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Walking on a leash

Sunday, April 15, 2018

In a previous article we covered how to safely and humanely introduce your dog to a collar and leash to avoid leash phobia.

Dogs should be walked using a body harness rather than a neck collar (which can still be used for identification purposes). The use of choke-chains or prong collars can damage the tissues and muscles in the neck and throat and cause pain. The harness gives you more control of the dogs’ shoulders, which is where the power to pull comes from.

The harness needs to be slowly introduced as we discussed with the collar and leash, and teamed with treats, attention, affection, and lots of praise. Refer to the last article to learn how to introduce the harness.

Once the harness is comfortably on, just attach the leash and leave it on while you are around to supervise the dog. Allow him to run around with it so that he becomes used to the weight and feel of the leash.

When he no longer pays too much attention to it trailing behind him, simply pick it up and stay still. This is so he becomes used to the restraint now caused by you. Let him struggle and pull against it and wait until he gives up and settles. When he does so, immediately let go of the leash and reward him. This is so he learns that if he fights against the leash nothing changes; but if he relaxes he immediately gets rewarded. We want him to learn to relax on the leash, not fight against it. Then you can start walking him with the leash, one step at a time.

If the dog freezes up on a walk; use an upbeat, excited tone of voice (you can pat your leg or clap your hands too) when you call him to entice him to come towards you. Stooping down to the dog’s level will encourage him to run to you. Do not pull him with the leash; let him take his time because he is learning. You can also use treats to make the reward of coming to you even greater.

If the dog pulls on the leash, there is a mimicking of natural scruffing action on the back of the neck with the harness, which inhibits unwanted behaviours. Remember to walk the dog at your side or behind you, and if he is pulling ahead of you, change direction, which will force him to turn also and follow you. You may be zigzagging on your walk, which may look funny to your neighbours but persevere and your dog will soon learn that the moment he pulls ahead of you, he is again made to follow. He will also start to focus on you to see which direction you’re now heading in. You can also stop suddenly so he comes back to see why you’ve stopped, at which point you start to walk again once he is back at your side. This teaches him that pulling ahead gets him nowhere, but when he stays at your side he gets to move.

The type of equipment used is not all that is needed however. The most obvious way in which we communicate with our dogs is in terms of energy. So, it is important that whenever potentially anxious situations arise; whoever is holding the leash tries to remain calm and confident at all times so that the dog also remains calm. If you feel yourself becoming frustrated because he is not responding quickly enough or not listening to you at that moment, it is best to take a break from the training and try again later rather than trying to force him.

Remember that a walk is supposed to be interesting and fun for the dog so also allow him the freedom to explore while you are out with him.

Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2018


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