Resolving Leash Issues

This is part two of a series on bad behav­ior on leash.  The first sec­tion addressed some of the root causes of lung­ing, bark­ing, growl­ing, and snap­ping at other dogs when on leash.  In this part I will present some train­ing exer­cises and man­age­ment tech­niques to resolve exist­ing leash issues and pre­vent poten­tial leash issues from devel­op­ing.  This is intended for dogs that are hav­ing trou­ble approach­ing or pass­ing dogs on leash or who are greet­ing poorly on leash.  If you have a polite dog on leash and would like to main­tain that, check out Leash Eti­quette 101.

Leashes are a nor­mal and nec­es­sary part of being a dog in this mod­ern day and smooth leash man­ners are one of the most pow­er­ful tools that we can give our dogs.   For dogs that can walk calmly on leash amongst our myr­iad of urban dis­trac­tions, the world is their oys­ter.  They have access to a cor­ni­copia of fun, adven­ture, and hap­pi­ness that many dogs never have the oppor­tu­nity to expe­ri­ence.  They sim­ply lead bet­ter lives.  Here are some tips and exer­cises to turn a leashed dog gone wrong around.

Stop direct frontal greet­ings now.  For a dog that has become reac­tive on leash or is show­ing signs of it, direct frontal approaches that end in leashed greet­ings are pretty much the most intense and over­whelm­ing expe­ri­ence there is.  There is no quicker way to fuel the fires of poor leash man­ners than walk­ing your dog straight at approach­ing dogs and hav­ing them greet (of course this is how trails and side­walks are set up).  There is also no bet­ter way to ensure that things will go south when the actual greet­ing occurs.  It is best to abort the approach and redi­rect as soon as the dogs begin pulling.

An equip­ment change can help.  On one end of the spec­trum we have gear like front attach har­nesses and head hal­ters that help redi­rect a dog’s atten­tion by turn­ing their heads and bod­ies away from other dogs when they pull or lunge.  These items, although intended to be used only when train­ing, do a lot of the work for you and can accel­er­ate a cur­rent train­ing program’s progress and save our backs and arms some jerk­ing.  Head hal­ters in par­tic­u­lar take some prep work for our dogs to enjoy.  You can read more about equip­ment here.

On the other end of the spec­trum is equip­ment that can slow our train­ing efforts, mag­nify bad behav­ior on leash, or, when used poorly, cause it.  By this I am talk­ing about neck col­lars, par­tic­u­larly col­lars that inflict pain or dis­com­fort like pinch/prong col­lars or choke chains.  For a dog that already asso­ciates approach­ing dogs with anx­i­ety and frus­tra­tion, being jerked, pinched, or hurt upon the sight of them only mag­ni­fies this.  It makes sense that we would want to cor­rect our dogs for behav­ing poorly on leash, but when that dis­play rep­re­sents frus­tra­tion, dis­com­fort, and anx­i­ety, a leash or col­lar cor­rec­tion fails to resolve the under­ling issues and the prob­lem remains.

Correcting dog leash issuesKeep your dog’s focus when pass­ing.  Allow­ing your dog to exchange words (in a body lan­guage sense too) with dogs on the street keeps inter­ac­tions emo­tion­ally charged and is likely to set off the approach­ing dog too.  Plus, if your dog’s eyes are glued to you it can’t see that the dog across the way is mean mug­ging and won’t be tempted to respond in kind.  Ask that your dog watch you while pass­ing dogs on the street.  It takes some prac­tice to exe­cute in a pinch but pays off big time.  Bring treats on walks so that you can reward good behavior.

Teach your dog to come for/front on cue.  Hav­ing a cue that gets your dog quickly off trail and pay­ing atten­tion to you is invalu­able.  This looks like your dog turn­ing towards you so that you are both fac­ing each other.  You can use this when being approached by any­thing your dog might react to (other dogs, bicy­cles, scream­ing kids, etc.) or when you need to yield to a pass­ing dis­trac­tion.  The only caveat is that while you are ask­ing for atten­tion (even if it’s implied) you must ensure that your dog is not approached.  This requires trust from your dog so if you can’t pre­vent con­tact, don’t ask for atten­tion.  Your dog must be able to relax and focus with­out fear of being rushed by a loose dog or enthu­si­as­tic child.

Remove the drama else­where.  Active dogs can eas­ily become adren­a­line junkies, look­ing for the next thing to engage them.  Bark­ing at, star­ing at, or fol­low­ing dogs along a fence, through a win­dow, or from a car can quickly become easy enter­tain­ment.  This quest for the next emo­tional high does not stop with the leash and leash issues are exac­er­bated.  Prac­tice good man­age­ment when you are home and espe­cially when you aren’t by set­ting up visual bar­ri­ers, lim­it­ing access to high-drama areas or your home or yard, and plac­ing a cov­ered crate in the car.

While some of these tools take a lit­tle prac­tice to mas­ter most leash issues can be improved greatly, if not cor­rected, with these sim­ple tips.  If you have a leash reac­tive dog you may want to check out Feisty Fido by Patri­cia McConnell.  It is a short and sweet train­ing man­ual on deal­ing with leash issues.  If your dogs behav­ior on leash has become unman­age­able, you have dif­fi­culty con­trol­ling your dog, or you just want some guid­ance in deal­ing with leash issues, please con­tact a qual­i­fied trainer for help.

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