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Q. My dog loves to go for walks, but he's constantly running back and forth in front of me. How do I get him to stop?
A. Walks are often the most anticipated part of a dog’s day. An excited pooch may seem oblivious to the human at the other end of the leash and will surge forward to seek out new sights and scents. Since the dog’s nose is estimated to be 1,000 to 10,000 times stronger than the human nose, it’s no wonder they often zoom back and forth from one edge of the sidewalk to the other, searching out trails of other dogs, cats, humans and animals who have bypassed the area. All this sniffing is the dog's version of watching the news; it keeps him in touch with the latest happenings and gossip in the neighborhood, a phenomenon I call tuning in to his “smell-o-vision.”
However, a dog pulling and zigzagging in front of his human can be annoying and can pose a tripping hazard. And when you consider that 88 percent of falls that require a visit to the emergency room are related to tripping over a dog or cat, getting your dog to walk peacefully by your side takes on a new importance.
The heel is where your dog walks in line on either your left or right side. The ability to heel is critical when you are walking your dog through crowds, on busy city streets or near appealing distractions, as well as when you are doing obedience work. But while the heel is an important behavior to teach your dog, I personally feel that on an average walk around the block, your dog should be allowed some room to move out in front of you and explore smells on his own without feeling the constraint of being glued to your side. In order to prevent yourself from tripping over your dog and to allow him to have some freedom to explore the world, teach him to walk at your side on a loose leash.
Start by teaching your dog to walk specifically on either your right or your left side, as directed. Often dogs want to walk on whichever side is closest to taller grass or a full lawn, so practice directing your dog to walk on both sides of your body; this way, you will be able to direct him to the side where the best smells might be located when you go out for a walk.
Begin practicing your loose leash walking on the sidewalk just in front of your house or in another low-distraction environment. Start by teaching your dog to follow your direction to move his body to either your right or left side. Some dogs will naturally follow hand motions and body language; if your dog doesn't pick up on this naturally, start off with a treat in your pointing hand and use it to lure him to a specific side. As soon as your dog follows your hand motion or food lure to the side you want him to walk on, treat or praise and start walking forward.
If he begins to cross in front of you as you walk forward, stop and use your hand signal or a treat, if needed, to get him back to the proper side. As soon as he gets back on the original side as directed, begin to walk forward again. Your goal is to get your dog to walk on a certain side in response to a hand signal or a verbal cue without a treat; the walk itself becomes his reward, rather than the treat. Dogs are often most in tune with hand signals, so my approach is to call the dog's name to get his attention and then use a hand signal to get him to move over to the desired side. Once the dog is in the right place, I start walking forward.
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