Today, I want to touch on one of the quickest, most useful training tools I use with dogs. I’ve decided to call it the Working Walk, because I’ve done it since I was about 10 and never had a name for it.
The short version is this: there are two kinds of walking with your dog. The first kind is a regular walk. Your dog stays on a loose leash as you both leisurely stroll down the road, both of you exploring the world together in peaceful harmony. This is a great walk, but it can take awhile to get there because your success hinges on your dog keeping part of his attention on you as he is sniffing along, being aware of where you are walking so that he can keep his leash loose. This is what we all hope for when we go for walks, and it is the Working Walk that will get you there.
The second type of walking is, you guessed it, the Working Walk. This type of walking is done with the goal of having your dog keep his attention on you 100% of the time. So your pace is quicker (it doesn’t have to be faster, but take smaller steps to help boost your energy), your energy is higher, you’re doing a lot more talking, and you’re throwing in a bunch of exercises to keep your dog guessing. You’re using a lot of reinforcement, a lot of praise and talking, and you and your dog are working together with focus on each other. If you are easily embarrassed by people watching you goof off with your dog, you may want to find a more private place to do this than your neighborhood park. Just a thought.
When you are doing the Working Walk, your goal is for your dog to respond quickly, immediately, and joyfully to all of your mini-exercises that you throw at him. This should be a fun game that the two of you play together, and it really is fun. It’s like an unchoreographed dance routine that the two of you improvise with. Here are some exercises that you can use with your dog:
Quick abouts are just what they sound like. A quick about turn (or a 180 degree turn). When you see that your dog is not paying appropriate attention, say his name, and quickly turn and go the other way! Give him praise and reinforcement when he comes back to heel position on your left side. You can do this one as many times as you want to, and your dog will probably never get bored. I’ve had dogs who love it so much, they hit the end of the leash and immediately do a Quick About all on their own. Keys to remember with this:
- Don’t wait for your dog! If you do a quick about, and then stand there and wait for him to come with you, you’re missing the point of the exercise.
- Be exciting when you turn. I’ll often say “Whoops!” and turn. When they hear that high pitched word, they flip around to come with me after only one or two repetitions.
2. Back Aways (Or Call Fronts, or Comefore. They’re all the same thing.)
Back Aways are again, just what they sound like. While you are walking with your dog, say “Dog, Come!” and take a few steps backwards. Don’t turn around, just back up. Have the dog come and sit in front of you. Think Quick! while you do this. The whole exercise should take just a few seconds. If you’re having trouble getting your dog to sit right in front of you, use a treat to lure them right up close to your legs (or ankles, or belly. Any size dog can do this!), bring the treat upwards, and their little bottoms should hit the ground as their noses go up to follow the treat. Keys to remember with this:
- Be quick! The faster and more exciting you make this exercise, the better it’s going to go for you.
- This is another great one to use when your dog’s attention is wandering. Call his name, tell him to come, have him sit in front, and reward!
3. Circles Left and Right
While you’re walking, change it up by walking in a small circle to the left or two the right. These circles serve a few functions. The first is to, yet again, get your dog’s attention. The second is to teach your dog to move with you, or out of your way. If your dog is walking on your left side, when you do a Circle Left, he will need to get back out of your way, otherwise you will step on him. When I do this, I say, “Get Back.” When you do a Circle Right, your dog will need to hurry to catch up with you. I say, “Get it, get it, get it!” (I’m not sure why, but it’s very exciting, so it serves its purpose). The third function is to teach your dog change of pace. To go to the left, on the inside, the dog must slow down. To go to the right, on the outside, the dog must speed up. Keys to remember:
- Talk to your dog! Help him understand with your voice and words what he needs to be doing. Does he need to slow down and back up? Or does he need to speed up and hurry around?
- Use treats. I will lure a dog around me when he’s on the outside, to help him hurry. I also use food to push him back to the inside so he doesn’t get stepped on.
There are dozens more exercises that you can throw into your Working Walk. It’s like the Turkey Soup of dog training: Just throw in whatever you have in the fridge. If your dog knows sit, down, stay, throw those in as well! Anything that your dog knows is fair game when you’re doing a Working Walk.
Do remember, though, that this is hard work, and it requires a lot of brain power. A Working Walk should only last 5-10 minutes before taking a rest or doing a different activity.
Happy training, friends!