. Studies have shown, for instance, that simply petting “a familiar and friendly” dog can lower your heart rate, make your breathing more regular and relax your muscles, Coren says. In one unpublished study, people had significantly lower blood pressure just two months after adopting dogs when compared to pet-parents-to-be who were still waiting for their puppies, reports the American Heart Association. The organization concludes that owning a dog “may have some causal role” in reducing heart disease risk.
Recent research has emphasized how dogs can reduce stress and boost mental health. A 2012 study in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management of a 550-employee company found that workers’ stress levels declined over the course of the day if they brought their dogs to work. The opposite was true for dogless employees and those who left Rover at home.
“We know that stress and all those nasty things do bad things for our health” such as weakening our immune system and putting our hearts at risk for cardiovascular problems, Coren says. One answer could be right under our snouts. “Dogs that act like instant Prozac.”
Can you love your dog too much?
It’s feasible your attachment to your furry friend could go too far. “Just as you can have unhealthy relationships and attachments to people, you can have unhealthy attachments to pets,” Kogan says.
Say, for example, you use your dog as an excuse to isolate yourself from humans. “If you don’t have anyone in your life, that’s a red flag,” Anderson says. Research shows that weak social connections can be detrimental to physical and mental health, even making you twice as likely to die than being obese, a 2010 meta-analysis found. What’s more, Coren adds, “the absence of social support is one of the major contributors to depression.”
The good news? Dogs seem to have a similar effect on health as human companions. A 2011 study found that pet owners had better self-esteem, were in better shape and felt less lonely than people without pooches or other pets. It makes sense, Coren says. Simply taking your dog for a walk, for one, facilitates fitness — and human interaction. “You’re marching along with your version of Lassie, and [someone else is] walking along with their version of Benji and you stop to chat,” he says.
That’s particularly important today, when face-to-face social interactions are increasingly replaced with digital ones, Anderson says. “We’re a lot more mobile society, and it’s hard to make friends sometimes,” she says. Dogs can help fill that void. Even better? Unlike a human pal, she adds, “a dog will keep your secrets.”