It’s a common complaint amongst dog owners: “My dog is so well behaved at home and acts crazy on walks!” We’ve been there. If your dog is ignoring you on walks in favor of paying attention to...well, everything else, there’s a better way! You can build your dog’s engagement with you (and improve your relationship), with some fun exercises during your walk. In this post, you’ll find some ideas for games that will make you even more fun than chasing squirrels and make training your dog, outside and at home, easier and more relaxing for both of you.
Engagement is the Foundation of A Strong Relationship With Your Dog
Engagement is simple but super important: it’s the process of teaching our dogs that paying attention to humans is fun and rewarding for them. A dog who is really engaged with its human will ignore other things around them, even distractions like another dog, cars or bikes, or even food dropped on the sidewalk! Anybody who has ever walked on a city street with tempting snacks like chicken bones or pizza crusts on the sidewalk knows how important engagement is.
Engagement doesn’t just make for a better-behaved dog. It also helps you build a stronger relationship and bond with your pup. The more that your dog learns to associate paying attention to you with rewards like treats or playtime, the more trust they will have in you as their handler and the more fun you can have together. There are many ways to build engagement, but we will share a few below.
Games to Build Engagement on Walks
The good news is that training your dog to engage with you doesn’t have to be a chore—it can be a fun bonding activity for you and your dog. Engagement games will make your walk more interesting for both of you. There are lots of games you can play to increase engagement while you are out on a walk, but here are a few easy ones that you can try out soon. Make sure you bring lots of treats!
Dogs love to use their noses to find things, because it mimics the hunting that they would have done in the wild before we brought them inside to cuddle us and beg for our dinner. You can give your dog the opportunity to sniff in a safe way that doesn’t involve smelling your neighbor’s trash with this easy game. To play Find It, you’ll just need a snack that your dog loves and which they will be excited to search for—either a treat or part of their usual daily meal—and a treat pouch. Just make sure whatever you bring is high value enough to motivate your dog to hunt for it (our goal with Kono’s Kitchen is to make our single-protein treats high value enough to use for any training you do!).
As you walk with your dog, reach into the pouch and grab a small handful of treats or kibble. Then, toss the treats onto the ground in front of you, and let your dog search them out! Find It is more challenging (and more mentally stimulating for your dog), on grass or soil where you can “hide” the treats more and there are greater competing smells, but start out easy by just tossing treats in front of you on the sidewalk. When your dog finds the treats, praise them and continue on your walk.
Red Light Green Light
Red Light Green Light (pup version), is a little different than the one you played in elementary school gym class, and it’s a great way to stimulate your dog mentally and physically. It helps your dog learn to match your pace while you walk. To play, you’ll need to have trained a few basic cues for your dog, including a cue to make them stop walking (for example, “stop”, “wait” or “sit”), a “stay” cue if you use one with your dog, and a cue to start again (like “let’s go”).
To play Red Light Green Light, you will cue your dog to stop at random points on your walk (our “red light!”). Reward them for stopping or sitting, then wait there for at least a few seconds (use a “stay” cue here if needed). Then use a “let’s go” or “break” cue and continue on your walk (our “green light!”). As you go, slow down and speed up at random intervals. See if your dog can match pace alongside you, and of course, reward them when they do!
It may take your dog a few minutes to get the hang of this game if they aren’t used to matching pace with a human, but it’s a really helpful skill for them to learn and can also help minimize pulling.
Another simple game you can play while walking, especially if you’re using a long line or if your dog is off-leash (in an off-leash legal area of course!), is to practice your dog’s recall and reward them for returning to you. At intervals throughout your walk, call your dog to you and reward them for returning to your side. It’s especially helpful to practice recall in new environments or near distractions. If you’re not 100% confident in your dog’s recall yet, you can always use a long line to give them freedom while you practice. Make sure you use extremely high-value treats while in new environments!
Practicing recall reinforces for your pup that choosing to come back to you—rather than chasing that squirrel—is worth it for the love and snacks they get in return.
Look at Me
Teaching your dog a “look” cue is a great way to increase engagement. To play the “Look At Me” game, while you are walking ask your dog to look at you, especially while going by a distraction or a trigger, and reward them heavily for doing so. This is super helpful for nervous dogs, especially ones that might find walks stressful, or for dogs that get excited when they see new things. Reminding your dog that you are there for them and that they can rely on you to guide them is the best lesson you can teach them!
Tricks (Spin, Middle)
Does your dogs know any tricks like Spin, Middle (“through”) or Around? Use them on walks! Tricks aren’t just fun party tricks—they can help your dog use their brain and feel more confident and engaged with you as a handler. Plus, they’re really cute. So on your next walk, ask your dog to show off one of their tricks and reward them for showing you their moves instead of pulling you down the sidewalk.
If your dog doesn’t know any tricks yet, you can teach them at home using a treat lure and then, once they have it down, use them on walks to make them more fun.
Engagement Can Improve Training At Home
The most magical part about engagement games? They don’t just help your dog’s behavior while out on a walk, but at home too. Engagement training really just improves your relationship with your dog overall and makes it deeper, stronger and more complete. Once your dog chooses to engage with you over distractions out in the world, they will behave better at home too, because they’ve realized that you, their human, are the most fun to hang out with—even over other dogs, prey, or new people. And of course, there’s nothing cooler than being your dog’s favorite.
Engaged dogs understand their people better and have more fun with training. It might take some time, but using engagement games will help all your training, including obedience work, threshold training and other parts of your daily routine with your dog.
Conclusion: Play Some Games on Your Next Walk
Training should be fun, and we hope that with some of these games it will be. Try out simple engagement training exercises like “Find it” or “Red Light Green Light” and let us know if you do! You can tag us @itskonoskitchen on Instagram to show off your engaged, fun walks. We hope that you and your pup will be having a blast together on your next walk—no matter what distractions they might find.
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