I’ve heard that you should never let your dog walk in front of you. Is that true?
Walking your dog is an essential part of responsible pet parenthood and contributes to a healthy, happy relationship between you and your four-legged friend. However, the way you handle the leash and position yourself in relation to your dog can significantly impact the overall walking experience. Teaching a dog to walk beside you is not normal behavior for a dog. However, it’s a behavior that can certainly be trained.
Why dogs pull on the leash
When your dog walks in front of you, they are more likely to pull on the leash. Dogs pull because the sheer act of pulling pays off: They get to sniff and forage as you hike on a trail or walk on the sidewalk. Even if they pull just a few feet, if they get a good sniff, pulling worked! So, because it works, dogs continue to pull. Fitting your dog for a head halter or a front-clip body harness can drastically reduce the amount of pulling.
The alpha dog theory
One of the main reasons why some dog parents believe it’s necessary to lead is the misinterpretation of the “alpha dog” theory. This theory suggests that dogs need to see their human as the pack leader. By walking in front, people assert dominance over their dogs. While this idea has been popularized over the years, modern dog training and behaviorists largely discredit the alpha dog theory.
Dogs are not wolves (though certain breeds may resemble them), and the concept of dominance in human-dog relationships is not as straightforward as it was once thought. Dogs are highly adaptable and social creatures, and their behaviors are often influenced by positive reinforcement and rewarding experiences rather than strict hierarchical structures. Training based on fear or dominance can lead to behavioral issues and diminish the trust between you and your dog.
Walking beside your dog
Walking beside your dog, rather than allowing them to walk in front, has several advantages. First and foremost, it builds and reinforces the bond between you and your furry companion. When you walk together, your dog will perceive the activity as a cooperative effort, enhancing your mutual connection. Moreover, by walking beside your dog, you can establish better communication, ensuring they remain attentive to you and respond to your commands effectively.
When your dog walks beside you, you are in a better position to observe and correct any undesirable actions promptly. This reinforces positive behavior and prevents the formation of bad habits during your walks.
Additionally, walking beside your dog provides an opportunity for consistent training. You can work on commands like “heel” or “leave it” while maintaining a structured walking pace. Positive reinforcement, praise, and treats can be used to encourage good behavior during the walk, making the experience enjoyable for both of you.
Walk your dog the way that works best for you
Your pup should walk wherever is best for you and your relationship. Every dog is different, and what works best for one may not be suitable for another. The key is to establish trust, respect, and clear communication with your pup. By using positive reinforcement and making the walk an enjoyable experience, you can ensure a harmonious and fulfilling walking routine for you and your fur baby, no matter who walks where.