Eight hints for walking your Labrador pup

These are my eight hints to help you successfully walk your dog. These tips will also help you to advance your dog so that, eventually, you can trust them to be off the leash in a safe area. Don't release your dog until they can demonstrate knowledge and obedience on the long leash and in many different settings. To begin with, walk them in the house and in the yard. Dogs learn 'contextually and by repetition'. These hints will help you to become the pack leader. Be certain that this is only reason that your dog will follow you.

1. Make time to walk your dog

Whether you walk your dog in the morning or evening will be influenced by your program. Whenever you exercise your dog, the walk should allow for 'focused time' and 'free time'. Two leashes will facilitate this. If they are under 12 months old, take some water with you. Also take a back-pack and a treat belt (available on Ebay). I recommend no more than thirty minutes of walking in total for a dog under 14 months old as their growth plates are not set until this time. Be careful of overly vigorous activity, particularly if you have an older but playful dog. I don't recommend running for more than very short bursts for the same reason. Healthy hips and elbows are critical for a healthy, active and long life.

2. Use two leashes - a long leash (approx 7m) and a short leash (approx 1m)

Start your walk with the labrador pup on a short leash. The short leash will help you to direct and guide the dog. This allows you to maintain full control over your dog. Set up your walk for success. Start by getting the dog to sit (or at the least be stationary) and under your control. As you begin, keep your dog behind your body alignment. As they do this, use the ‘heel’ command to reinforce their obedience. Stop regularly and command the dog to variously ‘sit’ and ‘stay’. Be patient and encourage your dog. Do not show aggressive frustration. This will only cause confusion and fear or aggression. If your dog is not complying, stop and reset.

3. You are the master

Walking in front of your dog demonstrates that you are the master or the pack leader. You should be first out the door. The dogs should exit the compound only at your command. This is essential whether you are walking 1, 2 or more dogs. If your dog controls the pace and direction of the walk, they are the pack leader. Your dog should be beside or behind you during the walk.

4. Dogs learn contextually

The next two hints are important training essentials. Firstly, labradors learn contextually and their training in not immediately transferable to a new environment. Using the same disciplines and routines, train your dog the same way in different settings. This will entrench your expectations.

5. Correct immediately

Secondly, a labrador has about a five second retention of information. After five seconds the dog has lost any association between your assertiveness and their behaviour. If they disobey you, you must correct them within five seconds or not at all. If the dog is disobedient or simply does not understand, reset and start again.

6. The long leash

I'm a big fan of the long leash. A long leash will help you to correct bad behaviour at a distance. After a period of training with the short leash, remove it and connect the longer lead. Keep the leash in your hand, releasing it slowly and progressively. As you do, command the dog to ‘sit’. Then advance to ‘sit and stay’. As they master this, you can back away while the dog is 'sitting and staying'. Then command them to ‘come’. Reward your labrador pup with vigorous affection and a treat. After this, you should allow them to wander and sniff around. All this time you will keep your dog on the long leash and under your control. Be sure that the free time is less than their focus time. During the socialisation phase, 8 - 16 weeks, you will need both leashes as you expose your labrador pup to other dogs. As you walk your dog, you will come across small and large dogs that are aggressive. Walking on either leash will give your complete control. And it will ensure safety at all time. You new labrador pup has no innate road sense. Walk them, getting close to roads. Expose them to vehicles so that they do not panic.

7. Reward your dog for good behaviour.

Remember that dogs register tones and frequencies, not words. Use higher tones to affirm, reward and encourage. You approval is the greatest reward for a Labrador. Direct eye contact without high vocal affirmation will be interpreted as aggression. Use lower growling tones to reinforce disapproval. Try to avoid 'No' as a command. It is too general and therefore confusing to the dog. I make a dog growl imitation sound like 'bahhhh / arhhh / grahhh’. A higher toned 'good dog / girl /boy' should be your primary vocal affirmation. Always reward and reinforce obedience to specific commands. Use food treats to begin with, however you must gradually phase them out. Your vocal affirmation and affection should be your longer term goal. As your dog maintains the proper behaviour, reward them with treats.

8. Reward your dog after the walk

I recommend that you reward your labrador pup after the walk. Let them have a drink firstly then give them a portion of food that is less than a meal but more than a treat. This will establish a routine where the dog ‘works’ and is subsequently rewarded. It will not take long for your dog to anticipate the whole experience. When you appear with the leashes, they will become very enthusiastic. If you adhere to these eight hints and maintain the discipline of your training, you and your dog will value and enjoy the experience.

Finally, remember to pick up after your dog. Don't go on a walk without your poop bags on hand!

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