Have you ever had an Aha! moment on a walk? Where you suddenly understand something new about walking with your dog and things click into place?
I’ve had three. And they’ve made my relationship with Honey even stronger.
Have you had any of these Aha! moments on a dog walk?
Your Dog Doesn’t Have To Walk By Your Side
My first dog, Christie, pulled so hard she gagged. People from blocks around wondered why we were killing our dog.
While walking Shadow, my next dog, my hands often bled from pulling back against her.
Starting off with Honey as a puppy, I insisted she walk right by my side. After all, isn’t that what golden retrievers do?
I didn’t realize how unfair I was being to Honey until I read the words of a trainer I don’t recall right now. That trainer wrote that it didn’t matter if your dog walked ahead of you, behind you, or right by your side. The important thing was that the two of you were walking together. And that one friend wasn’t pulling other one down the street.
Life got so much easier then.
I learned to walk with my dog instead of being a bossypants who insisted she stay by my side in a lock step.
When it is important for Honey to walk by my side, like when we pass people on a crowded sidewalk, I say, “With me.” And she plasters herself by my knee until I give her release cue, “Go sniff.”
Teaching Honey to walk by my side became much easier once she realized I didn’t expect her to do it all the time.
And being more relaxed about where Honey walked in relation to me paired with two other Aha! moments made walks more fun.
Be More Interesting Than Anything Else
I’m rather dull. But not where Honey is concerned. She finds me fascinating.
For this Aha! moment, I thank Victoria Schade who wrote Bonding with Your Dog: A Trainer’s Secrets for Building a Better Relationship (affiliate), one of my favorite training books.
Schade wrote that if you want your dog to pay attention to you on a walk you have to be more interesting than other dogs, squirrels, stinky urine spots, and anything else that catches your dog’s nose.
Now I’m full of surprises on a walk.
I always carry treats. I’ll stuff a ball or tug toy in my pocket. I stop every so often to train a trick, like having Honey circle through my legs or put her front paws up on a tree. Sometimes I’ll pick up a pine cone or stick for a quick game. Or drop her leash while she’s sniffing and hide behind a tree until she comes looking for me.
Admittedly, this is more challenging with a nose-oriented hound than with a people-oriented retriever. But it was the key to stopping Shadow from dragging me down the street. And it keeps Honey wondering what I could possibly do next.
My final Aha! moment is one that most dog walkers never learn.
If Your Dog Pulls, Walk Faster
This was a slap-yourself-in-the-head-and-say “Duh” moment, actually.
Humans get frustrated walking with someone at an uncomfortable pace. Why should dogs be any different?
Whenever I visit New York City, I feel relieved. Finally, I’m surrounded by people who walk as fast as I do.
I can only imagine how much better Honey feels when I stop dawdling and match her level of excitement on a walk.
Some trainers insist your dog always match your pace. If you’re disabled and they’re a service dog, this is common sense.
But if you’re two friends out for a walk, why should only one of you get to set the pace?
This Aha! moment came to my on my porch where I see dozens of people walking with their dogs every day. I remember watching one woman continually jerking her dog’s leash to keep him from pulling too far ahead of her. But the dog wasn’t an insane puller. He just wanted to walk a little faster than she, talking on her cell phone, felt comfortable.
I kept wondering if she picked up the pace if he’d stop pulling.
And then I tried it with Honey. On a day when the warm breeze got her particularly excited, I just picked up my pace. I’d swear she looked over at me gratefully.
Now we take turns setting the pace. Sometimes she meanders with me. Other times I trot from scent to scent with her. And sometimes we start to run. Just because it’s fun and feels good.
Aha! Moments About The Relationship
Fear-mongering trainers warn us that if we let our dogs make independent decisions we’ll end up in a Planet of the Dogs dystopia where they run the world and the Statue of Liberty ends up half-buried on the beach.
It isn’t true.
Dogs want to have relationships with us. We want relationships with them. And relationships go both ways.
Each of the Aha! moments I’ve had about walking with dogs are about remembering we’re walking together, as friends. Friends of different species. Friends who don’t always want the same things. Friends who don’t always understand each other. But isn’t that true of most friendships (except the different species thing)?
And walking with a friend is a great way to build your relationship. At least if you pay attention to those Aha! moments to lead you in the right direction.
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Your Turn: Can you think of a time an Aha! moment helped you do something better with your dog?
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