I work with a lot of people to help them learn
to make dog walking an enjoyable activity. One of the first things I always ask is, “What
side do you walk your dog on?” so that when I work with the dog I’m working on the correct
side. So often, though, I get responses like, “Oh, he just goes back and forth,” or “Well
she just goes to whatever side she wants.” Let me rephrase the question: WHAT SIDE ARE
YOU GOING TO WALK YOUR DOG ON FROM NOW ON? [laughs] Ok that was a little creepy. Ian here with Simpawtico Dog Training, and
as I’m sure you’re figuring out by now I for sure advocate picking a side for your dog
and sticking with it. This will yield several benefits for you. The traditional wisdom was
that you were supposed to train your dog to walk and/or heel on the left side. Back before
sidewalks and such people walked against traffic, putting the dog on the inside. There’s also
some historical evidence that using the left side had to do with keeping the right hand
unimpeded for swords or pistols…because, bandits and highwaymen, I guess. Approximately
80% of the world has always been right-handed and left-handedness used to be frowned upon
and even forcibly retaught to the right side. So, consequently, dogs were traditionally
on the left, always leaving the right hand free. Now, it’s the 21st century. You can
pick whatever side you want. I usually recommend using your dominant hand, but some folks prefer
their non-dominant side. Doesn’t really matter, your dog doesn’t care, just PICK ONE. When
you train your dog on one side, they come to know their position and will go there.
This frees you up to do other things, and just enjoy the stroll. If you stop to answer
your phone, or pick up a poop, or even just hang out on a park bench, getting back to
the walking part becomes an effortless step because your dog’s on autopilot in that respect.
Putting good behaviors on autopilot without having to cue them every time is the end goal
for most dog training. It allows you to recover from mixups faster. Also, not having to manage
their position frees you up to work on your situational awareness like we talked about
in our last video. Plus, as you train yourself to work on that side, it’s a much faster process
than trying to be ambidextrous. If you’ve read or learned about how dogs learn, you’ve
no-doubt heard that dogs suck at generalization. If you train your dog in the kitchen, you
have a great kitchen dog, but they’re anywhere between sloppy and terrible everywhere else.
So we have to teach behaviors in lots of different situations and places so they connect the
dots and have their lightbulb moment: it means the same everywhere! On the other side of
the coin, dogs are AWESOME at discrimination, meaning that telling the difference between
situations and environments, finding details they know and understand, and cataloguing
those details is a skill they excel at. In other words, if you practice routines and
patterns, your dog will be ALL OVER THAT. It makes sense to them, and they like it.
Capitalize on that strength and be consistent in your walking configuration. Naturally then,
heeling becomes a snap when you stick to one side. Can you imagine how much more difficult
this would be if you had to communicate which side to heel on? Or worse, didn’t specify
anything and your dog had to guess? Forget that nonsense. Train a side, the same side
always, and you remove a ton of guesswork and time. This sets you both up for success.
All of these benefits become even more evident when you have more than one dog. Here’s an
example. My English Bulldog, Dexter, was trained on my left ever since he was a puppy. I’m
left-handed, so it made sense to put the big guy on my strong side. My Boston Terrier,
Bobo, I trained on my right side. This was done on purpose so I could walk them together.
Later, when I met my wife and her dog became OUR dog, I had to figure out what to do. So
my Jack Russell, Darwin, was trained on the right, since my wife is right-handed. In the
whole group, that puts Darwin right next to Bobo and I put them on a splitter when I walk
them by myself. The two of them have kind of figured out an equilibrium too: Darwin’s
always on the inside, and Bobo always moves to the outside. The benefit of this, as I’ve
said, is that when the four of us move together, the dogs know their place and immediately
go into “formation” without me having to say anything or prompt them. It’s just how we’ve
always done it. When we go on solo adventures, the dog still walks on their trained side,
no matter what. And they do it automatically. And when my wife and I take them out together,
one person takes Dexter and one of the little guys so there’s freedom, but structure too.
It makes everything smooth and effortless. So how do we manage that? How do we teach
it? Easier than you think. First, remember that feedback is your #1 training tool. You
should be talking to your dog, giving them that running commentary on their performance
and behavior. Remember also that walking is a reward to your dog. It’s one of their favorite
hobbies. If they try to switch sides, we stop, take the walk away, and give them feedback.
Guide them back to where they’re supposed to be, and then praise and reward that by
restarting the walk. You’re showing them that the walk only continues when it’s done the
way it’s supposed to be. This is an enforceable statement and I talk more about those in another
video. Remember: you’re driving. They’re in the sidecar.
Not the other way around. Really, that’s it. Now admittedly there’s more to teaching walking
in general, but that’s beyond the scope of this particular video. If you’re struggling
with walking, this is only one small piece of the puzzle. If you’re interested I’ll link
to some of my walking resources in the description. But as far sticking to one side or the other,
there’s really not much more to it than consistency, and good feedback.
So what do you think guys? Have you been walking all willy-nilly? Do you have stories or questions
about choosing a side to walk on? Share in the comments. And if you learned something
useful please subscribe to my channel so you never miss any videos, and shoot on over to
the Simpawtico website for more goodies, or to set up training with me if you’re in the
Southern Tier area of upstate New York. In the meantime, keep learning, keep practicing,
and I’ll see you soon. CHEERS.