Q: My rescued Toy Poodle, Sally, drags behind me on walks. She’s only six and runs around in the house, so it’s not a mobility issue. What’s up with her lagging behind? —Brisk in Brooklyn
A:Without having more information, it’s hard to say definitively, but gazing into my canine crystal ball (or was that a tennis ball left behind by one of the dogs?), I see your sweet Sally being a bit uncertain in the great outdoors. It may be that her former owners, like so many owners of tiny dogs, didn’t see the need to take her for walks. (Heck, some owners of teeny tiny dogs don’t even see the need to ever put them on the ground!) So it’s possible that Sally never became accustomed to the sounds, smells, and sights of the outdoors, or even other dogs and people.
Your goal should be to assure Sally that walking around your neighbourhood is a safe, fun activity. The attitude you project should be carefree. No worried-sounding “reassuring” such as, “It’s okay, come on, nothing’s going to hurt you.” rather, strive for an upbeat tone: “This is fun! We love walks! Ooh, just look at that handsome Bulldog!” No tugging on the leash, either. Dogs have an oppositional reflex, so if you pull or push them, they will automatically resist the pressure; it’s what keeps them upright. (That reflex is also the reason so many puppies “put on the brakes” when a collar and leash are used for the first time.) Coax Sally along with your cheerful voice and body language, and any time she does walk by your side, no matter how briefly, reward her with a special, super yummy treat that she doesn’t get at any other time.
Assuming Sally is dog-friendly, another thing that can help is to have a friend with an outgoing, confident dog come along on your walks. By example, Sally will soon see that there really is nothing to be worried about. you can also incorporate activities she enjoys. For example, being a Toy poodle, Sally is surely incredibly smart; so stop periodically on walks to ask her to do some obedience behaviours or tricks that you’ve taught. If she enjoys playing tug or another other game, make that part of your walks, too.
Above all, be patient. Sally has most likely had six years of not feeling secure outdoors. As she bonds with you, learns to trust in your guidance, and becomes more accustomed to her outdoor environment, your walks will go from lagging to lovely.