No need to apologize about walking the dog

Rules are important, but it’s more important that you and your dogs enjoy the experience

Fido… Come… Sit
By Yvonne Passmore

While talking to my mother about leash walking her dog, she seemed almost apologetic about walking her little Bichon with an extended or Flex-type leash. I assume she expected that I, as a dog trainer, would frown upon her dog not walking neatly by her side. While training a dog, I can get pretty anal about how to walk a dog, how a dog should walk with us and how to train a dog to walk.
Setting rules and expectations while dog training, especially with leash walking, sets the tone for how you will both get along, or not get along on walks for the rest of your dog’s life. I admit that I am particular about teaching a dog to walk on a particular side, about not pulling me on the leash, and about keeping my pace whether fast or slow.
I think I may differ from many dog trainers about how a dog should walk on leash. I teach my dogs to heel, but I certainly don’t walk my dogs in heel.
My purpose for walking my dogs is to release energy, to maintain good physical shape and to remain exposed to the outside world. This isn’t just for my dogs, but for me as well. Above all else, I want to enjoy my walks, and I want the dogs to enjoy our walks. I’m fine with letting a dog explore and sniff around. Go ahead and mark a post or a tree occasionally. Walk a little ahead of me, or behind, see and smell what the neighbourhood has to offer. There’s no need for me to continually enforce strict rules while trying to enjoy a walk. If I’m constantly nagging my dogs about where they are when on leash, I’m not going to enjoy all the benefits of that walk and neither are my dogs.
Perfection from my dogs has never been my goal with dog training. I certainly am not perfect, despite what I make my husband believe. If I can’t expect myself to be perfect, why would I expect an animal to be?
That said, the following are my expectations for leash walking.
As I mentioned earlier, I do expect a dog to learn which side I want them to walk on. I hate having a dog that constantly criss-crosses in front of and behind me.
Being pulled on leash is unbearable to me. I teach early on that pulling will not take them in the direction they want to go. I expect my dogs to come back to me to walk in check when I instruct and need them to.
I always walk one of my dogs on an extended leash. It’s good for her. She’s happy when she has the ability to explore a little. She has the freedom to be behind me or in front of me, but she knows and understands the rules so that we can both enjoy the outing.
As a dog trainer people probably expect me to apologize for allowing my dog to walk far in front and not in a tight and controlled heel position. But as a pet owner I feel no one needs to apologize for making walks as comfortable as we can for both our dogs and ourselves.

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