When the leaves turn a golden crimson, autumn rolls around again. This is a wonderful time to go for a stroll, particularly as a dog owner. Walking with a dog is a great way to clear the mind of both you and your dog. During those times it’s essential to take some time out, letting things slow down from fast paced modern life. It's also invaluable for the dog, giving it the time to explore, smell and experience all the scents.
During one of those walks we noticed a change in one of our dogs - it looked like she wasn't enjoying it as much anymore. She often lagged behind and we just had a sense that something didn't feel right. Call it the sixth sense, call it years of experience or knowing and observing our dogs closely so that we can see what they need to thrive.
Ella needed her 'Ella' walk. Our sweet Ella, who is a great communicator (very good at calming signals), had been a bit uncertain in her behaviour for awhile. At that time we had our first vacation in years with our two dogs instead of our pack of five. This was a great opportunity for us to see what we could do to help Ella gain more confidence. So we tried a different approach - an 'Attention and Choose' walk. The walk we had in mind and developed was meant to make Ella more confident in herself without compromising her soft character. The results were even better than we hoped!
What is the purpose of this walk?
We noticed during the daily walk that Ella often walked behind us and needed a lot of reassurance not to stay behind and to start exploring and sniffing like the rest. We believe that if dogs can make their own choices they gain more confidence, but that is often not the case during a walk because we unintentionally determine the walk, the length and the course.
How do you start?
We started walking with 5 and 10 metre leashes, giving the dogs more self-determination and assurance. While you’re still there to provide the safety of vicinity and holding on to the leash, you also give the dog the complete freedom and choice to choose the direction. In the beginning it was very difficult for Ella. We sometimes waited for 5 or 10 minutes because she did not know where or how to start: left, right or just standing right next to us. Just because we’re used to certain patterns they aren’t necessarily helpful. Dogs are often used to walking along in a habitual way and it can be easier to stay in that mode. But now she had to do it all by herself and that was pretty difficult for her early on. Sometimes I could get her to start moving again by walking a circle around her, but I wanted her to make the first move. Along with our dog Becca, who has developed learned helplessness due to experiences in her past, we started making this walk every day. In the beginning we didn't get beyond 20-30 metres but gradually that changed. We did have to wait a lot and felt like we were standing still for ages but as the days went by the progress was amazing. Our only goal was that the dog chose the path and we followed.. and good things come to those who wait!
And it worked!
It was in the middle of France and we didn’t see another soul during our walks in the forests and along the fields. We didn't have our cell phones or other people with us. We and the dogs were on our own. Through these daily attention-walks where we did not speak to each other but only observed the dogs we could see them becoming more certain of themselves and the choices they made. You could see their behaviour change every day!
After a week the dogs were decidedly and assuredly walking in front of us on the 5 meter leash, walking, exploring and sniffing. Their attitude changed into more composed, relaxed and confident dogs. Instead of walking 30 metres, they walked quietly through the forest for a while and became themselves. We had reached our goal!
After experiencing these changes we still often go for an 'Ella' walk. We don't do it every time because we also enjoy our walks when we walk and with other people and their dogs. In creating that balance we have found it to be very a valuable asset and highly recommend people try it out. Let your dog determine the route and put the focus of your attention on your dog, not your surroundings. It may not work straight away, but with patience and attention you will soon see a difference. We have shared this experience with other dog trainers and it was nice to see the positive reactions and how others experienced the power of this kind of walking exercise.
Have a great walk!