Taco ‘Bout Training Tuesdays: Walks

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Out for a walk

Imagine you are out for a walk with your dog, and he has his nose to the ground and is frantically pulling you to the dog park, and to a pee-stained fire hydrant, and a bush, and the neighbour across the street that he really likes, and a dumpster that smells a little funky.

You are getting frustrated. You may think your dog is behaving badly, but his behavior is understandable if you look at it from his point of view.

All the other animals and smells that your dog wants to get to during a walk are as important to your dog as tacos are to you, and he knows pulling will get him there. To your dog, pulling is a reliable way to get to the things they want, in the same way that your favourite taco recipe is a reliable way to get some delicious tacos.

You are going to continue using recipes that produce good results, in the same way that your dog will continue pulling if that gets good results. But you can learn different taco recipes, and you may need to. If you are changing to a vegetarian diet, or are out of certain ingredients, you do not have to give up tacos, you just need to find another good, reliable taco recipe. (Side note: Fried avocado makes a surprisingly good vegetarian taco! I don’t have a recipe, but I know a local restaurant that makes them.)

Your dog can also learn a new “recipe” for getting to what they want (like dog parks and fire hydrants), but you must teach it to them. Here’s my recipe for teaching dogs how to get where they want to go on a walk without pulling my arm out of its socket:

  • Reward correct position
  • Don’t reward pulling

Rewarding correct position is the first step because it’s not fair to insist the dog doesn’t pull without first telling them what we do want them to do. We can and should reward the dog often and in a variety of ways, with treats, praise, play, and progress in the direction they want to go whenever they are walking politely with a loose leash. When your dog learns that their favourite things on walks will reliably happen if they keep the leash loose, but will not happen if they pull, they will walk with a loose leash more often, and pull less often. We do want our dogs to see and smell their favourite things: the dog park, treats, verbal praise, a pee-stained fire hydrant, a bush, the neighbour across the street that he really likes, a dumpster that smells a little funky, and all the other things that generate taco-levels of excitement and happiness in your dog. We just need to teach them that loose leash walking is the best recipe to make those things happen.

If your dog has a long history of pulling, or is an especially persistent puller, you may need to hire a trainer to help with your timing, consistency, and mechanical skills. But dogs can learn new ways to make good things happen, just like us.

– Daniel


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