Thursday, January 15, 2009

Whose Walk is it Anyway?

For so many dogs, a tethered walk represents their only access to the great wide world and we turn it into an exercise in micromanagement, restriction and control. The walk seems to always be for us. It is done on our terms. Why can’t we allow the walk to belong to the dog? What is the real cost of allowing him to stop and investigate scents, leaving his urine on most things vertical? Isn’t this what dogs seem intrinsically interested in doing? If the dog walks out in front, if he swims from side to side or doubles back to check on something he just passed, why can’t we accommodate him? Many of us believe that this is a sign of insubordination that we can not allow. We provide no actual education on where we want the dog to be in relationship to our body, or how fast or slow we want him to walk. We believe that the dog should know all of this or that he should actually want to walk calmly at our side. We expect dogs to prefer our company and ignore all that stimulates and interests them.

Before you embark on a walk with the dog in your life, intend to determine the purpose and nature of the walk. If the walk is for the dog’s fun and exercise, then see if you can stay present enough to allow the dog to have fun while getting exercise. Declare the walk to be his walk. If the walk is for your fun and exercise and the dog is just coming along, consider the compromises you might be willing to make to ensure that his experience is not one of a constant denial of his interests. If, at places along your route, the dog must be attentive to you and not the environment, happily condition that type of attentive walking. Then free him to his own explorations when you can.

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