We've all been there — you let your dog off their leash and immediately they sprint off and refuse to come back when you call them.
Or perhaps you keep them on a long leash and they're determined to sniff everything in sight, totally oblivious to the sound of your voice trying to coax them in a different direction.
Whichever issue you're facing, you'd probably love nothing more than for your dog to be more responsive on walks.
There could be many possible reasons why your dog's recall isn't reliable or why they ignore you whether they're on leash or off. But for most dogs, it's really quite straightforward — their environment is simply more interesting than you are in that moment.
Thankfully, there's good news. According to expert trainer Christine Catan (CPDT-KA), the co-founder of Tails of Connection, the key to getting your dog to be more responsive on walks is to insert plenty of quick, fun activities as you stroll along.
Read on to find out how to do it and why it's so important...
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"As much as we try to give our dogs freedom and choice, there’s no way to get around the fact that they are captive animals," explains Catan. "Because of that, our walks are primarily for them. I don’t ask much of them & give them space to engage with the world around them as they wish (so long as it’s safe for them & others).
But that doesn’t mean we have to be totally disconnected for the whole walk. One of my favorite ways to build engagement outdoors while still allowing the walks to be “theirs” is to simply sprinkle some fun games in throughout the walk."
According to Catan, this might look like:
- Running back and forth through things (like a tree with a large opening in the trunk)
- Climbing on things and walking along them like a balance beam (like a fallen log or a big rock)
- Getting your dog to put their paws up on things (like a wall or a bench)
- Creating an obstacle course of trees that they have to zig and zag around
- Getting them to balance on tree stumps and jump between a series of them
Whatever you choose to do, the goal is to create a shared experience of having fun outdoors together.
Catan says you want the games to be quick (think 15-30 seconds per game) so that your dog has fun with you but knows they'll also soon get to go back to free exploration.
If you have a dog that really enjoys nature, getting their attention outdoors can be really tough. But if your interactions involve doing things they love, you'll find it that much easier to do.
"Focusing on quick, fun activities means you’re more likely to get a dog who enthusiastically opts in," says Catan. "That is the behavior you ultimately want (an enthusiastic opt in) if you do call your dog."
The great thing about Catan's tip is that it's not going to cost you any extra time or money. You're already on the walk, you don't need any extra equipment (except perhaps a bag of tasty dog treats), and it doesn't require any training experience.
So if you're keen to boost your dog's focus and obedience, why not stop and do some fun games on your next walk? Who knows, you may just find it makes your walk a whole lot more enjoyable too!
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Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.