Does your dog balk when being asked to walk over a metal grate on the sidewalk? Many dogs are uncertain or sensitive about walking on ground that moves or is a texture they aren’t used to. Surfaces like slippery tile floors and metal sidewalk grating can be especially frightening, confusing, or upsetting for dogs if they haven’t been properly introduced to them.
Whether you live in a city or like to go exploring with your dog, teaching them to be comfortable walking on a wide array of surfaces, including stairs and elevators, makes walks less stressful for dogs and their owners.
Showing puppies wobbly or textured ground should be a core aspect of socializing a puppy. Ideally, this is something your breeder will begin introducing your puppy to before they have gone home, but that’s not always the case.
Early exposure to walking and playing on interesting surfaces can help puppies grow into adult dogs who are less likely to struggle with surface interactions in the future. Once they have their bearings, it can help puppies be more confident in general to other challenges or unfamiliar situations they may have.
Creating Different Surfaces to Walk on
Although it’s ideal for dogs to learn about walking on a wide variety of surfaces when they are younger, it’s a skill that you can work on with your dog regardless of their age. Start at home with anything you can find around the house that is both sturdy enough for your dog to walk on and will provide different types of surface sensations underfoot. Items like old cookie sheets, flat metal wire panels from dog crates, wadded-up blankets, closed ladders laying flat on the ground, PVC pipes, and PVC lattice fencing are all non-flat materials that can be walked on.
Set out an array of different surfaces in an open area of your home or in your yard. You can sprinkle some of your dog’s kibble or toys amongst the different surfaces and then let your dog explore at their own pace. Praise your dog for any intersection with interesting surfaces, but don’t force your dog to engage.
Encourage Your Dog
Pairing walking on these novel surfaces with the presence of food and toys can help your dog to develop positive associations with diverse footing. When your dog is comfortable exploring the different surfaces, you can start to intentionally walk your dog across the different footing. However, never force your dog to walk on any surface they aren’t sure about. We don’t ever want to drag our dogs across surfaces.
Reward your dog for any interest or engagement in the surface, for sniffing it, or even just putting one foot onto it. Keep your training sessions with that unusual surface short even if it means getting them off the object. You don’t want to overwhelm your dog, as this can be mentally exhausting work for them.
There are practical reasons to teach your dog to be comfortable walking on a wide range of surfaces, but one of the additional benefits is it can have dramatic impacts on a dog’s confidence levels. For many dogs, overcoming nervousness about walking on metal grates and other novel surfaces can help them feel more secure when out on walks, training, and at home.
Finding Uneven Surfaces in the Wild
As your training progresses, start looking for new and interesting surfaces to let your dog walk on or explore. Quiet neighborhoods, cities, and hiking trails can all provide opportunities to expose your dog to new surfaces. Bring your dog to pet-friendly businesses and to different neighborhoods while looking for unique surfaces for your dog to practice walking on like railroad tracks, light rail tracks, different types of pavements, cobblestones, wooden footbridges, and decking.
Many chain pet stores have automatic opening doors which will have metal strips on the floor your dog can practice walking across. The stores also generally have slippery floors for your dog to test their footwork on. Parking garages are a perfect opportunity to let your dog practice getting onto elevators, which can be stressful for dogs because the floor moves. These are just a number of ways to expose your dog to as many surfaces as possible.
Helping Dogs Adapt to City Life
Teaching your dog to be comfortable walking on different surfaces is essential for dogs who are living in big cities. Urban dogs experience a wide array of surfaces under their feet. From slippery floors, metal manhole covers, moving elevator floors, and drainage grates combined with all the other sights, sounds, and distractions of city life can make things a bit stressful.
When you go out walking with your dog, make sure to bring high-value treats. If you get to a new surface your dog is uncomfortable with, encourage your dog to explore it. To do this you can toss treats on the ground for your dog to eat to build positive associations with the tricky footing. Praise and reward your dog for any interaction with the novel surface and then continue along on your walk. More positive experiences they have engaging with new surfaces will make them more comfortable encountering them in the future.
Pay Attention To Changes
Although walking on different surfaces can be scary for dogs, with careful socialization, most dogs will adjust well and learn about different surfaces. But be aware that age-related illnesses or other medical conditions could be making walking on different surfaces uncomfortable as your dog gets older.
Likewise, changes in vision can make dogs less confident about walking on different surfaces if they look different and your dog isn’t able to see what is in front of them. As they age, some dogs develop arthritis or weaker muscles, which can make them feel more unsteady or uncomfortable walking on slippery or uneven surfaces.
If your dog has historically been comfortable walking on different surfaces and suddenly becomes uncomfortable doing so, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian. Your vet will be able to assess if there are any health conditions developing that might be impacting your dog’s comfort.
Courtesy of American Kennel Club