Structured walks with your dog, what do they look like?
Dog Life Unleashed Calming the Chaos 30 day Experiment. We all know exercise changes our bodies and our mindsets for the better. We just don't do it. Especially if you are a high performer, you've got a lot on your plate. That's when the simple most fundamental things tend to slide. Like walking your own dog. You've got a sense of underlying anxiety about all that you need to do. Or you have a dog that's got some issues like selective reactivity, the fundamentals get overlooked and before you know it, frustration sets in. Here are some fundamentals to a structured walk with your dog.
1. What a structured walk is not
It's not a sniff fest. As a trainer I get this question all the time.
Is it okay to let my dog sniff?
The answer to that question is yes an no.
Here's the deal. People actually stop taking their dog for a walk because their dog is so focused on sniffing EVERYTHING they never actually get anywhere. The dog is dragging behind or pulling ahead then stopping. It becomes frustrating and no fun, even though your dog might think it's a blast.
When I say the answer is yes and no, it's because dogs should have time to fulfill the sniff, have a blast. That's the yes part. A structured walk fulfills another purpose though, so no is the answer for most of a structured walk.
I like to go with the 90/10 rule. 90% of the time your dog should be walking with you on a loose leash. 10% is of potty and sniffing.
A dog that runs with you should be focused on running and not all the sudden putting the breaks on to sniff something. A structured run means way less sniffing.
2. What a structured walks is
A structured walk means that you and your dog are clipping along at a pace that YOU set. The structured walk helps your dog to understand focus.
The structured walk teaches your dog impulse control.
The structured walk is all about a relationship, a partnership and an understanding between you and your dog.
The structured is when the leash is slack and your dog is roughly 1-2 feet from your side. It is at a constant pace.
And if you can get your dog to respect the walk a little more - it will lead to OFF LEASH fun when your dog can sniff their little hearts out!
3. When to let your dog sniff or go potty
A dog that is constantly sniffing and peeing on everything is taking charge of you and deciding how it's going to go. There is no structure which ends up showing up in a lot of other places in both of your lives. It can contribute to anxiety or selective reactivity.
That being said, giving your dog an outlet to sniff is important as well.
Use the 90/10 rule. Typically people are walking the same routes. By the way, I'm all about routine so there's nothing wrong with that. In fact it can be helpful in figuring out when to let your dog sniff and when not to sniff.
You get to choose but your dog will tell you the best sniff spots. Allow a couple of those on your structured walk. The rest of the walk is just that, "The Walk", not the "The Sniff".
4. When to let your dog go potty
Let's put it this way, you know when your dog has to pee. When your dog is stopping and peeing constantly, that's marking. That's not okay. Let your dog pee, but don't let them mark. Keep moving and simply don't allow it.
Also worth noting; be respectful. Yes, dogs go pee outside, but someone else's front lawn really isn't appropriate.
This is why I like to start the structured walk with routine. Pick an easy route to do consistently (usually from your home) and find appropriate pee spots. That routine can turn to you being able to tell your dog yes or no as to where it's ok "to go"!
5. Fundamental Practice
It can be REALLY frustrating when you have a dog that doesn't walk on leash well. This is where patience is a virtue is more true than ever. If you've got a dog that pulls, sniffs, doesn't pay attention I suggest you try the dancing with dogs technique to take the stress of you and your dog. Make it more fun and get your dog paying attention to where you are going versus their own agenda.
6. "The Walk" does not need to be linear
We all to do it. Think of taking your dog for a walk as an out and back destination.
If you've got a dog that is easily distracted, has anxiety, is selectively reactive or simply does not know how to walk on a leash, a destination walk is not going to get you where you need to be. Practicing fundamentals will. It's still time and distance, it's just a different format than you anticipated!
7. Practice makes permanent. Mastery is 10,000 hours
You may be frustrated with "The Walk". It isn't going as fast as you'd hoped. You're a high drive, high performance individual. Backing up isn't normal. But listen to me when I tell you fundamentals make all the difference in the world.
You can stay frustrated trying to move forward fast or you can get good at the craft.
"Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast" is a Navy SEAL saying. The meaning is pretty clear. Practice slowly so that the correct motor patterns are ingrained. And perhaps equally importantly, execute "slowly", that is to say, don't rush. Pushing your nervous system (or your dog's) to perform faster than it's trained to will simply cause you to fumble what you're doing, and the end result is that your rushed performance is slower than if you had attempted a measured cadence in the first place.
Pushing a dog's nervous system too fast... it's not going to get you anywhere. They pick up on energy before we do. Slow down. Demonstration before explanation and fundamental drills, get good at the simple first.
It's seems boring but the more you do it, the happier your dog will be. They need direction. They need a job. And the practice for you can carry through to everything you do.
8. High Expectations versus fundamentals
People who invest systematically over those who do it randomly win. Period.
It's true in finances.
It's true in education.
It's true in fitness.
It's true in nutrition.
It's true in relationships.
It's true in a simple walk with your dog.
Work on the fundamentals daily and you'll end up with an off leash dog who is stoked to walk with you. Run free and come back to you with a simple gesture....
You cannot expect your dog to have an off leash life if you've got no boundaries, no clear vision of a simple simple walk with you.... you may be at the top of your game but you did a lot of fundamental things to get there. Don't expect your dog to match your intellect without the fundamentals practiced on a daily basis.
9. Dogs do what works for them
You let a dog pull, they're good with it.
You let a dog stop and sniff all the time, they're good with it.
But it does nothing for structure, respect or building confidence.
It's like social media. Scrolling without focus gets you no where. In fact it ends up in confusion. Mind f*ck.
If your dog can get away with stopping, pulling, lunging.. they will. Like the social media scroll... Mind f*ck.
You require "The Walk" ... they'll do that.
If you have no structure you're lost. It's not a good feeling.
Your dog needs you to lead them into structure.
It's the best way to calm, confidence and more fun.
10. Structured walk is an anxiety free activity
Anxiety comes from past trauma and future fear. The best way out of it is being present. The daily walk with your dog is an anxiety buster. Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. Be present. Slow down. Fundamentals. Practice makes permanent.
Calming the Chaos Experiment takes you through 30 days of backing up, fundamentals with your dog to get a grip on anxiety and play everyday. You can have have the life with your dog where you drop the anxiety, drop the expectations and literally have more fun with your dog, and everyone else in your life.