The Structured Walk

The structured walk is perhaps the most important thing you will do with your. This is a more-or-less formal walk with your dog and it is an intense bonding exercise. The Structured Walk is the best way to cement your relationship with your dog.

The video above shows a 10 year old girl on a Structured Walk with a 100+ pound dog.

The right equipment for the structured walk is crucial


Before you begin taking your dog on the structured walk you need the proper quipment . You must use a slip collar or leash and not a flat buckle collar. Do not use a harness as they were meant for pulling a cart or for hunting and give the dog the ability to really pull you around with the use of his chest.

Besides harnesses another no-no is the use of a flexi-leash. These allow your dog to be well out in front of you which is precisely where he should not be on the structured walk. I tell my clients that flexi-leashes are the invention of the devil.

You want to be able to use a quick tug and release with the collar. Because the integrity of the walk is so important you don’t want him to be able to pull or, worse, escape while on the structured walk.

Fit for the collar is very important. The collar should sit very high up on the neck; just below the jaw and behind the ears. This prevents injury to the esophagus and trachea. Coupled with the fact that the dog’s neck is weaker higher up the high fitted collar is a definite advantage for both of you.


If your dog is unaccustomed to leash and collar give him time before the walk to get used to wearing this equipment. You can use treats and praise as long as his protests don’t include growling, nipping, or any aggressive behavior. Reward him when he’s quiet and calm.

The action before the walk

Before you even get to the door there are steps to be taken. Get dressed in coat, boots, or whatever outdoor gear you need for the weather. I strongly recommend against wearing sandals for the structured walk in summer. Scraped toes are no fun! Be calm about getting the leash and make your dog come to you to put it on. You should not go to the dog. Because in a dog pack the leader does not go to the followers it’s important you establish yourself as the leader right off.


The structured walk is a calm event so take a moment before you go out the door to steady yourself. If you’re new to this walk you may find yourself tensing up. Relax your shoulders and arms. Take a deep breath. This also signals the dog to relax. Emotions travel down the leash. If you’re nervous you’ll communicate it to your dog. If your dog is a calm, submissive type you won’t have to take as much time unless you need it to be calm.

If you have help it’s great to have the other person hold the door open while you stay still and make you dog wait. This is actually mentally draining for your dog and you should make him practice waiting throughout the day for various things like going out, getting his food bowl, and anything else you can think for which to have him wait. Anything that makes him think is good!

Off you go!


You should be leading your dog on the structured walk. He needs to be at your side with his head at or slightly in front of your hip. You can use the word “heel” or not. You can use your own phrase or say nothing at all. The idea is that the dog follows your lead. When you move, he moves. When you stop, he stops and, ideally sits. This submissive position reinforces the idea that you are the leader. You even decide when he gets to go off the path to pee or poop. You are in total control of the structured walk.

The importance of the slip collar or leash

Because I specified certain equipment I need to explain why. When you and your dog are taking a structured walk, you need to remind him to ignore distractions. His attention must remain on you. When you stop, he must stop and preferably he should sit. When you slow down or speed up, he must match his speed to yours. And when you turn, he must turn with you.

Using a gentle tug and release on the slip collar redirects his wandering attention back to you, his leader.

Words are optional

You may speak to your dog while walking but it’s actually better if you keep the talking to a minimum. Dogs don’t communicate by speaking so it’s more natural and keeps his attention on you more if you don’t prattle on. The walk will even be more enjoyable and calming for you if you’re not feeling pressured to keep up a running commentary for your dog.

Free(ish) time

When you decide it’s time you can let your dog sniff and even roam a bit. You may allow him to go to the end of the lead or, if he’s in an enclosed area, you may let him go off leash. But you must be confident that he will return to you when called.

Because you are deciding when this informal time starts and ends you are still in charge. You are still leading him.

The home stretch

When you and your dog approach you home you must stay in control of the structured walk. He must not be allowed to bolt toward the door. He must stay by your side and there should be no tension on the leash. If you need to stop and make him sit and wait for your next step, do so.

As a result of you maintaining control to and through the door you are reinforcing his knowledge that you are the leader.

Fun times during and after the structured walk

When you allow your dog to relieve himself, sniff, and even romp a bit during the structured walk you’re adding even more fun. When you return home, you should also engage in some play with him. The structured walk is a total event. It’s the preparation, the walk, the time to sniff, the return home, and even the 10 minutes or so after you’re back.

The importance of the structured walk

More than any other thing you do with your dog, the structured walk bonds your dog to you more closely than any other exercise. It teaches and reinforces for both you and the dog your leadership in the relationship.

In addition to providing this intense bonding time the structured walk drains your dog’s nervous energy. When a dog builds up this excessive and truly toxic energy, he will exhibit behaviors that range from simply annoying to destructive and even dangerous!

You should take your dog on a structured walk every day. It may seem inconvenient at times but it is worth every minute. Even if you are only gone 15 – 20 minutes this walk will improve everything about your dog’s behavior.

To sum it all up, the structured walk, done as described, is the one thing you should make time for every day. You and your dog will benefit from it and your relationship with your dog will grow incredibly strong. And that’s certainly what you want!

For additional tips or to have your questions answered please call Joyful Dogs of Michigan at (517) 303-8580!

10 year old girl walking 100+ pound dog.