The Three Stages of Healthy Dog Walking

I recently met with a client who had a 3-year-old purebred dog. While the dog's breed is irrelevant, I'll just say that this is a...

Casey Lomonaco  |  Nov 15th 2011


I recently met with a client who had a 3-year-old purebred dog. While the dog’s breed is irrelevant, I’ll just say that this is a high-drive dog of a breed known to have a lot of energy. While I dont believe that adequate exercise is the solution to a behavior problem, lack of adequate exercise can often be a contributing factor.

When I asked the client about her dog’s exercise schedule, she told me that a few times a week, the dog used the familys treadmill. If a dog is properly trained, use of a treadmill can be a great complement to a physical exercise regimen, but it should not be used in lieu of actual walks. There are three critical components of a proper leash walk, and a treadmill provides only one of these.

Lets examine the anatomy of an appropriate leash walk. These tips assume your dog is healthy and physically well enough to engage in a bit of cardio!

Traveling Mode

Traveling mode is the one component of leash walks that can be provided on a treadmill. While I practice having my dogs wait at the doorway and then at reorientation points (focus exercises) upon exiting the house, we quickly move into travel mode. Many of my clients say that their dogs behave well on leash after the first few blocks, when they have “got their crazies out.

Starting out in traveling mode and moving at a speed closer to your dog’s natural pace expedites that process. It’s a fast-paced walk that should get your heart pumping — it’s not a power walk, but pretty darned close. Note that the pace for traveling mode varies among breeds. Traveling mode for a Weimaraner would likely be at a much faster rate than it would be for a Pug!)

This portion of the walk should be fast enough that your dog is more focused on moving along than on his environment. If you think about how quickly dogs move, the slow pace at which many owners walk may be frustrating for them — when you’re driving, have you ever been stuck behind someone going twenty miles below the speed limit? You’ll know exactly what Im talking about!

Training Mode

Stop frequently on your walk to do very short training sessions of 30 to 60 seconds, with the length determined by your dogs current level of training. You may ask your dog for a “sit,” “down,” and hand target behavior, and then resume walking as your reward.

While training mode is only a part of walks, remember that your dog is learning all the time when he is with you. Therefore, regardless of what mode I am in, general life rules apply. Even when we are in traveling mode, my dogs are still not permitted to pull me around on the lead without manners. At all times, I will remove reinforcement for unwanted behaviors (the walk temporarily ends if the leash goes tight). I’m also always ready to reinforce a nice offered behavior — eye contact, for instance.

If your dog tends to be unfocused and impulsive, these training sessions may happen every few feet of your walk. Take a few steps, stop, and wait for your dog to offer focus. Ask for a behavior, tell your dog how fantastic he is, take a few more steps — wash, rinse, repeat. In the initial stages, you may not get very far on your walks, but you are teaching your dog that it behooves him to pay attention to you, even when you’re out in the real world.

Dog Mode

Dog mode is the time you give your dog just to be a dog on walks. It is his time to sniff in the grass, stick his nose in a gopher hole for a minute, pee on a tree, or chase a squirrel. I like to use it as a reward for successful responses in training mode: I ask for a few behaviors, then reward my dogs by giving them some time to do what theyd like.

If you are in a safe environment and your dog has solid foundation behaviors, dog mode can be off-leash time — just make sure that you reinforce appropriate check-ins! During this point of the walk, the dogs can pretty much lead the way and I am just along for the ride — I follow, and we go where they want to go, provided that the leash is loose and they are not pulling me around.

As you can see, a treadmill would be very limiting as a dog’s only source of exercise. If you have a dog with boundless energy and are not a long-distance runner yourself, consider running your dog on the treadmill before your leash walk. Remember to always warm up your dog with a slow walk and some stretches before engaging in any vigorous exercise, particularly when the weather is cold.

These three components of a walk give dogs what they truly need — cardiovascular physical exercise, reinforcement of desirable behaviors and good manners in real-life settings, and enrichment and mental stimulation through interaction with the environment.

Dogsters, do you currently incorporate all three in your walks? How does the anatomy of your leash walks differ? Please share in the comments!