Teaching a dog to walk comfortably and politely on leash is one of the best training gifts you can give. Leash issues like pulling, reactivity, and overall lack of attention are some of the concerns frequently seen and often most urgently in need of repair. A dog that cannot be walked on leash quickly spirals into a cycle of poor socialization that only creates future behavioral issues. Once leash walking becomes too difficult, it is usually just a matter of time before the dog’s quality of life begins to deteriorate.
Fortunately there are a lot of very simple but underused tricks to make leash walking easier on everyone.
Firstly, we should always keep in mind that meeting on leash is inherently awkward for dogs. Well-mannered dogs never meet nose-to-nose and never ever head-on. Sometimes the simply having no option but to meet dogs in this uncomfortable way is enough to give a dog a complex. If at all possible we should try to relieve our dogs of these stressful experiences by a) avoiding on-leash greetings when possible and b) teaching our dogs to be prepared for these encounters with some easy tips and simple training exercises. Here are some ways to make trail adventures go smoothly.
Ask permission before greeting. There are a multitude of reasons why you should never let your dog approach another dog without obtaining permission. Not all dogs enjoy meeting unfamiliar dogs, especially on leash. It is not fair to let your dog approach another at the their expense. Doing this makes you a jerk. Frequently I select leashed trails because the dog I am walking reacts poorly to other dogs approaching. Other times I’m walking a perfectly friendly rambunctious young dog and simply don’t want him to learn he can act a fool and be rewarded by greeting other dogs. Sometimes an unfamiliar dog is throwing some concerning body language and I would like to avoid it entirely.
Step to the side when being passed. Pulling your dog off-trail and letting another dog pass will avoid startling your dog with a bum-rush. It will also go a long way towards building a trusting relationship with your dog (“I promise to try my best to never let another dog ambush your butt”).
Staring is rude. This goes for dogs and people. Letting your dog stare down another dog as it approaches or passes is incredibly impolite. It doesn’t matter if your dog wants to play with the dog or is throwing the stink eye, staring needs to be interrupted. Treats are very helpful in accomplishing this.
Attempt a loose-leash when greeting. When you do decide to allow your dog to greet another on trail, try your best to keep the leash relaxed. Polite dogs will pass up a nose entirely and go straight for the bum end. Stopping two dogs nose-to-nose with a taught leash can cause a perfectly smooth greeting to go South fast.
Use a cue like “Go say hi”. This is a super tool for dogs that are unsure of leash greetings. For some dogs, feeling a surprise greeting is imminent is nerve wracking. Thankfully, this is quickly fixed by only allowing greetings after cueing them. This also helps with uber friendly dogs that enthusiastically attempt to greet every dog (“Not now honey, I’ll tell you when you can say hi”).
Polite leash walking can be challenging for all of us. Don’t fret. These simple tricks work wonders to turn a potentially reactive dog back from the dark side or prevent trouble from brewing in the first place. With these tips we can hit the trails with confidence.