Walking your dog around the house or garden is one thing. Transitioning those skills to places outside of those areas is an entirely different story and often, the perfect recipe for disaster.
After weeks or even months of practicing with your dog, it can be really disappointing when everything you’ve been training for goes out the window. So, why does this keep happening? Why, even with a lot of training and practice, do you still struggle to walk in partnership with your dog?
I’m going to answer all of these questions in this post. I’m also diving into why training doesn’t work in real life, what causes the difficulty in translating those skills to real life, and what you can do about it!
Why it all goes wrong in real life
When you’re rehearsing different things with your dog at home or in the back yard, and you’re successful, it can help to build your confidence and faith in your partnership with your dog.
But, when you feel ready to ‘take it on the road’ and try those things elsewhere, something happens that changes the course of the outcomes. As humans, we tend to overthink everything. We do the same thing when it comes to our dogs. We go out into the world, backed by all of the training and practice we’ve done, and we overthink everything.
We think about how we’re breathing, where we’re standing, how we’re holding the leash, remembering to stay present, and yet, we’re not living in the moment at all. We’re living in our heads and consumed by our racing thoughts.
When we’re thinking about all of these things instead of actively being present in the moment, we hit roadblocks. Then, we get distracted, our dog gets distracted, and we regret leaving the safety of our back yards!
But, why does this happen? Why do we become stuck in our heads like this?
There are many reasons, including:
- You haven’t rehearsed enough as you thought
- You haven’t developed the muscle memory to be able to respond without thinking
- You’re letting your fear of failure and “what if’s?” get in the way
- You don’t trust yourself or your dog
- You have a general lack of confidence
- You keep letting the past dictate the present moment
- You’ve lost the heart connection you once had with your dog, or maybe you’re still at the early stages of building that connection
The list goes on and on!
Walking with our dogs should come naturally
All of the reasons listed above are valid. But I want to change your perspective on how you walk in partnership with your dog and to do that, I need you to imagine the following events.
Let’s imagine you’re walking with your (human) partner. You’re in a relationship and you naturally hold hands as you walk together in the same direction. There’s nothing unusual or out of place about that picture, right? It’s completely natural for people to hold hands and walk together. We do it all the time.
If you’re with a young child, you will naturally take their hand and walk with them across the road or down a busy street. You won’t let them run off in front of you where they could face danger or get hurt. You make sure that they are right next to you because when they’re by your side, you can keep them safe. You cannot keep them safe if they’re running across the road and you’re a half-mile back, running, panting, sweating, and out of breath trying to keep up with them.
We hold children’s hands because it’s up to us to take care of them. It’s natural and we don’t have to think about it. So, why can’t we do that with our dogs?
I believe that we, as a social species, have a natural and authentic mechanism that enables us to connect and walk together in harmony with another person OR a dog. I truly believe that, which is why I think that walking in partnership with our dogs should be a natural thing that we do. We shouldn’t have to think about it.
Walking your dog like a toddler
What if walking your dog was so easy that it was like walking a toddler?
Let’s do some more imagination work here and imagine that you’re walking a toddler to an ice cream shop. They’re excited to get there and it’s a safe area. There are no cars. Maybe the ice cream shop or stall is in the middle of a park and there’s plenty of space to run. As the toddler is excited, they pull your arm to move faster because they want to make sure they get their favorite flavor of ice cream before it’s all gone.
What do you do in this situation?
If it’s safe, you might shrug and think why not just run with them? Why not just skip together to the ice cream shop? It’s quiet in the park, so you definitely could do that.
However, what if the situation was different? What if the ground was icy and the toddler is trying to pull you towards the shop? You could both fall on the slippery ground and hurt yourselves. You can’t run with the child because it’s dangerous.
What do you do in that situation?
Most likely, you will stop right where you are and talk to the child. You might say something like, “If you keep pulling me, we’re not going to get any ice cream.” It seems a bit harsh, right? You need to make them aware of the consequences, but are they really capable of understanding those consequences if they’ve never been shown or taught the ‘right’ way to behave?
When we walk our dogs, it helps to see them as a toddler in a way. You probably wouldn’t refuse a toddler ice cream because they unknowingly made you slip on the ice. Yet, many people might punish their dog who does the same thing.
Instead of coming down really hard on our dogs and ourselves when the unexpected happens, it’s better to be present in the moment. Ask your dog to slow down. Model the behavior that you want to see from them. If you ignore your dog’s wants and needs, it will make them feel like their wants and needs don’t matter.
There’s no right or wrong way to approach a situation like this. However, it is important to consider your dog’s needs and how they’re feeling in any given situation.
What keeps us from walking in partnership with our dogs?
Whether you’re walking on a slippery road and your dog is pulling you, or your dog is trying to go in the opposite direction, etc., you need to understand what is keeping you from walking in partnership with your dog.
All of the things that happen when you and your dog are out walking have one thing in common – they happen in the moment. You can’t really plan for these things to happen, but you can prepare for them.
To do that, you need to step into your dog’s paws and help them to step into your shoes in a sense. You do this by making them that what they’re doing is not safe or appropriate. Staying connected in the moment is so important, which is why you don’t want your mind to wander.
So, what are the things that prevent you and your dog from walking in partnership together? Here are just a few:
- The common language is not the same – maybe you’re not communicating with your dog in a way that they can understand?
- Stress – if you’re stressed while walking your dog, your dog is probably feeling stressed too
- Perfectionism can keep you from celebrating the smaller achievements you and your dog should be celebrating
- A lack of connection between you and your dog
- You and your dog both have different goals (maybe you want to head home and your dog wants to chase a squirrel)
- Unrealistic expectations can make it very difficult for your dog to live up to and put unnecessary pressure on your relationship
- …and many more!
If you look at all of these things closer, you’ll notice that they all have a common thread – unacceptance.
If we’re reluctant to accept our dogs for who they are, with the understanding that you and your dog can both grow, learn, and improve, we’ll never achieve the deep heart connection that we desire.
Many people claim that because dogs and humans are a different species, that we can’t communicate or connect properly because of the language barrier. But I don’t think that’s true. I believe that we can connect with dogs on a very deep level. Heck, we connect with dogs on a deeper level than we can with many of the humans in our lives.
I hope that you take away some helpful insights about why training isn’t working in real life and what you can do to change that. If you missed it you can read my previous post (How to Be Ready for Anything While Walking Your Dog).
If you’d like to work with me and learn how to create a partnership lifestyle for you and your dog, you can request an invitation to join us in the Brilliant Partners Academy when the doors open for the next enrolment!
You can listen to everything I talked about in this blog post over on my podcast – Enlightened By Dogs. It’s episode 118, which you can listen to here.