One of the common questions I get from clients trying to deal with a behavior problem is “What do I do when my dog ___________?” Most are expecting a response that contains a correction or instruction to distract or ignore the behavior.

However, I don’t use what are commonly known as “corrections” because my emphasis is on teaching, not punishment. I also don’t rely on distraction because my emphasis is on permanent fixes, not momentary ones. I don’t ignore the behavior because that fixes nothing and can also be misinterpreted by the dog as tacit approval or tolerance of whatever she’s doing at that moment.

Finally, and importantly, one other thing I don’t do when helping clients with their dogs’ behavior challenges is get on my trainer high horse and proclaim that X should have never happened in the first place if Client was doing things right because, well, humans. Nobody’s perfect. Trainers included.

So, what do I use to succeed? What other choices are there?

I am big on keeping things simple (KIST – Keep It Simple Teaching), so I work to come up with general exercises that can be used in myriad, various situations. Some are intended to get you and your dog out of trouble without adding to the problem and — bonus — can be the start of the solution.

In this post I am going to talk about my favorite get-out-of-trouble response when a leash is on (inside or outside) — the walk away. Sooo many good things happen when you employ this one basic maneuver.

One move casts wide net

What behaviors can you address with a walk away? Just about any that occur on leash, and some that usually don’t but can be progressed appreciably by adding a leash to properly start a rehab.

Behaviors like:

Jumping

Humping

Mouthing

Barking

Lunging

Snapping

Fear/Anxiety

Hyperness

Excitement/’Submissive’ peeing

Reactivity (‘Aggression’)

Bad greeter

Bad house manners

Bad walker

How can one maneuver be so effective in dealing with so many different issues? Easy answer is timing; when you do it makes all the difference. A well-timed walk away can:

Break eye contact

Diffuse tension

Make dog feel safer

Deny dog reward for unwanted behavior

Create calm by adding distance

Loosen leash immediately (tension reduced, trigger removed)

Prevent handler from accidentally reinforcing wrong behavior

Give dog and handler the opportunity to reset and make different, better choices

And, most exciting of all, totally prevent the ‘bad’ behavior from happening, allowing it to fade from the dog’s repertoire!

If the above makes your mouth water, and you are saying “I need that — tell me how!” then read on!

How it works (General rules)

• General rule #1: When your dog alerts and starts moving TOWARDS something, you do a walk away. Go in the opposite direction if possible; if not, go in the direction that will give you the most distance and the least amount of eye contact (between dog and X).

JUST a walk away. That means NO TALKING, NO LEASH SNAPPING, NO STARING, NO INTIMIDATION. Just turn and go.

What if he’s pulling strongly? Possibly: 1) Your timing is off. You waited too long. 2) You need different equipment (front-hook harness is best). 3) You need to develop better leash skills. 4) You need to add an Emergency Turn* to your skill set.

• General rule #2: When your dog is walking willingly with you, say GOOD. Stop and assess what to do next.

• General rule #3: If you don’t have time or ability to properly deal with the problem at that moment, quietly LEAVE/SEPARATE. Don’t try to power through it or give him one more chance to do the “right” thing (he doesn’t know what the “right” thing is!).

• General rule #4: For fastest success, set up the problem scenario so you can control as many elements as possible (take extra safety precautions, eliminate surprises!).

How it works (Specific example):

Here are a few examples that will help you understand the beauty of this simple movement.

Jumping

1) If dog is friendly but pulling towards someone and you know a jump is coming, at the slightest pull, walk away a few steps and see if you get a calm down. If not, walk a few steps more. Keep checking for calmer. When you see it, say GOOD and walk towards person. Keep saying GOOD till you feel a pull. Repeat.

OR

2) If dog is friendly and not pulling towards someone, but you know a jump may be coming, say GOOD over and over as you approach. Continue to say GOOD as you stand in front of the person as long as dog is not jumping. Keep leash short but loose. The second you see the dog preparing to jump, or front feet leaving the ground, STOP TALKING and walk away a few steps to see if you get a calm down. If not, walk a few steps more. Keep checking for calmer. When you see it, say GOOD and walk towards person. Keep saying GOOD till you see another jump starting. Repeat.

