Why Walking the Dog Matters
By Sean O’Shea of The Good Dog
I often get asked by clients and other folks why I recommend the “Heel” command and why it is valuable. It’s a very good question. For me, it goes much much deeper than just the aesthetic of having a dog walk next to you (although it does look good) and there’s some obvious practical value of having a dog in a well-managed physical position, close to your side to keep him or her out of trouble and harm’s way.
But in my opinion, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are some really valuable state-of-mind and relationship benefits as well. Let’s take a look at a few. Dogs have to utilize a ton of impulse control and focus to keep themselves next to you on the walk in the face of many distractions and exciting triggers. This ends up being a fantastic training and state-of-mind exercise for the dog. The physical position of the dog indicates the mental position as well. In other words, if the dog is working to keep himself next to me, I know he’s focused on me instead of the environment. I know he’s managing himself and I also know that his intensity level is under control. (Most dogs, as soon as they get agitated or stimulated start to move around and lose position either farther back or forward and these are great warning signs)
A respectful, polite, courteous and tuned-in state of mind isn’t the state of mind that reacts to dogs and other things in the environment. Having your dog honor your request to walk in a certain position, at a certain pace and ignoring distractions is a huge positive relationship builder. Dogs who are paying attention, being respectful, polite and courteously walking in a heel position feel far less inspired, entitled and empowered to bark, lunge and disagree with things they disapprove of in their environment.
Dogs in a heel are practicing self-control and are far less stressed and anxious and therefore far less apt to make poor decisions around dogs, people, cars, bikes etc. Dogs in a heel are actually deeply connected to their owners. They therefore feel far less stress and anxiety because they are being guided/led through the world rather than being in charge of assessing and sorting out what is safe and what is dangerous constantly. (This is especially important for nervous, anxious, fearful dogs, who make up the majority of reactive cases.) Asking more of your dog makes you a leader. A dog with a leader is relaxed and comfortable. A dog who is a leader is stressed and anxious. Dogs being respectful on-leash tend to be respectful to the environment. Dogs being brats on-leash tend to be brats to the environment. If the dog is using 75% of their mental focus on keeping themselves in a heel position, that only leaves 25% to get into trouble with.
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