We all want to be able to walk our dogs on a loose leash and yet many of us struggle to do so. Our dogs pull us, chase after moving objects, and might even exhibit ”leash aggression.” This common predicament has spurred a lucrative market of countless devices meant to prevent dogs from pulling – head halters, prong collars, choke chains, no-pull harnesses, electronic collars, etc. All cause a dog discomfort and pain, while giving owners the false impression that they’ve solved their problem.
A dog’s leash manners are not just a matter of training. Rather, they reflect a dog that is relatively calm and enjoys a measure of a bond with its human. When we have a bond, we have a dog looking up at its person, minding its person, and wanting to remain close enough to its person. In other words, leash pulling is a symptom of a poor relationship and a lack of engagement between handler and dog. That’s why it’s ineffective and unfair to slap a control tool on a dog and call it a day.
Our relationship is a product of our way of life. I’ll often tell clients that their issues with leash pulling outside the house often reflect how things are being done inside the house. As pulling reflects a lack of engagement between person and dog, juicing up that engagement requires thoughtfully managing the dog’s daily life. This means having the dog on a schedule that involves alternating between crating or containing the dog and training/exercise sessions. This creates a climate that’s conducive to training our dog effectively.
Before hitting the busy sidewalks, begin your leash work in a space that’s quiet – the backyard if you have one or as quiet and private an area as you can access. Instead of the conventional 4-6-foot walking leash, work with a long 10-15-foot training line. Begin walking and engage your dog to follow, rewarding it with praise, smiles, food, and/or pats – whatever works in the early going. If the dog gets a little distracted, walk in a different direction. Depending on the kind of dog I’m dealing with, I might call and encourage the dog or let slight tension on the line prompt the dog to follow. With pups, I let them drag the line and follow me around for toys, food, or in response to movement and sounds. All too often, we strap puppies into a harness, knowing that they will pull but we don’t want them hurting their necks, and off onto the busy streets we go. At this point, keep it simple. It’s just you and your dog to start, but as you two get the hang of it, you’ll start allowing for distractions and expanding to gradually busier places.
Working on a long line in this manner, referred to as “lunge line work” by both dog and horse trainers, eases tension on the line and gives the animal a degree of choice. It helps us forget that there’s a line connecting us and makes walking together a habit that’s developed gently over time. As we make progress, we shorten the line and take our practice to different places, eventually making our way to narrow and busy sidewalks. Being able to move safely and in harmony is a necessity but also I think many would agree that walking together is one of the great pleasures of life with our dogs. When we walk with that leash loose and it’s nice and easy, this goes beyond training and speaks to our way of life.
Note: Click here to check out a video of our client Nimbus rocking his loose leash walks.