Bark Magazine recently posted the comment on their Facebook page "Walking while talking, do you think it makes a difference to your dog?" It turns out that the post it links to asks whether you talk on your cell phone while walking your dog, and highlights a danger of being distracted, or disengaged, while walking your dog (your dog can pick up or eat undesirable items, or worse). I thought it was something completely different! This article will explain why talking to your dog on your daily walk is actually a helpful dog training tool.
It is probably obvious to many why chatting on a cellphone is not a good way to walk a dog. You are not walking with your dog, so not only might you miss the dangers, but you are missing the opportunity to engage with your dog. Engaging with your dog is much more than just staying off the cell phone, and monitoring how they walk or what they might pick up on the sidewalk. This means talking to your dog, while on the walk. And that's what I originally thought the article was about!
I rarely see anyone ever talking to or with their dog while out on a walk. I see much more of the cell-phone use mentioned in the BARK article. Why might you engage in a conversation with your dog, smile at (with!) them, and otherwise communicate with them?
There are several advantages to talking to your dog while on a walk:
- Build or strengthen your relationship with your dog: this is the main advantage - you turn this from a solo activity into an activity you are doing with your dog and mutually enjoying. And building a relationship is the best tool of all when it comes to training. You can use it for every single training activity (from flyball to basic obedience).
- Improve how your dog walks on a leash: talking with your dog takes their attention away from pulling, zig-zagging, darting at squirrels, and onto you when you engage with them. Keep talking and keep their attention, and they don't pull. I used this technique on more than one dog, and it worked wonders.
- Reduce your own stress, as it increases your enjoyment in the activity (smiling changes your own mood!)
- Distract them from things they need distracting from (that other dog, the bicyclist, the piece of tasty litter). If you learn how to get your dogs attention and keep it by regularly speaking with them on a walk, you can use this tool to distract them when advantageous.
And I assure you, my dogs do look at me and "talk back" when I engage with them in this manner. Mort will give me the happiest, most childish giddy looks when I start talking. I love every minute of it.
I know you might think this is the mark of a crazy-person, but I assure you it is not. It's a positive kind of crazy at any rate, bonding with your companion, and I haven't yet noticed any stares from neighbors when I talk to my dogs on our walks. And even if they do a double-take, who cares! It's a positive, non-aversive training technique and an enjoyable activity for you and your dog to do together. And it doesn't get as simple, cheap, and easy-to-do than the walks you take with your dog every day.