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NEWSFLASH!!!!!! Dogs don't come preprogrammed with a leash walking skill; it is not normal or natural to them.

Dogs want to have choices in where to go and what to do, no different than any person.

One of our biggest failings as humans is that we often have unrealistic expectations. "The dog should do it because that's what I want." or "He knows better than to pull." Well hello... have you ever gotten a person to cooperate 100% of the time? Good luck with that! We all have our own priorities and that is with people who understand exactly what we want! Dog's are doing their best to be dogs, they are not robots or slaves. We need to ensure that we meet their needs as well as find ways to cooperate so that we can meet their needs and ours.

We also limit our dog's options by using a short leash 4-6 feet which can make a walk more frustrating for the dog because it does not allow them to move naturally or at a comfortable pace and prevents them from exploring and sniffing making our walk on pavement not a lot of fun for them.

Walking from A to B at a steady pace is a human concept. Sure dogs will get up and go get a drink and go back to bed. But walking down a street in a straight line? Not being able to move and approach at a different pace or flank around and use body language appropriately? Not being able to detour and go sniff? These are not normal or appropriate approaches for a dog, it is something that has to be learned.

Why is my dog's natural way of exploring the world not the same as our way?

We live in a VISUAL world, We see things and situations and are attracted to them or want to walk away from them. Dogs predominantly live in a SCENT-oriented world! While they do visually orient, they investigate or "see" and perceive situations more with their nose rather than with their eyes!!! Their need to sniff to explore is how they are genetically oriented. They have a structure called the Jacobsen's Organ that is specifically dedicated to processing odour and this links up with a huge part of their brain that lights up to process odour information.

In addition:

The pace we walk at is not always comfortable for the dog, small dogs will be forced to "run" beside us, whereas big dogs might feel held back as we are not moving fast enough for their natural gait.

The footing may not be comfortable for our dog. Hot pavement, sharp gravel, etc.

The dog may be worried or overstimulated due to the surrounding environment. It may be too busy, noisy, crowded, etc. This can also happen if there is no opportunity for them to "sniff it out" or if they have had negative associations with a similar situation.

The area may have an undesirable odour such as too much dog waste or other strong offputting smells.

A nice calm walk starts in your living room!

Are you setting your dog up for FAILURE or SUCCESS when you get ready to take him for a walk? Putting your shoes on, and grabbing your coat and the leash can create happy anticipatory behaviours in your dog: jumping up, running around a bit, and getting excited, you know what that looks like in your home!

On the other hand, some dogs are dreading going out and will hide when you grab the leash or do not want to be leashed up..... but we still need to take them, or do we?

In both cases teaching the dog calmness skills will make a huge difference! Instead of just leashing up and going, think about how your dog feels, watch the emotional display!


Getting excited or scared: STOP, and go back to other things like reading a book or making a cup of tea, ANYTHING besides continuing with the emotional overload-provoking movements. Instead, break the behaviour down into smaller portions that your dog can comfortably stay calm around. Repeat until your dog is able to give you a calmer behaviour throughout the getting ready process. This part is desensitization to the process of getting ready. And even training an incompatible behaviour for the dog with an exercise like staying calm on your bed while I get ready will go a long way towards a calmer start to your adventures.


Getting out the door. With the dog on a leash, you would continue the above principles: too much, not calm? This is a great place to use scatter feeding to help your dog calm down before starting the walk. You can scatter inside or outside the door depending on your dog's arousal level. Repeat until your dog is calmer and then continue further into the real world!


Once outside, give your dog permission to SNIFF AND OBSERVE often! Alternate your loose leash walking requirements with a few minutes of sniffy walk here or there and you will find your dog and you both enjoying your walk so much more! When practising your loose leash walking work in short bursts of 2 minutes with lots of high-value rewards!

Make use of a longer line of 12-15 feet versus our standard 4-6 feet line. This can make the walk more enjoyable for the dog. Of course, you will only give the dog extra leash length if safe to do so and gather it shorter when you want the dog to walk beside you, or when people or dogs or traffic are approaching.


