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Going for a walk? Make sure the dog knows who the real leader is

The Outdoors
Lead Summary
Scott Rall, outdoors columnist

I was driving to work today in my small-town USA and saw a sight that is so common, one that just causes me pain. It is one of those pains that I don’t actually suffer from but feel it when I see someone else suffering from it.
My route parallels a walking path that weaves its way through my town. The sight I saw was a lady of smaller stature walking her dog down this path.
About 50 yards ahead of this gal was another gal walking her dog toward her. Both dogs were going bat crazy as the other dog got closer. Each lady was holding on for dear life, trying to keep the dogs apart. One lady was almost pulled to the concrete. The meeting of these two gals on the path took everything each of them could muster just to traverse 50 yards.
So why on earth would anyone want to own a dog that they cannot even take for a walk? Seems like a pretty simple question but one that 80 percent of dog owners apparently cannot answer.
Taking a dog for a walk is necessary and important. Dogs that get enough exercise are less anxious, destructive and in general much calmer.
So what is the secret to taking a dog for a walk? I am not sure that what follows would qualify as a secret, but I have proven many times for many customers that it works.
The first thing you need in order to succeed is to own a dog that knows it is actually a dog. A dog is not a human child and should not be treated as one. When a dog’s mental state allows it to think it is an equal or a superior to the human, this is where the problems (many different ones) start.
Your dog fills in a space as a member of your pack. That dog’s place needs to be in a pecking order that allows every human to occupy a spot higher in the order.
One way that a dog asserts itself high in the pecking order is to walk ahead of the human. When they walk 15 feet ahead of the dog walker, they are in a position as the leader. The human takes a pack space lower in the hierarchy. Retractable leashes are a big part of this problem.
When walking a dog, the animal needs to be at your side or just a step or two behind the human. This indicates to the dog you are the leader. You need to be able to control the dog. Total control is the only option that works. Chest harnesses allow the dog to pull hard with little control by the human. Retractable leashes are a no-no in my book as are harnesses.
A slip chain collar allows the human to apply a corrective stiff tug on the leash, commanding enough to keep the dog where it needs to be. When the dog pulls hard, you need to utilize a quick snap on the leash strong enough to get the dog back into position. The command heel is used … a stiff snap on the leash and a repeat of the command heel.
Consistence is the key. I have taken a dog that would not walk like a lady or a gentleman for the owner ever and had that dog walking like it should in a matter of 3-5 minutes. The dog learned very quickly that I was in command. Instructions for dogs are not recommendations. They are called commands for a reason. They are not a request backed up with copious amounts of pleading from the dog’s owner asking nicely for compliance.
Big dogs or little all require the knowledge that they are a dog and live lower in the pack order. When it comes to meeting another dog on the path, I start by making the dog sit next to the path as the other dogs pass by. Sit means sit and when the other dog has passed, I can then give the heel command and start on my walk again. After the dog masters this situation by sitting on command, I can continue the training until I can walk any dog past any other dog without issues. This can and does happen even if the other dog is completely out of control.
I can take my four Labradors for a walk as easily as I could one little Fu-Fu dog. The more aggressive the other dogs you might meet are, the more you need total control of yours. I have trained each dog to walk on my right or left side. Two per side makes traversing parked cars and other obstructions easier. Each can walk on either side depending on what it is I have instructed them to do. Squirrels and rabbits are not for chasing or barking at. A slip chain collar is the only way to keep total control.
In the end, teaching a dog to go on a nice walk has more to do with training the dog owner than training the dog. I have never met a dog that wouldn’t walk nicely by my side when they figured out who was the boss and that commands are commands and not requests.
I am sure there will always be dogs that treat their owners like subordinates. It is my hope that you will not have one of those dogs. When the dog rules, it is an owner problem and not really a dog issue.
Be in charge and stay in charge. When you get this down, taking a dog for a walk will again turn into a very pleasurable experience.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at

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