Instead of what most people usually do (yell no/off, berate the dog, explain to the dog why it’s not good to jump, put him away, etc.), the walk away shows a clear cause and effect to the dog so s/he can make better choices. “I want to see X! But every time I put my feet up, I lose X! Okay let me try something else. Oh this must be it because I’m getting closer and closer to X and Mom is telling me GOOD. Hurray, I got it! Oops, got too excited and put my feet up again. Let me try again, Mom, I can do it!”

Barking

Caveat: For this to work right, you need to understand WHY your dog is barking.

One example — Barking at someone/something other than you

Your dog is in the back yard, barking at someone walking by, dog next door, bird, squirrel, the plane in the sky, noisy children playing nearby etc.

Leash your dog up, walk him out into the back yard, and as long as he is quiet, say GOOD periodically and let him wander, sniff and do his doggie thing. Keep the leash nice and floppy, no tension at all.

The second he starts barking at the usual targets, walk away with him and go in the house. Shut the door, stand there with him and say nothing/don’t look at him. Wait for a calm down.

When you get it, look at him, smile, say GOOD, then take him out back again.

Repeat!

If your dog likes being outside, he will quickly realize the only way to go out and stay out is to zip it.

Fear

When we humans get scared, we generally want to run away from the scary thing until we feel safe. Same with your dog.

When your dog startles at the trash can, the shadow, the bang, etc. immediately walk away. Even if he initially lunges toward the scary thing, usually he will still turn and go if he can. Most dogs would prefer to run away because they are for the most part conflict avoiders. So help him do it! Scurry away with him, and do your best to reach “critical distance” (the distance beyond which the dog feels safe) before stopping.

This move by you will raise your dog’s trust and confidence in you because he realizes you recognize the threats he sees and will help him deal with them. Other results range from an immediate “I’m no longer afraid of that” to the beginning of a desensitization effort.

Reactivity (Aggression)

This is the perfect start to rehabbing a dog- or people-reactive dog. The second your dog alerts (ie ‘gets taller,’ ears prick, eyes lock) or — even better — you see the problem target first, you walk away. If you mis-time it and she blows up on you, use the Emergency Turn*.

Note if you have a reactive dog, you would do well to get professional help. Always look for a trainer that emphasizes KINDNESS, REWARDS and FUN. Anyone who talks about alpha, showing the dog who’s boss, and/or correcting the dog for being “bad” is totally missing what’s going on and will make the situation worse. Run away from those people!

The big difference

Notice how the walk away move prevents the problem behavior from occurring (so it can start to fade away) and/or involves using the dog’s great problem-solving skills plus the handler’s teaching skills to give him the right pathway to succeed (ie get what he wants) through behaving (ie getting what you want). It is a teaching technique, not a punishment.

This is a crucial difference! Your message is “I see you don’t know what to do here, and it’s stressing you out. NBD. I know what to do. Let me show you.”

The happy feelings and lack of negativity in this approach means this is a long-term solution, not a one-off (ie handled in the moment but will recur again and again). The fact that your dog got what he wanted by doing B instead of A will stick with him — that is, if you stick with this approach!

Hope I’ve given you enough ideas so you can get going on your own! If not, a more detailed look at the walk away is in my second book, I’ve Never Had a Dog like This! available through Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07RJV89YR].

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*EMERGENCY TURN (aka SPIN-LAUGH-RUN)

Practice this ahead of time, before you see a person/dog when you are out walking.

What to do: Walk dog normally. Stop. Put a treat in front of her nose. Say “Sparky, TURN!” Slowly lure her around with the treat until you are facing the opposite way, and then take off running/walking fast and laughing. (Yes, you will look like a fool. Welcome to my world.) Run a few steps, then stop and give her the treat and tell her how wonderful she is. Do this until she is turning on a dime the second she hears TURN.

Now, when you see a dog and you are worried yours will react, you will use Spin-Laugh-Run (aka Emergency Turn). Instead of tension, you are creating a fun way out of a potentially bad situation.

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