Proper Walking Technique: Turn an anxious dog into a calm dog in just minutes

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Every veterinary hospital has canine patients who are anxious away from their owners. Dogs who were seemingly happy when they arrived but as soon as they are separated from their pet parents, they pace and whine. And if left for the day, they bark incessantly in their kennels and can even become unsafe when handled.

Take, for instance, the case of Clyde the foster Springer Spaniel. Clyde quickly learned how to focus on and heel for his foster mom and to be comfortable around new people; however, when he was separated, even with her in sight, he paced, whined and lunged at the end of his leash. He was even too anxious to take tasty treats. Twenty minutes later, though, we had him happy, focused even when walking, and eating food rewards.

What did we do?

For dogs who are too anxious to even eat treats we often rely on getting them to walk in a specific manner. That is, we don’t just let them pull in any direction because that just reward their pulling and keep them in a high arousal state. Plus, I’m sure you can remember a number of dogs who’ve been allowed to pull on walks. If they are in good shape they don’t calm down until they are really tired, which may take several miles!

To use the walk to train a dog to be calm, we walk on loose leash at a speed of about 135 beats per minute (bpm), but as soon as the dog is about to get his front feet ahead of yours, you stop before they have a chance to get out of control. Once stopped, if they will readily sit, have them sit for a second or two. If not, just wait until they are stationary for a second or two and then immediately walk ahead, again at 135 bpm as their reward. An alternative to stopping is to perform an about-turn with proper T-turn footwork so you provide the clearest direction. Or you can pre-emptively do a U-turn before they have a chance to start passing you.

At first you’ll have to stop frequently, often every 2-3 steps—which is why it’s important to start your walk briskly. At first, the dog may often just stand. But if your technique is good, within 5 minutes the dog is often staying with you instead of pacing ahead and is starting to sit and to calm down. In the case of Clyde, we were able to using petting as a reward and as he started relaxing he also started eating treats. After just 15 minutes, he was heeling nicely for me and when my intern worked with him next, he immediately heeled nicely and sat calmly for her.

If you’re a veterinary or petcare professional or anyone serious about learning Low Stress Handling techniques, take our online Low Stress Handling Silver Certification Course. It consists of 10 online lectures and labs, plus a workbook to help guide you to getting the most out of your studies.

You’ll see the full-video of Clyde in Creating the Pet Friendly Hospital—lecture 3 of the Low Stress Handling Certification course.

And you’ll see the step-by-step practice exercises including the human-only exercises that are needed to get the techniques down right, in Handling, Moving and Restraining Dogs in Stressful Environments 

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12 responses to “Proper Walking Technique: Turn an anxious dog into a calm dog in just minutes

  1. Here are some of the issues I need help with: My daughter has a puppy n he bits ppl nips at their ankles, he’s outside most of the day bcuz when he comes in he’s all excited n pees m poops inside, not sure how to train him like tricks or walking on the leash

    1. Hey Patricia,

      Research “positive reinforcement trainers in (your city)” and you can find someone great to help you out with these problems. They are common puppy problems, so don’t feel like you’re alone!

    2. My dog did the same as a puppy, he now has the softest most gentle mouth. Lots of correction and chew toys help. Toilet training for dogs requires the same patience and commitment as children need. It’s hard, but not impossible, and as Brianne wrote, lots of help is available.

  2. Here are some issues I need help with: I have a dog that chews or licks his feet constantly without medication. sometimes he even licks his bed. He was put on non allergy food for three months. Did not help. Thus the medication which does not always help.

    I have another dog that is four years old. He is terrified of a collar. When he has the collar on, he hides under the bed for hours. When he comes out he shakes until I take the collar off. I have tried getting him used to a collar at different ages from puppy on.

    1. Hi Debra,
      My dog had the habit of licking his feet until they were red raw and infected we done some tests at the vets and it turns out he has allergies to basically everything.
      The vets recommended i put him on a new treatment called Apoquel and within a week everything had calmed down thank god the poor boy was in distress.
      What i did notice is that he would lick his paws more if it was coming to when he needed his monthly dose of flea treatment.
      I also give him paw soaks in a bath tub either with some ground down oat meal or diluted TCP and that eases his distress for the real bad days. also rinsing his paws after walks as that could be setting off his allergies.
      I hope this helps a little bit

  3. My retriever shepherd mix gets very anxious when out for a walk. She won’t take treats because of her anxiety, sometimes barks and lunges at others. She is learning to walk without pulling, but I need help with the anxiety.

    1. My dog is doing something similar. He is very anxious when he goes on walks and pulls. When I say anxious, he is very anxious. The slightest sound, random person, or even other animals make him jump, pull, and run. He has already gotten out of his harness and ran from me. Luckily, he came back, but it makes me anxious to think he could get out of his harness again and run away from me. I bought him a “stop pulling” harness and a training leash to go with the harness. The new harness is designed to add gentle pressure around my dog to get him to stop pulling. However, he seems to ignore that pressure and continues to pull on our daily walks. I am going to try the training tips that this article suggested, but I would also love additional training tips if anyone has any! Thank you!

  4. I have a new pup. He’s 3 and a rescue. I’ve had him for only two days. He’s been in a kennel his whole life so this is new for both of us. He’s well behaved once we get going but he loves to pull and push and is so excited he could just explode! I don’t want to be walked, I’d like to walk him, and have it be productive and easier for me, while still completely satisfying and enjoyable for him. Any suggestions? I can try stopping him, but he’s so easily distracted he would lust to keep moving.

  5. Hi here are my problems quite a long list I’m afraid I have two GSD,s both rescues when we go on walks its a nightmare. The youngest is 1yr and he starts as soon as we leave the house barking and crying anyone would think he’s been beaten its that sort of noise. If the older one gets in front he again pulls and circles to get to him. He is also very vocal and lunges at other dogs. We have tried to walk them separate but we would love to have a whole family walk without any stress. Thanks

  6. Hi, I have a 4yr old Chow Chow he is a very good walker on leash does not pull, we used to walk up to 8km a day do running races.But this last year and half he has become afraid of walking and people. He freezes and wants to go back home. He is so scared to walk his tail is always between his legs and he walks very slow and always looking around. He tell us where we aree walking. If we try to walk in a different direction he will stop and sit. Help.

  7. My dog is an angel when she’s in places she knows, listens to commands, friendly and calm. But in public places and new places she becomes scared, nervous and anxious.
    She has a lot of anxiety when left alone. She has escaped her crate multiple times and has broken through cat doors to try to get to us when we leave.
    She’s also very anxious and nervous on walks. Not reactive at all, but the sight of a person, car, bike.. anything will make her want to pull and run away.

    Lastly, she has been biting and licking her paws raw. We know she has innumerable allergies so are there any remedies that I can try at home before going to the vet?

    Thanks!
    Skyler

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