The #1 Practice or Habit That is Derailing Your Dog Training Program
People tell me all the time that they can’t get their dog under control; after all I am a dog trainer so I kind of expect to hear this time and time again.
Sometimes I just have to take a step back and try to figure out what’s going wrong what are people doing that will make a big difference and is easily corrected.
Most often the problem is easily fixed with a little ingenuity and thinking more like a dog than like a person. After all, when you are having problems with your dog understanding goes a long way!
At the root of most problems I see?
Misuse of the Dog Leash
A dog’s leash is a tool; and a very important tool at that!
Leashes are critical to controlling your dog and also for teaching him what is acceptable.
Most often when I am answering questions asked of me on the message board I go back to saying. Put a leash on your dog and TEACH him what you want.
Although leashes are invaluable tools, you have to know how to use them. There is no such thing as a magical dog leash or one that does all the work for you! For more on leash training click here.
People don’t know how to use a leash. They snap it on and let their dogs take control.
It is as if the leash is a tool for your dog to pull you from place to place and get what he wants.
This is one way a leash is misused.
The leash is for YOU to learn to control and teach your dog and then it is only used as a backup in case of emergency.
When I walk my dogs, I don’t even want to feel the slightest tug on the leash! I want to be able to put it around my waist or around my little finger and never need to use it. It is there for peace of mind in an emergency and because the law demands it, but it is not something for my dog or for me to pull on.
For more on getting your dog to respect the leash and walk nice for you read my articles here on leash manners and walking.
People never use a leash in the house.
It is like the leash itself was only designed for outside dog walking and nothing else.
We invite people into our homes with our dogs jumping around flying toward their faces and their backsides and no one ever thinks to simply put a leash on the dog to control his behavior and teach him obedience as a coping skill.
Or worse, people are invited into the homes of aggressive dogs who rush, growl and bark at these friends like intruders, some even bite, when I leash could be used to gain control of the dog and take his ability to scare and bully people away!
Leashes are more important to me INSIDE the home (where they spend most of their time) learning how not to chase the cat, how to stay out of the trash, and what manners are expected prior to complete house freedom.
If everyone whose dog was chasing the cat, stealing food off the counter, or whose dog was nipping them put that dog on a leash until the behavior resolved we would have much fewer problems.
Even a leash used menially but when needed is better than it not being used at all! Dogs need to learn manners and we need a way to teach them; a leash is the easiest way.
People use a leash as a correction or compulsion device.
The leash is a control device not a “correction device”.
There is a big difference from using the leash to keep your dog from jumping on other people and dogs; and correcting your dog with all of your force and body weight when he does the same thing.
Too often we don’t “TEACH” our dogs what our expectations are; instead we use our bodies and force to hurt or correct our dogs when they make a mistake.
This correction in the dog’s mind can go hand in hand with the situation.
Imagine for a moment a young puppy who is out on a walk and sees another dog getting ready to walk past. The young pup jumps and pulls, he may even bark or put his hackles up because he is unsure of the situation.
- Gets his attention with a treat, and instead of letting him pull toward the other dog he teaches the young puppy that giving him (the owner) attention is what rewards the puppy.
- Once attention is gained this owner can now ask the puppy to sit or lay down for a treat therefore teaching the puppy what to do when other dogs appear.
- If the puppy does not pay attention, this owner turns around and goes far enough away from the dog to get his puppy’s attention successfully, therefore not rewarding the puppy for being over excited, barking, and pulling at the other dog.
- Grabs the leash and YANKS or pops his puppy, causing a painful and negative stimulus; the puppy may even cry or continue his negative behavior.
- More pulling results in more corrections and anger from owner #2, and the puppy learns that it is bad and painful to meet new dogs on the street. Within a few short sessions of seeing other dogs and having this same reaction happen over and over again, the puppy begins to become very defensive and dog aggressive.
- Now when he sees another dog he goes crazy, because he knows that corrections and pain are involved. He doesn’t know what else to do!
- This owner lets the puppy bark and growl and lunge and slowly tugs the leash as the other dog passes, almost ignoring the pups behavior and hoping it will pass.
- But the tight leash and movement from the other dog causes frustration and builds some prey drive causing more aggression and irritation from the dog.
- This dog also will likely develop some dog aggression issues.
The dogs from owners 3 and sometimes 2 are often not aggressive when the leash is removed, because the frustration and correction is also removed from the scenario causing the dog no negative feelings toward the other dog.
That is why some owners will say
“my dog is aggressive when he is on leash, but not when he is at the dog park”.
The leash is giving him negative connotations.
Obviously we want to strive to be owner #1. The leash simply gives us physical control over this puppy, but it should not be used as a correction or compulsion device, that will only make negative behavior worse.
Learning how and when to use your dog’s leash is key and is something that you will need for your dog’s entire life!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.