Oreo, our 5-year-old Chihuahua, does not like to take walks. We have to carry him a long distance and then he will walk back. It is difficult to carry him, but this is the only way we can get him to walk. He is extremely smart and very loving to us, and we just adore him. Please share any ideas we could use to get him to walk.
– Iris, New York City
You’re sure right, Oreo’s a smart little guy! I’m glad he likes walking back home, so we know he does enjoy it at some point. What I’d do is show him that getting to the turnaround point in your walks is much more fun than being carried.
Since he’s so tiny, it will be easier for you to work with a training stick – a small, rod-shaped stick that fits just inside the smaller of the two holes in a Kong, a dog toy that can be stuffed with goodies. The goal is to have Oreo fall in love with the Kong.
So stuff one with some really great low-fat, low-sodium treats along with some of his regular kibble. Ask Oreo to sit, and then toss the Kong to him and watch him enjoy it. In fact, you should give Oreo his meals in a Kong for two or three days, letting him develop a serious Kong addiction.
After that, keep the Kong up and away from him, and use it only for training. Line the inside of the Kong with just a bit of peanut butter or ricotta cheese. Insert the training stick through the smallest hole, keeping the Kong just at one end of the stick. Stuff a few treats into the Kong and then take Oreo for a very brief “practice walk” inside the house.
Hold the Kong at Oreo’s nose level for a few steps, making sure he can get a small amount of goodies or a few licks of the cheese, and encourage him to follow the Kong.
Do this throughout the day, in short little training sessions, then try taking him outside for an actual (very brief) walk. Entice and encourage Oreo with the Kong and your voice for him to follow it.
If Oreo doesn’t take a few steps, just go back inside instead of getting frustrated and picking him up. Try to stay in “emotional neutral” so Oreo doesn’t think you’re upset at him – you’re simply showing him the consequences of his actions. No steps walked means no Kong.
If you do this consistently, Oreo will learn very quickly that he’d rather walk a bit going after the Kong (and scoring some treats to keep him motivated) than wait to be picked up.
Practice again and again for a very short distance. One or two steps forward is a real success, so continue at that distance until Oreo is happily following the Kong before you try going a foot farther. Don’t push it! Remember that if you pick Oreo up even one more time, it will take you a very long time to train him to walk.
This is called “random reinforcement,” and it’s a very powerful training tool. Just be sure to use it in a way that encourages the behavior you want! Please keep me posted on Oreo’s progress.