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Why Your Dog Wants to Walk in Front

When you train your dog to do anything, you need to remember that his mind doesn't work quite the same way your mind works. A dog's main philosophy in life is simple:

"If it works, do it again."

Up until now, your dog has probably understood that when the leash gets clipped to his collar he's supposed to take off like a bat and pull you down the street. He probably thinks this is an odd way for you to get from one place to another, but if that's what you want to do, he's willing to comply. He wants to go forward, and pulling gets him where he wants to go. It worked yesterday, it worked the day before. Therefore, he assumes it will always work.

There's another think that you must keep in mind while training your dog, no matter what you're trying to teach him:

Dogs are masters at pattern recognition.

If things always happen in a certain order, your dog will know it, even if you don't. If you always put on your coat before getting the leash, he knows you're going for a walk when you head for the coat closet. If you always scratch your nose just before getting off the couch to go get your coat, you might end up thinking your dog is psychic, because he notices the pattern in your behavior, even though you don't.

Since dogs can see patterns in our behavior that we are completely unaware of, it helps if we force ourselves to be consistent, at least when we are teaching our dogs something new. That way, our dogs know exactly what they're being rewarded for. Once he 'gets it,' you can loosen up and act more naturally.

Before you even put on the training harness (or before you clip the leash to his collar, if you decide to work with a normal collar) you need to decide if you want your dog to walk at your side, or if you'll let him walk in front. Either way is fine. You can start out with your dog healing (walking on your left), and then allow him to move more freely at a later date. Or, if you don't need him to walk next to you it's perfectly fine to let him walk in front .

The dominance issue.

I know that many popular dog training TV shows have hammered away at the idea that you'll never be able to 'assert dominance' over a dog if you let him walk in front.

To this I say 'hogwash.'

This idea could only come from someone who has never seen a sled-dog race or watched sheepdog trials, where the dogs react instantly to the commands of their owners (who are sometimes so far behind that the dogs can't even see them). Besides, taking your dog for a walk is not a contest between you and your dog - both of you should have fun and both of you 'win' by getting out in the air, using your legs, and seeing the sights.

I know I shouldn't get on a soapbox, but this is an important issue. There have been many studies showing that the bond between a human and a dog has enormous health benefits for both parties. This bond can be damaged or destroyed if the human and dog constantly compete for control.
It is especially unnerving if the dog is just doing what it is naturally inclined to do, but his owner misinterprets his behavior because a popular trainer makes sweeping generalizations about dogs.

Consider Bingo, an easy example for me because he's now lying at my feet as I type, resting after our morning trek to the post office.

Bingo is a naturally submissive dog. That's why I chose him at the pound. I'm a marshmallow myself, and I know a submissive dog is easier for me to control.

But, like all dogs, Bingo wants to walk in front. Does he instantly change from a submissive, eager-to-please dog into a dominant, assertive dog as soon as the leash is snapped on? Of course not. He just wants to walk faster than I do.

There's a saying in the corporate team training field: Assume innocence.

I wish more people were encouraged to do this with their dogs. If you assume that your dog walks in front because that's where all the interesting smells are, instead of assuming that he wants to be in front because he's showing his 'alpha' tendencies, it will be a lot easier for you to calm down and train him to walk the way you want him to.

Does this mean that he should be allowed to pull on the leash and make your walk miserable? Of course not. Training is still important, and so is control. But it's up to you to decide what you want him to do, so you both end up having more fun on your walk.