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Why a Slack Leash is So Important

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?
I talk about the leash I recommend and why I like it on this page. I show the details of the ONLY prong collar I use on this page.
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Terrie

Interesting perspective on loose leash!

jmacek07

I agree..Walking your dog on a loose leash is like the ultimate behavior many people wish they could train their pups. Looks like we have similar thoughts on the subject.

cheese9333

Jamie.
I’m attempting to understand your full argument for slack leash requiring the dog to be beside you or behind you.
I believe, at this point in my investigation, that a dog knows when it is pulling and can adjust its actions accordingly….ie turn towards owner to check his position.
You dismiss a dog’s preference to walk around you, sniff things, and mark things as a tiny behavioral activity. It is, in fact a very large portion of a dog’s interest and they draw great satisfaction, on a primal level, from doing these things.
I do not disagree that a dog who is constantly in front of you
is likely to feel defensive and “in charge” when greeting new things. However, not all dogs that wander around you have to lead at all times.
I feel that the satisfaction, exertion, and enjoyment of a “heeling” walk is easily a fraction of the that of a “wandering” walk. My time is valuable and walking my dog morning and night need to be high value times for my dog to get his needs met. A permanent heel seems to hold low value for dogs.
Thx

Jaimie Scott

Hi cheese and thanks for the comment! I can see why it is confusing. I agree that sniffing and exploring are extremely important behaviors to dogs. I also agree that it is not reasonable to ask your dog to walk at your side or behind you if your dog doesn’t get frequent opportunities to sniff and explore. That’s why I recommend you stop every few minutes to let your dog off of a heel to “do his business.” That’s his chance to sniff, pee, be in front, do whatever he wants to as long as it’s not pull on the leash.

I am not of the opinion that a dog that is always in front is likely to feel defensive, but being out in front does put a lot of pressure on a dog. It basically sends your dog the message that he needs to figure out if anything you encounter on your walk is okay or not. Many dogs deal with that just fine. The problem with it is that it sends your dog mixed messages. When you tell your dog to sit, or not bark, it sends your dog the message that you are making the decisions. If you follow through and do it properly, it sets up the dynamic that your dog needs to take his direction from you. But then if you let your dog walk in front of you, or feed your dog before you eat (ever seen a wolf pack eat?), or let your dog choose where he wants to mark, it sends the message that he’s calling the shots. It’s these mixed messages that are confusing to a dog. Many dogs can handle some ambiguity and still be just fine. The dogs I work with on a daily basis cannot. So it requires the owner to tighten things up a bit to get the results they desire.

Melissa

Do I really have to eat with my dog? She eats four meals a day and timing is pretty difficult. Thanks!

Also, doesn’t there need to be some additional correction if a dog is pulling or will s/he automatically fall into place if you have a slack leash?

jscott

You do not have to eat with your dog, but if you eat around the time you feed your dog you should eat first. Also, you can feed your dog once or twice a day no problem. I don’t understand your other question, but nothing is automatic. Your dog will change her behavior based on how you respond to her behavior. We could spend three 90 minutes sessions discussing loose leash walking, but I can’t convey much of value in an email. Best of luck and thanks for your inquiry! — Jaimie

Mylene

But then how do you make your dog walk next to you or behind you ?

Amina

I am in search of leash which for dog training. Thank you for this. Can you also tell some good leash that are good for dog training?

jscott

This is a complicated question to answer — too much for an email reply. I’ll be posting a video with details of what to look for in a leash soon. The size of the leash is important. If you have too big a clasp for a small dog your collar corrections will be heavy handed. I like three sizes of leashes. I prefer a small 4 ft by 3/8 inch for dogs under 25 pounds, a 6 ft by 5/8 inch for dogs between 25 and 40 pounds, and a 6 ft by 3/4 inch for large dogs. I use the Circle T Latigo Leather leashes.

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