“The leash is not something to be used to force your dog to submit or to issue harsh corrections. It can be used for correction, but we must correct properly!”
When you think about a dog being on a leash, there are several images that come to mind. Usually, the image has the dog dragging their owner down the sidewalk, straining on their flat collar or harness with their owner just trying to hang on while the dog tries to get to a squirrel or another dog. Anxiety and emotions run high as two dogs choke themselves trying to get to each other. This means your dog doesn’t know what their leash is!
To understand how a leash works we must understand what it is not. The leash is not a way to restrain your dog from running off nor is it for harsh discipline. The leash is not something to be used to force your dog to submit or to issue harsh corrections. It can be used for correction, but we must correct properly!
So, if the leash isn’t meant for harsh correction and it’s not for restraining your dog, what is its purpose? In my last article I discussed the importance of communication and that’s exactly what the leash is for. While we’re on a leash, the leash is our way of talking to our dog and their way of talking back to us about what we encounter in the world. Our dogs can learn to be off leash, but it helps for them to learn on leash, first! Think of your young kids. Do you let them wander off in front of you when they’re first learning how to act in public? No, you hold their hand so you can guide them through things life throws at them. Eventually you let their hand go, but not at the beginning.
Dogs don’t leave their litters knowing about a leash, so we must teach them. To do that we first have to overcome our own habits of wanting the leash to be tight all the time. Relax! You’re not going to outpower your dogs in sheer strength. You’ll just hurt yourself or your dog if you try. Having the leash so tight gives you the illusion of control, but it just makes you and your dog both frustrated!
Instead, use a technique called calibration to teach our dogs about the leash. Let your dog get interested in something and walk ahead of you. As soon as the leash gets tight, do three things at the same time. Walk backwards in the opposite direction from your dog, say their name, and nudge gently, but crisply, several times until your dog turns towards you. The second your dog turns towards you, pour on the praise! Offer a treat as well if you’d like! Repeat many times every day. Practice in a controlled and contained environment. Remember, the nudges are light, and they are not drags on the leash.
This process will teach your dog that when they feel that pressure on their collar, to turn and look at you. It’s the dog version of when a person taps you on the shoulder, you turn and look at the person. Calibration is a fantastic relationship building tool that is easy for every dog and owner to do. Have fun with it!