Dog’s Eye View: Leash handling

Laura Tyler/For the Steamboat Today

Oh no, here she comes with that leash again. Run!

All too often, once we have the dog on leash we stop communicating and let the leash do the “talking.” The problem is we haven’t actually taught the dog what the leash means. The dog usually finds out the hard way.

As a dog trainer, I believe the leash is a safety line not a steering wheel. My training should control my dog’s decisions and behavior. Here are a few easy cues I’ve taught my dog when we head out for a walk.

“Let’s go” means we are now going to start walking. Saying my dog’s name first lets her know that I’m speaking to her.

“This way” means we’re going to change direction; either left, right or about to turn. The words cue my dog to watch which direction I’m going and move in that direction. “Wait” means to stop until I give another cue.

It’s taken time and work but my dog self adjusts to my pace most of the time. Once in a while, she’ll get a bit excited and want to lead the way, but for the most part, I have a pretty nice walking partner.

Partner is the optimum word here. We are partners in the walk. I communicate with her during the walk and I also listen when she communicates to me. One day, she actually told me a bear was nearby and that we should leave the area quietly. Understanding her body language saved us both that day.

Another thing I taught her is to get behind me when I ask. That usually means I have to body block a loose dog that comes running up on us. My dog does not enjoy being mugged by other dogs. So, I can be rather rude when people just assume it’s OK to let their dog come up and sniff my dog.

I also have a special walk I do with my dog when she’s been in the car for awhile. It’s a sniffing walk. She can clear the inside the car smells out of her nose and take in the outdoor environment. I’m not in a hurry to pack on the miles. I want a nice conversation going on with my dog. She can lead the way and stop and sniff whenever she wants. My only criterion is that she doesn’t go beyond the end of the leash. So, I’ve taught her the cue “That’s far enough” meaning that pulling will get you no more distance.

To teach leash walking, I work to attain a soft “U” shape with the leash between me and my dog. (No tension on the leash) If I need to move closer to the dog, I step closer while I take up the slack in the leash. I refuse to be the jerk on the end of the leash. You can easily teach your dog to “give in” to the leash pressure. Your dog can learn that when she tightens the leash the walk stops because your movement stops. If she immediately releases the pressure, then the walk begins again. The forward motion or continuation of the walk is the reward when your dog adjusts to your pace.

The most difficult part of this training is your consistency. It can’t be OK to pull sometimes and not OK at other times unless you teach pulling as a cue. Sort of like “pull me up that steep hill.” Now that one I’ll go for!

Keep the leash loose; it’s not a steering wheel it’s a safety line. Communicate with your dog by paying attention to what she sees or smells. Engage and interact by practicing behaviors that she knows.

Here are some suggestions on leash games. Teach them off leash first so that you aren’t tempted to pull your dog into position. I really like teaching a turn signal called “this way.” Also “back up,” “go around,” “come sit by my side” and changing of the pace are very useful.

The moral of this story is that we need to build communication while we walk. That communication is not yelling or jerking. Keep talking to your dog and listening, too. That makes for really fun walks and you always have someone listening.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25+ years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.

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