The process of walking with calmness goes so much faster if we REWARD what we like the dog to do! Reward your dog for checking in, even if you didn't ask for it! Cooperation goes both ways and showing your appreciation will make that relationship so much better. Yes, praise is nice, but rewards like treats, playtime, and permission to go see someone/something or go sniffing can be just as valuable or even more so!


Reward with something of value and be generous!! Would you work hard for a boss who only pays you the minimum wage while you pour all your effort into doing a good job? Not likely, but I am sure you would work harder if your boss praised you regularly AND gave you a bonus on top of your generous payment.

A great game to play out on a walk is the Choose To Heel game, super simple to do and helps to create enjoyment, calmness and focus.

The principle of the game is to reward your dog when they are directly beside you, Mark ( YES, GOOD or NICE) when the dog is right in position, reward ON THE GROUND instead of from the hand, and step forward as soon as the dog picks up the piece of food to eat. The dog now has another chance to catch up to you and be rewarded! Before you know it, the dog feels that the very best place to be is right beside you! Practice only in short 2-minute intervals and alternate with meeting your dog's needs and desires so that they can enjoy their outing too!

ALL DOGS and ALL PEOPLE CAN LEARN, how to walk together cooperatively, but we need to take into account the needs of both parties and ensure that we don't put them in situations they are not yet ready for. As always, if you need extra help make sure to reach out to your trainer!


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Reactivity is often seen as ANTI-SOCIAL behaviour, but it can in fact be OVERLY SOCIAL as well!

The OVERLY SOCIAL DOG reactive Dog Don't let someone fool you when they tell you their dog is "friendly" when the dog is in fact the rudest dog on the planet!

Running up to greet your dog, being IN HIS FACE, maybe even jumping on your dog or you, without proper and calm mutual introduction.....

This is an over-excited greeting that may look friendly but in reality, the dog is making very poor choices, racing up to other dogs who may not be at all comfortable with this type of approach and may include obsessive face licking, squeaking or barking, pulling towards other dogs.

Such a dog actually tends to be socially awkward and may not know what a proper greeting cycle looks like.

This kind of interaction can easily lead to a tussle or even a full-on fight, and then we tend to blame the dog that is just defending itself, even though the instigator is the "friendly but over-the-top" approaching dog.

The ANTI-SOCIAL DOG reactive DOG This dog may show signs of shying away, staring, growling, barking, lunging and offering DISTANCE INCREASING behaviours ( and that can include proactive lunging to make the other party back away....) Most of their communication is to try to tell other dogs that they need more space and to please leave them alone.

They are easily overstimulated and pushed over their comfort threshold and tend to easily panic into reactive bluster instead of being able to think and learn and feel comfortable. This often explosive interaction leads us to feel embarrassed and lost as to how to act and what to do. When we do not know what to do, we often resort to "correct" the unwanted display with a stern voice, or forcing the "offender" into a sit, to face its worst fear. Of course, this is most likely going to backfire, and perpetuate the cycle of fear, as the person they rely on to help them is making the situation worse by Flooding the dog and actually forcing them to "face their fears" So what can we do to help reduce reactivity?

  1. Creating calmness in the body and mind through relaxation games will help the reactive dog to be able to "think" through a problem. Teaching your dog to settle on a bed or mat to teach them to calm themselves.

  2. Make good use of pattern games which are simple actions or patterns that you and your dog can do together to help reset the brain to working mode while rehearsing well-practiced patterns that the dog finds familiar and calming. You can also use pattern games to pass distractions or let your dog get more comfortable.

  3. Counterconditioning exercises, where the dog starts to associate the triggers with pleasant or calm things instead of excitement or fearful things. That will be a game-changer! Simple games such as COOKIE BOWLING and LOOK AT THAT make up a small portion of the change.

  4. Our smart use of rewards and pacifiers ( food, toys, touch, voice, praise, movement and functional rewards) will help as well. Pay the dog well for making efforts that are NOT COMPATIBLE with the unwanted behaviours, and there will be a change in the behaviour, as it is true what they say: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!

  5. And Management is another important piece. Not putting your dog in situations their brain is not ready for or getting out of trouble rather than letting your dog continue to rehearse poor choices.

Remember, reactivity is your dog COMMUNICATING through body language! Our job as pet parents is to READ and UNDERSTAND our dog's needs TEACH them how to do better and PROTECT them from physical or mental harm.

