Be respectful of other dogs and people in the park. Trainer Tony Cruse advises how to achieve perfect park etiquette.
If you take your dog to the park, be aware that it will be widely used by other people. Dogs and owners should always consider other park users, follow park regulations, and behave in a respectful way.
In the last in this series on walking your dog in the park, we are focusing on park etiquette.
There are many ways in which you can help ensure the park remains the peaceful and harmonious place it should be.
Teach your dog manners
Although this is not an official park rule, every park user should try to prevent their dog from approaching another dog who is being walked on a lead or long line.
There is usually a valid reason why a dog is on a lead, possibly because he is anxious about other dogs and his owner is gently reintroducing him to the park and other dogs.
I work with nervous and reactive dogs and it can take many months of careful and systematic work to get a dog to feel confident and comfortable around other dogs. One dog charging up to a nervous dog can ruin months of work and destroy the dog's confidence once again.
If you see a dog on a lead, recall your dog and mirror the other owner by putting your dog on the lead as you go on your way. You will be helping the other dog more than you know.
Teach your dog to sit
Did you know the sit command can keep your dog out of trouble? Many problems can be averted by that one simple request. The sit is often the very fi rst lesson a puppy is taught, with a strong history of being worthwhile for the dog because we make it super rewarding.
The sit is a useful ‘mutually exclusive' behaviour. This means that if the dog is in a sit he can't be doing another (unwanted) behaviour such as jumping up at you. The sit is an underused request!
Requesting a sit can help to...
- Prevent your dog jumping up; can be used as a polite greeting.
- Prevent bolting off and chasing dogs, joggers, and bicycles.
- Keep your dog in one place as you pick up after him.
- Make it easier to clip the lead on.
- Keep your dog static at a distance when there is danger or a major distraction nearby.
Training exercise – Emergency sit
If your dog runs off towards potential danger or starts to chase, you have the obvious choice of a recall, which we covered in the first feature in this series.
A second technique is to request a sit. This keeps your dog safely in one place, allowing you to walk over and put his lead back on. The basic sit is you saying ‘Sit' and your dog placing his rear on the floor. Once this behaviour is achieved, you can reward your dog with a piece of food, a toy, or a chance to run off and sniff.
The exercise shown below builds a sit at a distance, which can be used in an emergency. For this exercise, you will need a long line and some tasty treats. If you are worried about your dog bolting, keep your dog's lead or long line on and put your foot on it, keeping your hands free.
- Choose a location with no nearby distractions; take a piece of yummy food and let your dog smell it. Say ‘Sit' clearly and bring your hand up over your dog's head. As his nose rises up, his rear should move down on to the ground.
- When his bottom is on the floor, say ‘Good dog' and give him the piece of food as a reward, or toss the food on to the grass for him to eat. This gets him back into a stand ready to repeat the exercise. Repeat this five times. This is building a sit using the verbal cue ‘Sit', which comes before the action of luring. You can now simply say ‘Sit' and not bring your hand up to lure the head. Now work on increasing the duration. You don't want the dog moving off from a sit when you are far away; you only want him to move away from the sit after you have praised him with the words ‘Good dog' and delivered the reward of a piece of food.
- Repeat stages one and two but delay the words ‘Good dog', followed by the treat delivery. Start timing the sit. Build duration in fi ve second intervals; begin with a five second sit before you say ‘Good dog' and give him the food. Then do a 10 second sit and so on, until you reach 30 seconds regularly. If he breaks the sit before the time is up, don't give him the food but start again, and go for a shorter duration before building the time back up.
- You can now work on stages two and three with added distractions such as other dogs and people - perhaps even joggers. You may want to start with only a five second sit for number three. Distractions make it harder for your dog so you must take this into account and ‘lower the bar'. However, you should progress quickly. If your dog is unfocused, start training further away from the distractions.
- You can now start building up the distance, initially with the dog sitting only one pace ahead of you and progressing until he can sit at the end of the long line. With your dog on the long line, allow him to go out ahead of you. Clearly say ‘Sit'. If he doesn't respond, call his name fi rst to gain his attention, followed by your sit request.
- With your dog in the sit, slowly and calmly walk up to him, stepping on the long line so he cannot run off. Say ‘Good dog' and give him a tasty treat as the reward. While walking around the park, repeat this randomly many times, varying the distance at which you request the sit. The closer you are, the more likely it will occur. If your dog gets up before you get there, don't give him the reward and start again with him only a few feet ahead of you. Build your distance slowly based on previous success. Keep very cool and quiet when you make your way back to your dog. The rewards come when you get to him.
- Once you have this working reliably on a long line, you can practise it off lead.
- To progress this, return to your dog, who should be in the sit. Delay the praise and reward until you have clipped his lead on. A food treat is not always necessary at this stage. The chance to be released for more sniffs can sometimes be his reward.
We've all seen owners desperately shouting the name of their dog in an attempt to call him back. When they finally catch up with him, the lead comes out and the dog gets angrily marched out of the park. If this happens frequently, the dog soon learns that if he does return to the owner, his fun is over. The highlight of his day ends!
When you do finally catch up with your dog never reprimand him. This, again, will make him avoid you on future park walks! To stop the unwanted association of recall equals home time, allow your dog to sniff and run free, and perhaps call your dog back 10 times during the walk. If your dog often moves away when the lead comes out, start by dropping the food reward between your feet and, as he is sniffing for it, touch his collar as you fuss and praise him for returning.
You will soon get to the stage where you can then clip the lead on. Why clip the lead on? Because you will remove it after 30 seconds and allow your dog to continue the fun of sniffing and running off lead. This method soon prevents the recall and the lead being the predictors of home time. When you call your dog, look welcoming.