“Want to go for a walk? Do you? Do you want to go for a walk? Aw, yeah you do … OK, let’s go!”
How many times have you uttered the words above, or something similar, in your best playful doggy-talk voice? I know you have. Nearly every dog-loving soul out there has some sort of sweet, silly pre-walk ritual he or she performs to his or her dog’s delight, often, several times a day. But what is a dog walk really? All walks are not created equal. If you take a moment to think about why you walk your dog, you may very well end up doing an even better job of it for your best friend.
When training staff and volunteers for my Open Paw Shelter Program, I explain there are four primary types of dog walks: the potty walk, the exercise walk, the training walk, and the environmental enrichment/mental stimulation walk.
These walks can all be performed independently, or you can mix and match or even blend all for types of walks into one. Sometimes you may have a very specific agenda for your walk, such as when it’s raining buckets at 10 p.m. and you really just want your dog to hurry up and pee so you can get back inside, dry off, and go to bed; and there is no time for shenanigans. Other times, you may just feel like going for a stretch and a bit of fresh air, but your dog takes the opportunity to eliminate and you end up doing some sit/stay training while you order coffee at the local shop. That’s three walks in one.
Identifying your main reason for getting up and going out will help both you and your canine companion get the most out of the excursion. And, as always the more clarity you provide for your dog in the form of context, cues, guidance and reinforcement, the better the dog will understand and be able follow your lead.
Because it is ubiquitous and oh-so-necessary, the potty walk is our focus today. There are times you take your dogs out exclusively for them to eliminate. You are in a hurry and don’t have time to play But how does your dog know that? They may want to go for a stroll or sniff around and catch up on neighborhood pee mail. Many dogs even purposely “hold it” as long as possible when taken outside, because they’ve learned over time that the walk is over as soon as they “go.” There are a few ways to avoid this annoying learned behavior to make your potty walks more efficient and all three of the other types of walks more carefree. First, name it. Teach your dog a verbal cue that signifies that you would like him/her to eliminate. Take your dog, on leash, out to a pre-determined and/or favorite potty spot and stand still while giving them full-leash range, but not really interacting with him/her. Don’t walk around too much, keep your radius pretty small and boring. Remember, this is business time.
While you’re just standing there, awkwardly waiting, observe your dog closely, and as soon as you see intention behaviors that lead to peeing or pooping such as pacing, sniffing low to the ground, circling, or squatting, say your cue work quietly a few times. You need not repeat it over and over and over, but what you’re going for is your dog consistently hearing the same cue word, delivered in a calm tone, right before he/she feels the sweet relief of elimination. While relieving oneself is indeed in and of itself reinforcing, sweeten the pot (pun intended) by rewarding your dog with three to five tasty morsels of a favorite food. Convince your pup that urine and feces can be cashed in for yummies if he/she performs in a timely fashion. Eventually your chosen word will become a clear cue for what you want from your dog as well as a potential prompt for action. Extra points here for coming up with a hilarious euphemism for doing the deed that will amuse passersby.
In addition to utilizing the potty cue word, start all of your walks with a cued potty break. This alone will be a game changer for your walks. Cue potty time before you do any of the other fun stuff. This way your dog will want to “go” because often the potty break is rewarded not only with tasty treats, but also with an exercise walk or an opportunity to play some training games. As a bonus, you can now proceed to relax and enjoy walking, play with, or training your dogs knowing that they are empty and you won’t have to carry around a full poop bag on your adventures.
Also, if you don’t always quickly turn around and go back inside as soon as your dog has relieved him/herself, it won’t be such a big bummer those times when you are in a hurry and need to rush things along, especially if you at least reward a job well done with a flurry of food rewards to soften the blow that you’re just going back home this time. Trust me, you’ll thank me for this tip once the weather turns chilly and wet again.
So there you have it: Potty on cue. Give it a go. And get out there and make sure to take your dog for all four types of walks all summer long.
Kelly Gorman Dunbar is director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior where she recruits and trains for SIRIUS Puppy & Training, the family business.
Main article photo by: Photo by Solovyova-istock