My apologies to all of you for the hiatus. 2008 is turning out to be quite jam-packed, and I've been doing my best to get organized so that, once I'm back in the swing (currently headed in that direction), everything can move ahead accordingly. In reviewing last years NaturalDogBlog, I realized that we've actually covered almost all of the basics. There are a few more things to talk about (notably heeling, "correction", and answering the "where's the danger" question) - and at that point you'll all have all the tools you need to incorporate Natural Dog Training into your dog's life. My immediate goal is to flesh out those topics, followed by an improvement to the quality of instruction with the Natural Dog Training eBook, and ultimately some video as well. In the meantime, I'm also going to open up the floor a bit more, to address particular questions that readers ask here in the blog posts. So if you have questions, feel free to submit them, and over time you may find yourself front-paged on the site. Of course you can remain anonymous, if you wish. 🙂
In that spirit, here's a question that I recently received:
I do have a question for you about walks. Do you feel that the dog should always be by your side always focusig on you when going on a casual walk through the neighborhood, or is it ok for them to sniff around and walk both ahead and behind you, as long as the leash is loose. And along those lines, is it ok for them to walk in front of you, or should they always be next to you or behind. I always get varying opinions on this matter so I was just wondering what your thoughts might be on the matter.
Great question! I don't feel that a dog should "always be by your side focusing on you when going on a casual walk through the neighborhood". So yes, I think that sniffing around, walking both ahead and behind is fine, as long as there's no pulling on the leash.
I see "heeling" as a technique to use when it's necessary - (will be covering this on the blog, as mentioned before) - for instance, you're walking through a crowded environment with lots of distractions and you use the heel to get through without issue. Expecting that kind of focus from your dog 100% of the time would be unrealistic imho, with the exception of those dogs who are just LIKE that. Also, you specified "casual walk" in your question. On the other hand, we have talked about how you should walk with your dog when you're walking with your dog - and I think it's helpful to see even casual walks as an interaction - as opposed to just your dog's coming along for the ride (though a well-trained dog can handle this just fine, once that interactive relationship is well-established).
Typically I'll start out a walk with some prey games, getting a dog to focus on me (as prey), incorporating tug and switching directions a bunch of times. I might even use a little bit of high collar technique (and if you follow that link, make sure you check out the second part of the high collar discussion as well) to help a dog that's really charged up and directed outward. This combination of activity serves to at least synch up our energy so that I'm at the center of the circle of the dog's radius of action, and they are focused on me in that way (the "you are the big prey" kind of way). The bulk of a walk I'll allow to be informal (as long as there's no pulling, at which point I would go back to prey games) - though I might intersperse some heeling, especially heeling at a run. I also usually finish up a walk with some tug, if the dog still has energy left to burn.
For me, the most successful way to be the center of my dog's world is to embody that "moose" energy and allow it to be a dynamic (as opposed to a regimented "you must walk next to me/behind me and always be focused on me me me" kind of thing). It was my lack of success with alpha/"leadership" model of dog training that led me to Kevin Behan's Natural Dog Training world to begin with. Remember that the prey controls the action, and as the moose you become the real leader in your dog's life.