When a dog is difficult to handle on the leash, it makes walking difficult too. Often dogs miss out on walks because it’s a lot of effort to hold onto them during walks. The sad thing is that leash walking need not be a problem, when the dog is truly understood.
Chaotic leash walking happens for a few reasons. Just as every dog is an individual, so is their behaviour. Here are some tips for truly understanding the reason behind difficult dog walks.
The first thing we must consider is that dogs are not born with a collar on. Imagine someone trying to control you by placing a strap around your neck and holding onto you via another strap? The neck and throat are sensitive areas, the windpipe is placed under pressure when a dog pulls on the collar, the natural reaction to feeling vulnerable in this way is to try and escape, hence more pulling.
Even with a normal flat collar this can happen. The dog is thinking I’m scared and unsettled by this restraint and want to escape. In response, the human is thinking, please stop pulling and I don’t want to live like this. When this happens people often seek help from professional trainers, but due to severely lacking regulation the solution comes in a stronger, scarier collar.
Prong, chain and shock collars change the behaviour but the results may look favourable, the dog is suffering and so is their trust and relationship with their guardian. At this point, the dog is thinking, I don’t understand why they are doing this to me. The guardian is thinking, this feels a bit harsh but it works and the trainer is a professional so they must be right. There is a better solution, a harness, suitable coaching and understanding.
Losing the collar and investing in a quality harness can change pulling behaviour overnight. A good harness won’t tighten up around the dog if he pulls. It will re-distribute his weight and take away the pressure around his throat. A good harness is comfortable, less intimidating and better than any type of collar.
Suitable coaching includes showing the dog what you would like him to do, then making that behaviour his action of choice. Teaching your dog to walk on a slack leash involves reinforcement. We reward the slack leash and if we do it enough, the dog will soon slacken the leash without prompting to earn the reward. This needs to begin at home and without distraction, then be gradually introduced in areas with distraction.
Understanding means that we know our dogs. What makes them react and what we can do to help them. When a dog shows reactive behaviour towards something, the reactivity is usually based on frustration, stress or fear. When reactivity begins, we have often lost the power to distract the dog and just deal with it in the moment. There is another way though, by understanding what trigger makes our dogs react, we can start to change how we expose them to it.
A trigger is anything that makes the dog’s behaviour change. The initial change will be calming signals such as lip licking, yawning or glancing away. If the trigger then gets closer, the dog will focus and begin to tense up. Next the obvious reactive behaviour begins.
When we approach triggers differently, something miraculous happens, the dog learns that he can cope, because he starts to live in his personal safe zone. Every dog has a safe zone. This is an invisible ring around the dog, within which he feels safe. If we keep the dog within his safe area and keep the triggers outside of the safe area, the dog quickly feels more secure and the safe area gets smaller.
If a trigger gets too close too soon, the dog reacts. If we see the trigger getting close and sharply increase the distance, the dog feels safe.
In walking terms, this means that within a few positive experiences the dog begins to feel safe, even when the trigger is closer than it’s ever been. It also means that the dog is learning to relax and trust you to keep the scary stuff out of his safe zone, isn’t that wonderful.