10 things to do on your dog walks
1 Practise off-lead walking
Practise a little off-lead close control work when in a safe area where you can safely let your dog run free — never when near roads or walking on pavements which run alongside them. Keep such sessions short as they require a lot of concentration and self discipline, and make them as exciting as possible with lots of changes of speed and direction. View it as a game as much as an obedience exercise and your dog will enjoy rising to the challenge as much as you. Make sure you have some really tasty treats or a favourite and highly desirable toy to help you motivate him, especially if there are lots of other distractions and interesting things happening — he could, after all, be off doing his own thing rather than staying by your side.
As well as enjoying chasing and tuggy games using toys, encourage your dog to use all his senses to the full by playing hide-and-seek with him. Wait for a moment when he’s busy investigating something else and slip behind a tree or bush, or squat down in a patch of long grass next to the path. Although hiding yourself from his view, make sure you can see him so you can call him again if necessary to help guide him to your hiding place, or to reveal yourself if he becomes panicky when he thinks he’s lost you.
Wait a moment or two and call his name; call again if he’s having trouble finding you to make it easier for him. When he discovers you he’ll probably be highly pleased with his cleverness, but be ready with a toy or tasty treat and plenty of praise. As well as being fun, this game can often help encourage your dog to keep a close eye on you and improve recalls.
3 Lead by example
Keep your dog’s attention on you and add an exciting element of unpredictability while walking on the lead by varying your speed and by making rapid changes of direction. Try zigzagging, circling, or retracing your footsteps a short distance before going forward again.
4 Take a toy
Letting your dog loose to run around off the lead doesn’t mean you need to stop interacting with him until it’s time to clip the lead back on and go home again. By all means allow him some time to himself to run round, sniff at bushes, and do other doggy things, but don’t leave him entirely to his own devices. Rather than just being the person who takes him to and from the off-lead area, become the really important companion who adds to the enjoyment. Take a favourite toy along, and from time to time invite him to join in a short but very exciting game with you — stop while he’s still interested in it and wanting more and send him off to do his own thing again. You’ll find it also encourages him to keep a close eye on you in case the toy comes out again, so he’ll be less likely to stray too far.
If your dog likes chasing after balls, it can be tempting to use a ball launcher or tennis racket to send it a long distance, but shorter throws by hand keep your dog closer to you and involve more exciting chases. Never throw sticks as they can be very dangerous — you can buy substitute rubber sticks, or use a piece of old hosepipe as an alternative.
5 Do some training
Include a few training exercises while out on walks, both when on and off the lead. As well as keeping you both up to scratch, it’s important to do the work while out and about in all sorts of different places — it’s no good having a dog who only does what you ask when at home or in training classes! Include sits, stays, downs, heelwork, and any tricks your dog knows, rewarding him between each exercise with praise, a treat, or an exciting game before releasing him for more free running. Even though he might know and be able to perform an exercise really well at home, it can be much harder for him when he's out in a distracting environment with lots of fascinating sights, sounds, and smells, so be prepared to use high-value rewards to help motivate him. Include lots of recalls: if you only call him to you when it’s time to go home he’ll understandably be inclined to keep his distance so the fun can continue for longer. A good recall is essential if you’re going to be able to safely let your dog off lead.
6 Add variety
If you have a limited number of everyday routes, try adding some variety by walking them in reverse rather than always going in the same direction. Walk on different sides of the road where there’s a pavement and you can do so safely, as although it might look the same to you, there will be different scents for your dog.
Be imaginative and use what’s available to help spice up walks a little, asking your dog to jump over or limbo under a fallen tree trunk for example, or even to walk along it a short way if it’s broad enough and safe for him to do so; weave in and out of fence posts, jump on to and walk along or wriggle under a park bench.
7 Pulling power
Teaching your dog to walk nicely on the lead makes going for a walk much nicer and less frustrating for both of you. If he’s very strong and you struggle to stay in control, then headcollars and other aids might help you — but remember that they’re there to help while you’re training him, not to act as a substitute for doing the work. If you’re having difficulty overcoming pulling problems, then get some professional help. Don’t forget to praise your dog when he’s walking nicely — don’t just take his good behaviour for granted!
8 Go somewhere different
Spend some time studying a map of your local area — you might think you know it pretty well, but looking at a map can often reveal some places you perhaps haven’t explored yet or never thought of going to. Alternatively, make an outing of it and venture a little further afield to enjoy some new scenery and a bit of variety. Ordnance Survey Explorer maps are ideal, showing good detail — or visit the following sites for ideas for places to go: www.woodlandtrust.org.uk, www.forestry.gov.uk, and www.naturalengland.org.uk
9 Find a walking buddy
Finding a companion to walk with can liven up walks, making it easier to play hide-and-seek and tracking games, as well as giving you the opportunity to chat. It’s safer to go with a friend if you walk in more isolated areas too — and if your friend is also a dog owner, then your pets might enjoy the opportunity to romp around together. Obviously they need to be compatible, and keep a close eye on them to ensure that games don’t become too rowdy or start to get out of hand. If you don’t know of anyone you can approach, try asking at your training club to see if anyone local is interested in joining you.
10 Follow your nose
Most dogs enjoy the chance to put their powerful sense of smell to work with this very simple scenting game. Leave your dog in a sit/stay, or if the temptation is going to be too great for him to maintain it, ask a friend to hold him while you lay a short trail of really tasty and smelly treats. Let him see them in your hand and watch you lay the trail. As you move away from him keep bending over to touch the ground, sometimes putting a treat down and sometimes not. Place the treats at close distances to start with, and as your dog gets better at sniffing them out start spacing them further apart. Make it more difficult by zigzagging rather than moving in a straight line so he really has to use his nose and be thorough to find them all.