The Structured Walk – Why it's so Important
First of all, let's talk about what we mean by a structured walk.
We call it 'heeling'. When we teach a dog to heel, we teach it to walk politely beside us without pulling, sniffing, picking things up, peeing, pooping, reacting to or (lunging, barking, etc.) other dogs, cyclists, etc. We want our dogs to walk our speed and automatically change speed and direction when we initiate the change.
Now, I can hear you all off the objections that you are having:
But, my dog LOVES to Sniff!
But, what do you mean no peeing or pooping? When is my dog supposed to go potty???
But, my dog only knows how to go fast!
But, isn't the walk for my dog?? Isn't this a time for my dog to enjoy him/herself??
But, we always say Hi to other dogs on our walks and my dog gets very excited when it sees other dogs.
But, my dog loves to chase things, so it barks at bikes, etc.
But, my dog had a bad experience with another dog and is now reactive so it always barks when it sees a dog.
A dog can go potty and have a break from the structured walk when you give it the release command. This is an important part of dog training that lets a dog know that it is no longer on your command and it can have some freedom to sniff, pee, etc. – whatever you deem safe and allow under the circumstances of your environment.
When the dog is in charge of the walk, and not the human at the other end of the leash, bad decisions tend to be made and bad behaviours start to develop.
First of all, this type of walk can be dangerous for the dog owner and others on the street. If you have a dog that juts out, weaves back and forth, jumps up, lunges, pulls like a freight train, not only is your dog not having a calm walk, you are likely to get hurt and so could someone else that you are walking past.
If your dog has its nose to the ground, it is not paying any attention to you and your dog can easily ingest something that will make it sick, or worse.
Dogs that are reactive on walks will only become more reactive if the rules of a structured walk taught and followed. These dogs are also in extremely heightened states of arousal and no amount of exercise will make this problem go away. You will just get a stronger and more fit, but highly aroused dog that is still running the show and making bad choices.
I have never had anyone regret having a dog that knows how to walk calmly and politely on a leash beside them in any environment. This takes work, but in most cases, not as much as you would think.