The Structured Walk – Dog Training Basics
by Nick D’Amato
Master Trainer – National K9 Learning Center
Dogs … they can lower our blood pressure, curb anxiety and help with our overall well-being. Some dogs can even be trained to detect chemical anomalies in human bodies that can warn of seizures or panic attacks.
As dog owners, we owe them a lot. Of course that includes great nutrition, veterinary care, toys, and love but it also should include an opportunity to keep their bodies and minds fit.
One of the best ways to do give them this chance is through the Structured Walk. Hopefully your dog will be with you for many years. During his or her lifetime there will be long leisurely walks and, those times when you only have quick ten minutes. Having the Structured Walk down for those quick runs will benefit both of you.
A Structured Walk means that you and your dog are clipping along at a pace that YOU set. The leash is slack and your dog is roughly at your heels. It is a constant pace until you say “Pause” or whatever your key word is. It does not include stopping to smell every flower, marked sign post or random piece of something on the ground.
You can begin this training practice in whatever length of time you feel is right for dog. It might just be from your front door down to the end of block. If that feels right, then turn around and head back to the house. Gradually, you can increase it until you are doing a mile or so. As you are practicing this, you dog is learning to stay focused on your cues – aware of the leash and your verbal commands. Naturally, you’ll want to make sure that your dog is healthy enough for longer walks.
Sounds easy but, let’s get into it.
What if you have a dog that reacts to passerby, or doesn’t stay focused on you? You are not alone. These problems can negatively affect your relationship with your dog. You might feel limited where you can take your dog or what you can comfortably do together. The good news is that these are problems that can be fixed with most dogs
There are a couple simple tools that can empower you to correct these behaviors– the prong collar or slip chain. When either is used correctly, it’s a great method for bringing you and your dog the freedom and confidence to do more of the things you both love, together, as a team.
These collars serve the same purpose that a horse bit does. They are tools that help you communicate with your dog. They can be easily and inexpensively purchased from most pet stores or off the internet and comes in a variety of sizes. (I recommend the Herm Sprenger brand.) It’s crucial to learn how to use them and this is easy to do.
Before you begin, make sure you have the right collar and the right leash. Your dog’s prong collar should fit tightly on the dogs upper neck, with the leash buckle positioned in the center on top, opposite the throat. For giant breeds or those with long hair I usually opt for the 3.0mm, the majority of dogs I usually go 2.25mm. Those with puppies or dogs under 10 pounds can use either a micro-prong or a slip chain. The leash you use for prong/slip collar and structured walks should be between 6-8 feet long.
Now you are ready to begin!
When introducing the prong collar to your dog, they may have a variety of reactions based off of their personality type. They might lay down, play possum, or buck like a bronco. Regardless of their reaction, the process for helping your dog to understand will remain the same.
Start your dog off with a loose leash. When your dog reaches the end of the leash, apply very slight leash pressure towards yourself and take a step back. When the dog turns and begins making progress towards you, reward them with verbal praise. “Good Dog!” Repeat this process until you begin to feel that your dog is understanding the concept of leash pressure.
The next step is the Structured Walk. I recommend starting with the dog in classic heel position, i.e. on your left-hand side, with their right ear next to your left knee. Pick a specific destination in front of you – like a stop sign or a fence post and begin walking at a moderate pace. When you feel your dog beginning to break position, say the word “No” and give minimal leash pressure needed (flick of the wrist) to direct them back towards Heel position. Once they are remaining in Heel position, begin adding in unexpected turns. Each time you turn, watch for them to stick with you — reward with verbal praise when your dog is in proper position or add light leash pressure when it’s needed.
After the structured portion of the walk, now is the time give your dog some time to sniff things on the ground. It’s mentally stimulating and a great way to reward them for a well behaved, structured walk.
I hope this helps dogs be able go more places with their people and do more things they love with the ones they love. If you need help with your dog, give me a call or text. We can discuss your issues and arrange for a consultation. 941-928-9949.