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A guide to walking your pet to help stop poor dog behavior

By Ryan Gwilliam

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

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    Every year more than 30,000 dogs are euthanized in the state of Utah, according to statistics compiled by No More Homeless Pets. One reason dogs end up in a shelter is because bad behaviors can spiral out of control, which makes caring for the dogs difficult.

    The more compatible a dog’s behavior is with family life, the more likely they are to have a happy, healthy home for years to come.

    One important issue is how to safely exercise your dog. Not all dogs are equally well-behaved on the leash. We all know you can use the leash to communicate with your dog, but many people don’t know that tension in the leash is unacceptable unless you are correcting a behavior. Many dogs will pull more when there is constant tension in the leash because it is a natural reaction. It’s called the opposition reflex, and we humans do this as well. Try pushing someone away from you and notice that they don’t just fall over, instead they instantly lean against you so they remain upright.

    This helps explain why pulling back on the leash is rather ineffective most times because of your dog’s forward momentum as well as the opposition reflex. A quick tug to the side is much more effective. It has the benefit of pulling them closer to you, as well as pulling them off balance a bit, which gets their attention.

    When your dog pulls you on the leash and you are dragged behind him down the street, you are essentially rewarding his pulling. As frustrating as this is, it really isn't your dog's fault.

    Think about it. His pulling accomplishes his goal of moving forward as quickly as possible, and you do nothing more than continue right along with him. Your dog is thinking, “if it works ... keep it up!”

    A good technique for changing this bad habit is to change directions often. Every time your dog gets ahead of you and begins pulling, you do a 180 degree turn and go the other way. As soon as he gets ahead of you again, you flip around and go back the other way.

    It won’t take long before he or she will get bored of passing the same two houses over and over again. This exercise gives him a reason to follow your lead. Now combine this technique with well-timed praise and a tasty treat and your results will go through the roof.

    It’s important that you put an end to the following downward spiral: “Misbehavior on walks means I walk my dog less.”

    "Because I’m walking my dog less, my dog misbehaves more, so I walk my dog even less!" The spiral continues down until the dog is never exercised and more bad behaviors start piling up.

    When I was a kid, this is exactly what happened with our family dogs, and it was a lose-lose situation. That’s why, when I got my own dog, I knew things needed to be different.

    Whether you have been in this downward spiral for years or are just seeing the warning signs of what’s to come, here are a few simple steps to turn things around:

    1. Watch free dog training shows like “The Dog Whisperer” and “It’s Me or the Dog” on television.

    2. Hire a local dog walker and/or dog trainer to assist you.

    3. Go to the library or a bookstore and get your hands on a dog training book or two.

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    Ryan Gwilliam is a local dog walker and trainer. He is the owner of Pampered Pooches, a company that provides dog training, dog walking and poop scooping in Salt Lake County, Utah County and Las Vegas.

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