Going for a walk is the highlight of most dogs' days. It's the opportunity to get out, stretch their legs, smell new smells, see new sights, and check on their neighborhood. Walks are about more than just exercise. It is also a time for dogs and their human to bond and do a fun activity together. But because there are so many interesting things going on, it can be tough for dogs to stick to their manners and walk politely on a leash. With so many other fascinating sights, smells and sounds, you as the human cease to be someone worth paying attention to.
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Fortunately, there are games you can incorporate into your walk to keep the attention on you. Not only do you maintain the focus of your dog, which reduces pulling, reactivity and other problems, but the games also make walks with your dog stimulating, fun and improve the bond between the two of you.
Anyone who has done agility work with his or her dog will recognize this move. In agility it is known as a front cross, but it is also a fantastic tool to use during walks. As you're walking along, you ask your dog to "Change!" from one side of you to the other while facing you and without breaking stride.
This is a great tool to use during walks for several reasons. First, it brings the attention back on you. You're asking your dog to do something interesting, and you're also having the dog face you as he does the trick. Second, you can use it to keep yourself between your dog and possible problems, such as other dogs you pass on the street, without having to pause your walk or even slow down.
Here's an example of "Change!" in action:
You can teach your dog to do this move by starting at a sit. Use treats or a toy to lure your dog from a sit on one side of you to a sit on the other. The lure works to keep your dog facing you while she changes sides. Build up the speed of the game by using the command at a stand, then at a slow walk, then at a speedy walk. Pretty soon you'll be able to ask for a "Change!" at any time during a walk and can make a game out of it.
Playing a game of catch is a great way to get your dog zeroed in on you. You can do this using treats or a toy. When your dog starts to get distracted or seems to forget that you're even on the walk with him, you can play a couple rounds of "Catch!" to remind your dog that you're a really fun partner to have on a walk. He'll decide that sticking next to you is a smart idea because you're going to randomly toss him something fun or delicious.
The catch game can be used to get attention back on you and can also be used as a reward for other good behaviors like sitting at a street corner or politely passing another dog on the street.
This is another version of a game of catch, but instead of catching a treat in the air, your dog will find it on the ground. Simply toss a treat on the ground nearby and tell your dog to "find it." Your dog will have to use her nose to sniff out where the treat went.
This is a great game for dogs that need to be distracted from potential triggers. For instance, if your dog pays too much attention to approaching dogs, or gets nervous around people passing closely on the sidewalk, you can use the "find it" game to put her attention on a simple task. Instead of focusing on what she fears, she'll focus on completing a job that includes a tasty reward.
To note, if you have a dog that is infamous for snatching unapproved snacks from the street, then this isn't the best game because it reinforces that he or she can eat things found on the ground.
Turn heeling and sitting into a game! Instead of asking your dog to occasionally sit, such as only at street corners, and maintain the same speed the entire walk, you can create an entertaining game by mixing up your commands and rewarding your dog for playing the game.
During the walk, engage your dog with an upbeat voice to walk as fast as you, go slow, go fast, sit, go slow, sit and however else you might want to mix it up. Reward your dog for keeping pace with you and transitioning speed or sitting quickly.
Keep it random and unpredictable by varying how long you go at a certain pace, which pace you switch to, how long you hold a sit before moving forward again, and so on. You become a really fun partner in a game that keeps your dog interested in seeing what you'll ask for next and earning a reward for participation.
Not only does it reinforce basic obedience training, but it also builds up your dog's desire to pay attention to you during walks in distracting or stimulating situations.
One of the best parts of a walk for a dog is to be able to explore the environment around him. Instead of letting your dog pull you to every tree and fire hydrant, turn exploration into a game you play together.
First, teach your dog hand targeting. This is a great exercise to teach your dog for a variety of reasons. Once your dog has hand targeting down, you can extend the training to target objects that you point to. You can then play, "Go touch" during walks.
Send your dog over to touch a tree, or a fence post or a flower pot. Your dog gets a double reward — the reward earned when he or she touches the target and the reward of being allowed to go investigate something new.
Here's a video on how to train your dog for hand targeting: