Throughout the years, as I’ve worked with people and their dogs, I’ve found that we’ve become increasingly dependent on the leash. The latest and greatest collars, harnesses, and head halters are making us even more hooked on that six foot piece of fabric that connects us to our pups. I watch daily as people walk with a tight leash, pulling this way and that, without ever consulting their dog.
And it makes me wonder, have we taken away from the potential relationship we could have with our dogs by becoming so dependent on the leash?
My leash of choice is the thinnest, four foot lead I can find. The flimsier the better! Because I don’t rely on my leash. Sure, it’s got to be there. They keep our dogs safe and secure; no matter how reliable your dog is, he should always be on a leash. However, I like my leash to be invisible, as if it weren’t even there, with every dog that I walk.
How does a leash become invisible? Well, rather than using it to direct your dog where you want to go, you simply tell your dog where you’re going. If you’re taking a walk with a friend, are you holding their hand, pulling and tugging them this way and that without notice? Of course not. If you decide to take a left, you tell them “let’s go this way.” If you want to stop, you say “wait one second.” So what’s the difference between your friend and your dog? There shouldn’t be one!
When I walk my dogs, I tell them where I want to go. If I’m changing directions, I say “this way.” Then I take a left or a right or wherever it is that I’d like to go. Originally, if I said “this way” and changed directions, my dogs would continue walking straight until they reached the end of the leash, feel a tug and realize I had changed directions, and then follow me. Within no time, they learned that when I say “this way,” it meant I was changing directions, so they’d look at me to figure out where I was going to avoid being tugged by the leash.
I also tell them when I’m stopping. I say “wait,” and then stop. Once ready to move forward, I say “let’s go.” If I want them to catch up to me or slow down, I say “with me.” And of course, I always throw in an occasional “good puppy!”
Some dogs pick up on this quickly, others less so. However, if you remain consistent, talking to your dog every time you go for a walk, these commands will eventually have a meaning to him. And the key to doing this is keeping a loose leash. Because remember, it’s invisible! If you can’t use your leash, you’ll have to use your voice. I’ll admit, it isn’t easy at first, but once you turn it into a habit, you’ll never want to use your leash again.
To test your dependence on your leash, you can try tying it around your waist, so that you can’t hold onto it. Then take your dog for a walk! You may see how often you rely on the leash, and perhaps how little direction you actually give your pup!
Consider your walks with your dog the same as a walk with a friend. You go for a walk to reconnect, chat, and enhance your relationship. If you take the same approach with your dog, your walks will be much more enjoyable for the both of you!