The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to walk your dog

Lucy sits before her walkWe based our extremely simple dog training regimen on Cesar Millan's book Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems.  The entire book can be broken down into a couple of paragraphs --- Cesar argues that dogs are naturally pack animals with one leader and a lot of followers.  Rather than training your dog lots of fancy tricks to get her to do what you want, you only need to make her understand that you are the pack leader.  Then be sure that your pet also gets plenty of exercise and you'll have a well-behaved dog.

Cesar solves both the pack leader and exercise problem with one simple answer --- walk your dog.  Sounds simple, but most people (including us before we read the book) do it all wrong.  When you walk your dog correctly, she should be walking at your side or behind you --- you're in charge of determining where you're going and how fast you're going.  The dog shouldn't be stopping to sniff and pee unless you decide to stop and let the dog sniff and pee.  The goal is to get the dog used to following your lead and looking to you for directions.

The correct way to walk a dog.Cesar recommends that your dog should have an hour of exercise a day.  We are a bit more lax than that --- I generally walk Lucy in the morning for about 20 minutes and Mark generally walks her in the evening for about 20 minutes.  If she were cooped up indoors all day, though, rather than able to run around on the farm, we'd probably have to walk her longer.

Food is also an integral element in the walk.  Rather than giving your dog meals as if it were his or her due, you should start feeding your dog after the walk.  When I come back from walking Lucy in the morning, I take off her leash and tell her to sit and stay at the door.  She waits for a couple of minutes as I go in the house and get her breakfast, and she stays seated until I've put the food in front of her.  This is yet one more way to make sure that Lucy knows that I'm in charge of the food and that she has to be calm and obedient in order to get any.

The walk is an important ongoing piece of training for your dog.  When one of us isn't feeling well and we just toss her a bowl of food without a walk, Lucy is far more likely to misbehave the next day.  When we're out of town for a few days and she doesn't have any walks, she's a bit wild when we return.  I like to think that walking Lucy is like keeping an eye on our relationship.  Strong human relationships are based on constant negotiations, and your relationship with your dog is no different.

This post is part of our Training a Farm Dog lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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