Walking With Respect: Environmental Training For Your Dog
Is there anything more joyful than taking a lovely walk through nature with your dog in tow? With fresh air flooding into your lungs and the joys of nature all around, nothing could spoil your mood. Or could it? Not all dogs are as well-behaved as we would like them to be, especially when they are walking off-lead and in the middle of a natural spot, be it the forest, beach, riverbank or local parklands.
From randomly chasing small animals, disturbing nests or destroying habitats and disrupting people, there are many reasons why walking your dog can be difficult in natural environments. But, all hope is not lost!
There are ways you can train your dog to behave responsibly no matter which environment you bring them to, it’s all about understanding the potential risks and putting in the time to correct their behaviour. Let’s take a closer look at the ways you can teach your dog to walk with respect and train them to walk safely in all environments.
Fundamental dog training commands
Five basic training techniques help ensure your dog behaves when out and about. They are:
- Leave it
Let’s look at why each command is useful while out for walks.
The great thing about the sit command is that it is basically the first thing your dog will learn as it is the most natural to them. Within just a few sessions your dog can get the hang of sitting on command.
Dogs that know the command to sit are more likely to be attentive because sitting is typically a precursor to a follow-up command. Sit is the basic building block to instil in your dog as you work your way up to more complicated commands.
Depending on your dog’s breed, stay is an essential command to prevent them from chasing after small animals, other dogs' balls or sticks and when clipping them back onto their lead. This is a natural progression from sit and many dogs take to the stay command quite naturally once they have grasped sitting.
A recall is when your dog is distanced from you and they return to you by either calling their name or using a command like ‘here’ or ‘come’. If you plan on letting your dog off-lead then you will have to have 100% faith in their recall ability.
You can work your way up to recalling them off-lead by using a training leash and practising recalls until you have a 100% success rate. Offering a treat on a recall completion is a good way to reinforce this behaviour even after they have already mastered it.
The heel command is great in many walking situations as your dog will calmly come in close to you to avoid getting in the way or if your walking route narrows. If your dog is large then this command will be especially useful as they don’t always know they are in the way or their strength.
Heel is a great way to refocus your dog’s attention on you and improve the walking experience to ensure your arm isn’t pulled from its socket every time you leave the house.
There is no controlling what you and your dog will encounter on your walk, the only way to do that is to walk in your garden or not walk at all – which isn’t really an option.
So rather than trying to find the perfect waking route, it’s essential to prepare your dog for anything they may come across with the ‘leave it’ command. This command will see your dog stop investigating whatever they may have found, be it a bird, rodent, stick or food.
Walking at the beach is a great opportunity to showcase several of the basic walking commands for your dog. Dogs love the beach and you will need a strong recall to ensure they don’t stray too far from you, be that roaming through the dunes, splashing in the water or veering into a dog-free section.
Stay and heel are also great commands, from guiding your dog away from people enjoying picnics or sunbathing to preventing them from running into the sea. Finally, you will want your dog to be familiar with the leave command to ensure they don’t go poking their noses too closely into anything that has washed onto shore, be it a jellyfish or sea junk.
National parks and green spaces
The national parks and green spaces we have in the UK are beautiful and every care is taken to ensure they stay that way. For that reason, dogs aren’t always allowed off-lead, either to protect natural habitats or the livestock that roams freely on the land.
If you are in a green space and dogs are allowed to roam free, or you can camp with them, a good recall is critical to ensure they come back and don’t get into something or somewhere they shouldn’t.
Likewise, these natural spaces are often full of wildlife so if your dog does stumble upon something it’s important to train the leave it command to prevent them from interfering with it. Heel is another command you should bring when walking your dog in a national park or green space to ensure you and your dog remain on designated trails and can tuck out of the way when people are passing or coming from the opposite direction.
Playing in the park
Perhaps the ultimate test of your dog’s understanding of the five basic commands is a visit to a local park. Here you will encounter the need to use all five depending on the situation. If it’s busy then you will need a good recall, heel and stay command to ensure your dog isn’t running into other people’s spaces, or getting in the way of kids on their bikes.
Leave is important too, from stealing balls to finding stray sandwiches, there are often many enticing things in a park for your dog to try and claim for their own, even if they have no right to. If you are stopping for a picnic then ‘sit' is important to indicate to your dog that it’s time to relax, you may even wish to teach them the ‘down’ command so they settle down quicker.
Experience is key
Besides these basic commands and how to use them in certain environments, it’s also useful to give your dog experience of the various conditions they are likely to face when walking. Introducing them to others, especially children and other dogs, ensures that when they meet in public it won’t be for the first time and they will know how to behave.
You may also want to bring your dog to different terrains and environments such as grass and sand or tunnels and bridges to help them get desensitised to unfamiliar settings. Further sensitivity training to noises and public transport can also help make trips with your dog more enjoyable for all.
It is important not to overwhelm your dog with new environments and experiences but slowly introducing them to new places opens up a whole new world and adventure for them and you.