Distance is always your dog's best friend when it comes to reducing your dog's overly emotional and inappropriate reaction!

There is HOPE for all reactive dogs! Best Paw Forward and DAWG Academy offer training opportunities to help reduce stress, put your dog's brains to work and improve canine communication that allows them to make better choices. We are Fear Free Behavior Modification Coaches and BCSPCA Animal Kind Certified and would love to help make the world a better place for you and your dog!

Keep your dog safe! Create Distance until you know what to do and do it better!

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My worst nightmare happened to me just the other day.

While driving I see a dog running into traffic right in front of me.

The dog escaped from its car and is running away from her person, who is frantically chasing it and calling the dog to come back. Of course, I slam on my brakes, while other motorists just keep driving by, most not even slowing down even after activating my emergency lights and pulling onto the shoulder. This is a recipe for disaster.

Here are some tips that may well save the dog's life:

  1. Don't chase the dog!!!! This can lead to the dog running into traffic. Even if they know you, this is a game dogs play (keep away) or you may just outright scare them!

  2. Instead, run away to where you want the dog to go! Make a fuss and run in the direction you want the dog to come.

  3. If you have it, sprinkle food down to calm the dog (and yourself) once you are away from imminent danger and be generous!

  4. Stay calm and work the dog towards you (not you towards the dog). If you have food, slowly toss it closer to yourself.

  5. Try not to face the dog head-on, but turn sideways. This reduces the conflict of having to approach.

  6. Show interest in something on the ground, pick up a pinecone and play with it. Toss a treat up and down.

Dogs that are in a heightened state of arousal, regardless if it is fear or excitement induced, are not able to think very well. Our goal is to slow down their brains so they can start to think and make better choices. Calm body motions and voice versus erratic panic display, and the use of food, will certainly increase your chances of securing the dog and keeping them around you.

Once the dog is calming, here are some options to help secure and grab the dog:

  1. Reach a hand down low, towards the chest (well under the chin) don't touch the dog, just keep feeding, drop food on the ground, or toss towards the dog if the dog is too fearful or hesitant to take it from the hand. You can even place your hand on the ground and scatter some treats around it.

  2. Once eating and within reach, calmly extend your hand and touch but don't grab, and do not stop feeding. Ideally, you would touch a few times or let the dog bump into you. If this is accepted, try some little scratches or pets. The dog may step away then reduce the motion and let them come back and try again.

  3. Once they accept touch you can slide fingers along the body to secure the dog's collar/harness and keep feeding.

  4. Breathe!!!!

This can take many minutes, and it may feel like an eternity!

If the dog does NOT want to come closer:

  • Maybe the dog can hop into your car, and opening the car door may well help them access a space they like or consider safe, you can offer this option as most dogs are familiar with riding in a car (even if it's not your dog!)

  • If the dog cannot eat but is calming down a bit you can offer to play with a toy! Some dogs will instantly come racing over to play! Make it easy for the dog and tie the toy to a leash to make it more enticing! Dogs love to chase bunnies, and most dogs will enjoy chasing a toy on a string or rope. If no toy is readily available many dogs love to play with a sock. At the very least they will take a moment to sniff it out!

  • Lower your body down, make yourself smaller, but don't encroach on the dog's space, almost ignore them and pretend to have fun, make them curious as to what you are doing!

  • Make a treat trail to where you want the dog to go, then move well aside so you are not too close to scare the dog away.

  • Grab another on leash dog to provide the social connection and help the dog move to safety by following the other dog. Or they can help create interest by feeding the dog, playing with it etc.

  • Grab a bag or other item that crinkles like a food bag.

  • Move slowly, stop often, lower yourself to prevent scaring the dog. Even try sitting or lying down casually on the ground.

Once the dog is secured and returned to his person, it is time to rethink RECALL STRATEGIES as well as your EMERGENCY STOP and work on perfecting your skills and those of your dog in a situation that is not urgent, dangerous or quite so stressful! Remember to PRACTISE FOR THE SITUATION, NOT IN THE SITUATION.

Best Paw Forward and DAWG offers both "Recall" and "Emergency Stop" training options at the training centre or in real life!

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