Scott Rall: Shall we go for a walk?

BY SCOTT RALL The Globe outdoors columnist I was at a big outdoor event last weekend and saw about 100 different dogs of all shapes and sizes. Most of the dogs seemed like pets out for a day in a big crowd. Almost all of them were on some elabora...


The Globe outdoors columnist

I was at a big outdoor event last weekend and saw about 100 different dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Most of the dogs seemed like pets out for a day in a big crowd. Almost all of them were on some elaborate leash system designed to allow the dog to be in charge.

With few exceptions, most of the dogs were taking their owners for a walk instead of the owners taking their dogs for a walk.


I do understand that under these circumstances dogs get more than normally excited. I saw full body harnesses. I saw leashes that wrapped around the dogs’ rear haunches. I saw many dogs that were tied together like a team of horses. Some dogs had a leash attached to what looked like a bite muzzle. In almost all cases the owner had what I would call “on the verge of out of control” control.

What I mean by this is that the owner lacked the proper tools and the leverage needed to make the dog behave and act civilized. In some of the worst cases the owner looked like a cowboy sliding down the rope of a recently roped steer.  Their heels were dug in and the dog just towed them along wherever the dog wanted to go. There is an old saying that an obedient dog is welcome everywhere and a disobedient dog is welcome nowhere.

What ever happened to taking your dog for a walk? The very first thing you need to have in order to walk your dog is a clear understanding between the owner and the dog. The owner needs to understand that they are the owner/controller and the dog needs to understand that it is a dog. Most dogs have no idea that they are a dog. They think they are a human member of the family.

The most basic part of dog training is what it takes to go for a walk.  I have had many dog owners who will bring their dog to me for training because they cannot master the art of taking their dog for a walk.

They generally bring the dog to me after the have gotten hurt from the dog yanking on the leash and knocking them to the ground.  This is very common with smaller-framed ladies.

Fifteen minutes into the training with me, most dogs will walk at heel for me like they had done it their entire lives.  What this shows is that the dog knows what the owner wants and how to do it, but the owner has never acted in a manner to demand and show the dog what they have to do.

Most of the fancy leashes I spoke of before are used because the dog pulls so hard on the leash that the owner thinks the dog might actually choke themselves to death by pulling on the leash. In 20 years of dog training I have never seen a dog die of self-inflicted choking by pulling on the leash while being walked by its owner. So just how do you teach a dog to go for a walk?

Let’s cover some basics. You need a short 3-4 foot-long leash that does not stretch. You need a slip chain or choke chain as it is often called.  You do not need the chain collar with the pinching wires attached. Slip the apparatus over the dog’s neck and start with the firm command “Sit” with a gentle but firm upward jerk on the leash.  When the head goes up the butt goes down.


This training should have a classroom demeanor and a firm tone of voice. The dog needs to know the owner is serious about helping to dog learn and behave as commanded.  

A firm jerk on the leash and a heel command starts the walk.  When the dog tugs at the leash a moderately firm jerk backwards is given and the command “Heel” is repeated.  Each dog will be different and in most cases compliance is achieved within a short time with an ever-increasing level of leash correction once the dog figures out the owner is serious.

Some dogs will take a little correction and others who have had life their way for a long time might need a stronger hand. Big dogs can pull hard and you might need some help at first if you cannot exert the necessary control. After a few training sessions done the right way and with lots and lots of repetition, your dog will soon understand that every walk is for the mutual benefit of both the owner and the dog.

The dog must walk beside you, not out in front of you.  When they are allowed to lead you even by a few steps you are teaching them they are the leader of the pack and you are the follower.

In short, the harder they pull, the more aggressively you respond with a jerk rearward on the leash. I can walk five dogs at one time and not one of them will pull on the leash. Dogs want to be outside and by you.

They deserve your love and attention. In return they need to honor your commands for your benefit and theirs.

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