The Premise of the Magical Dog Leash
There is no such thing as a magical leash, unfortunately. You cannot simply hook your dog or your puppy up to a leash and expect miracles to happen. My life would be a lot easier and more profitable if there were such an attachment.
I think when people get a dog they want to slap a leash on and go for a walk, but instead there begins a tug of war usually with the dog winning; and the person and the dog end up totally frustrated and truly unsatisfied with the whole experience.
The problem is that we, as dog owners, don’t take the time or don’t understand that we need to TEACH our dogs what we want and what our expectations are for them when they are on a leash. Thus the need to practice some good leash training techniques.
As I read through comments to a recent article “Weaning Yourself and Your Dog from Compulsion Dog Training Collars” and I kept finding myself responding by saying “TEACH your dog what you want” I realized maybe people just don’t understand what I mean or how to do it.
So these are going to be very much back to basics articles.
It is my opinion, from what I see, that we expect to have to teach our dogs to sit, lay down, stay and other various commands but what effort do we put into teaching them about their leashes and what our expectations of them are while they are on it?
Often people take their dog out for a walk with a specific destination in mind, their dog pulls, then they slap on a training collar (choke chain, pinch collar etc.) and they see a brief improvement so they think they are “training” their dog; only to find out that in a few days or weeks that their dog hasn’t actually learned anything except possibly how to behave when the collar is strapped on and that is only if they are lucky. Many dogs just grit through the pain or the choke of it all and plug along as if this was the way walking and being out on a leash was meant to be… This pulling and choking can cause serious injury to the dog’s trachea and even more grim injury to their relationship with their owner.
I am here to tell you, this is not how this should or has to go if you want an obedient and reliable dog.
You wouldn’t toss a book into your child’s crib and expect him to learn how to read with no instruction would you?
Learning how to act and react on a leash is just as important to you and your dog’s life and development as learning how to read is for your child! He will rely on this foundation for his whole lifetime, or he will be banished to the house and a life of seclusion and isolation because you can’t take him out.
The first thing to do is to identify the problems with this type of training and the flaws in thinking when it comes to your dog and his ability to be successful.
You Pick up the Leash and have a Destination to Walk to.
You are not taking into account everything your dog needs to learn.
First, you will be unsatisfied if you don’t make it to your destination and chances are, if you have one in mind, you won’t make it there without severe pulling.
Training starts at home inside your home.
Once your dog has learned, inside, some basics you can take him outside you home in your yard when there are little to no distractions.
Again, your dog cannot learn to his maximum ability when there are lots of distractions around and dogs must learn in several environments to be victorious in all environments.
That means you may have to teach him the same thing in the kitchen, in the backyard, in the front yard and out on the street, etc. going back to square one and teaching him in all of these places first!
When I trained Service Dogs for adults and children with disabilities we taught them to retrieve at home first. THEN we had to take them out in public and go back to square one to TEACH them that the command was the same everywhere. Were they just being belligerent by not adhering to the same command out in public? NO! They had to understand that the command was the same no matter where we were or what was going on!
Think like a dog; you are expecting your dog to ignore all of the neighbors, new smells, neighborhood dogs, and other animals around him and still LEARN what you want. Not to mention the sounds and everything else that is exciting that might be going on!
Would you take a new dog or a puppy to a dog park and expect to “teach” him to sit or lay down?
Dogs don’t “learn” around these types of distractions. Teaching your dog to walk on a leash and having a destination in mind is setting your dog and you up for extreme failure and sometimes frustration and anger.
Learning starts at home!
You get Frustrated and Slap on a Dog Training Collar
These collars may seem to work at first. Sure, your dog feels and hears the zip of the choke (or check) chain as it zips up the collar and towards his neck and he feels the discomfort of the choke so he may stop pulling. Most dogs only stop for a short time but then continue choking themselves until they are almost out of air.
He feels the pinch of the prong collar and it hurts and is uncomfortable so he stops pulling, for a while. Then when he is ignoring that you are instructed to yank on said pinch collar, YIKES and you are forced to use compulsion!
He feels the pull of the Gentle Leader from behind his head and he stops pulling forward, for a bit. He might then learn to lower his head and pull with his whole body.
But what have you taught him?
You have taught him nothing, the collar has given him some information about consequences when the collar is on but chances are you haven’t praised him or rewarded him in heel position or given the appropriate information to him so that he knows what you want. You yank, snap and pull and his neck slowly becomes desensitized to any type of stimulation.
Training collars become a crutch and who needs a crutch when good diligent dog training will give him the information he desires. Dogs with desensitized necks are harder to work with because they have learned to physically and emotionally check out to pain and stimulation.
I once saw a police dog that had been severely shocked by an electric collar, but he had learned to simply fight through the pain. No positive reinforcement was used and very little information given. Eventually, the collar turned up as high as it could go did absolutely nothing to him and he was released from the police department.
His neck was totally physically desensitized and emotionally he turned off while training! The only hope for him was to totally retrain him with positive reinforcement and slowly begin to teach him to trust emotionally and learn to feel things again physically.
You Must be More Rewarding
The biggest problem is that you have to be more rewarding and exciting than anything else going on around him.
Squirrel runs past, better hope you are more rewarding and he wants to please you more than he wants to chase that squirrel!
You need to build a strong foundation and often times that is not a quick fix! A firm foundation in positive reinforcement and learning takes time. You might have to work for several weeks or more before you can take your dog for a short walk.
Remember the parable about the house that is built upon the sand, and the one built upon the rock.
Think of it this way, if you are relying on training collars and little to no training, praise and fun your foundation will crumble at any given moment.
If, however, you teach your dog what you want at home, then take him outside and teach him more of the same, you have fun together, you are exciting and your dog is listening 95% of the time to all of your commands then your foundation is probably strong enough to weather the storms of a short walk and real life!
These are just a few of the reasons that people are unsuccessful and frustrated when it comes to teaching their dog to listen to them while they are on a leash.
Always try to look at it from your dog’s point of view and dare, if you will to understand how unrealistic your expectations of him have been!
So, now the question is how do you get your dog to listen to you, respect the leash, and enjoy walking together?
Well, that my friends will be in my next article! Keep your eyes out and I will outline for you some ways to TEACH your dog what you want while he is on a leash!
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.