There is no single thing that you as a dog owner can do that will improve your relationship with your dog more than to start walking your dog with a slack leash. I get more inquiries from people that want to be able to walk their dog without it pulling all the time, than I do for any other behavioral issue. I also see dog owners every day using, and very often misusing, halties (Gentle Leader Harnesses), choke chains, and pinch collars to address this problem. Surprisingly, in most cases it’s extremely easy to stop your dog from pulling on the leash – you simply don’t let your dog pull! Well, maybe not that easy. There are a couple of subtle nuances that are easier for me to show you than to explain in a blog article. See my video here for a demonstration of one of them.
I don’t like to use any tool — Halties, chokers, harnesses, or pinch collars — to address pulling. Using tools such as these to address pulling treats the symptom and not the underlying problem. If your dog pulls on the leash, one of two things is going on. Either your dog does not look to you for direction, or you aren’t clearly communicating your expectations to your dog. I prefer to deal with the problem and not merely treat the symptom. This approach has the added benefit that it may very well resolve other dog behavioral issues that are symptoms of the same underlying problem. If the above two pieces are firmly in place, you can change any behavior your dog has that you don’t like.
So why is walking with a slack leash so important? The main reason is that you have much more control over your dog when you walk your dog with a slack leash. This is contrary to what most dog owners believe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a dog owner tighten up on the leash when they find themselves in a worrisome situation. They think that they will have more control over their dog if they shorten or “choke up” on the leash. This has at least three undesirable consequences. First, it sends your dog the message that you are anxious, nervous, or afraid in that situation. This will make your dog anxious, nervous, or afraid as we all know our dogs simply pick up on our energy in any given situation. Secondly, it puts your dog in control. Whenever the leash is tight, your dog is leading you around. He or she is making the decisions. When the leash is loose, your dog has to look to you for direction. Tightening up on the leash also sends your dog the message that you don’t trust that your dog will behave in that situation. Our dogs often live up to the expectations we set for them – it doesn’t matter if we communicate those expectations intentionally or not.
In order to walk with a slack leash your dog must always be at your side or behind you. Many dog owners believe that the walk is the dog’s time to enjoy being out and that if their dog is not out in front sniffing and marking and doing things that dogs like to do then he/she won’t enjoy the walk as much. I couldn’t disagree with this view more. In my experience, a dog that knows his place in the hierarchy and has structure in place on walks to reinforce this position within the pack is much happier than a dog that is left to make his/her own decisions. It puts a lot of pressure on your dog to be out in front on walks. It sends your dog the message that he/she is in control and then your dog has to act like he/she is in control. When your dog is leading your dog feels the need to react when another dog comes into sight, or a person, or squirrel, or car. Your dog feels the need to protect you and it’s all because you have placed that responsibility on your dogs shoulders (even if it was unintentional) simply by letting your dog walk out in front of you. Your dog does need frequent opportunities to sniff and pee on walks, but only when and where you choose.
I prefer to take the stress and pressure off of dogs so they can simply be dogs and enjoy life! I do the same in my own life wherever possible. Do you agree? Disagree? Have thoughts, comments, or feedback on this topic?