I have written about adolescent dogs here on Petcha before. The struggle with this age group is real, and it gets really real on leash walks with young dogs.
The “teenage” dog is a challenge. In my training classes in Maine, it is not uncommon for people to cry when they talk to me about the frustrations they have dealing with their adolescent dogs. Know that you are not alone and that this too shall pass. One way that you can help your young dog is by taking him out and about. The premise is that the more they see, the less of a big deal the world becomes and the more they can deal with things in a calm manner.
Gearing Up For Dog Walking
Let’s start at the beginning and review the right equipment for the job. Adolescent dogs are very much like human teenagers. They are pushy, lack self control, test limits and are still growing their brains.
Our young dogs can be sweet and charming and very good when they behave, but when they misbehave they can be horrid. Your job on walks is to take away any chance for your pet to misbehave.
A proper leash walk starts with equipment suited for the job. This includes collars, harnesses, leashes, ID tags, microchips, treats, pickup bags and water.
1. Collars, Harnesses And Leashes: It is not uncommon for people to look to a training tool that will help get their young dogs under control immediately when they are frustrated with problem behavior. Be aware that pinch collars and shock collars all have fallout. When aversive methods like these are used to train dogs, two consequences usually arise.
The first is that you take away the dog’s warning signals. While a barking and lunging dog is not something that we want to contend with, that dog is sending a warning message not to be approached. Or, in some cases, a more urgent, “Come over here now so I can play with you!” When a dog’s warning signals are taken away, it creates a dog who will bite or attack seemingly without any warning. This type of behavior was much more common when I first started training, before I crossed over to kinder, gentler dog training methods.
The second issue with using aversive training tools is that dogs do not understand things in the same way that we do. Often, it is all about associations for them. For instance, if you were to give your dog a harsh leash correction when he pulled toward another dog, he would feel pain. Instead of following logic the way that you or I would and thinking, “I pulled and felt pain,” dogs may instead think, “I felt pain when I saw that kid on a bike, or that dog, or that lady with a sandwich.”
To dogs, therefore, kids on bikes or dogs when they are on leash or all ladies with food are bad. Quite often, our dogs associate what they were looking at when they felt pain as being the cause of the pain. This is an important concept when working with dogs.
A collar with ID tags is a must. Be careful that the collar cannot slip over your dog’s head. If you are unsure, make it tighter. Better safe than sorry. My Collie has a narrow head and wears a martingale collar, also known as a limited slip collar. Finn’s collar cannot slip over his head, but it is comfortable and does not choke him.
My dogs both have harnesses for walks that free up their shoulders. A front clip harness can really alleviate a lot of pulling, and young dogs tend to pull more than any other age bracket. If your arm is being pulled about, you should look into this option. I often recommend a front clip harness with a double leash. You can clip the leash to both the front and back. I used mine with both clips on ice this past winter, just for a little extra security. Front clip harnesses are a training tool and are not meant to be used for a lifetime of pulling. Front clip harnesses do not replace training.
2. Microchips And ID tags: If you have not already microchipped your pet, please do so as soon as possible. Accidents happen, dogs can get loose and tags fall off. If cost is an issue, check with your local shelters and inquire about low-cost microchip clinics. ID tags are a must-have backup.
3. Treats: I try never to walk my dogs without a pocketful of tasty treats. Sometimes I use a bait bag, but because I am a trainer I tend to buy and wear clothes that have treat-holding capability. Using treats on your walk can help to keep your dog’s focus, and it is always a good idea to reward good behavior. Remember: Behavior that is rewarded is likely to be repeated.
Trainer’s Tip: If your dog is pulling you on your walks, you need to break this habit now. It’s better to take time to teach proper leash manners now than to wait until you get into your power walk or jog. You will have this dog for many years to come, so invest the time now to train him correctly on the leash.
4. Bags and water: Don’t forget you will need plenty of poop bags and water in case your dog gets thirsty.
Factors That Affect Dog Walking
Weather: Let the saying, “If it’s too hot/cold for you, it’s too hot/cold for your dog” be your guide. Pay attention to the surface your dog is walking on — is it too hot or too cold, or is there anything that could hurt your pet’s paws?
Neighborhood: Is the neighborhood safe? One of my personal pet peeves is the use of chemicals on lawns. I used to watch for the little signs that say to use caution because of recent pesticide treatment, but now I watch for yards with uniform grass, and only grass. The runoff from these yards is often on the sidewalk and I will cross the street, if possible, to avoid walking my dog through it.
Distance: How far do you go? That depends on you and your dog. Most young dogs are happy to go, go, go. The saying, “A tired dog is a happy dog and a happy family,” applies here, and if you add a little bit of training while on a walk, it will tire out your dog more than straight-up walking.
Please do not attach your dog to a bike, or jog with your young dog until your pet is cleared for such activity by your veterinarian. Your young dog’s growth plates need to close, and that usually happens at about 1 year old. The adolescent stage can start as early as 5 months or so, and varies by breed.
If you have any concerns about your dog’s health or if you want to know just how far your dog should be going, please check with your veterinarian.
Happy walking and happy training!