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Leash Skills Series #1: What do we want from a walk with a dog?

One joyous vision of having a dog is going for long walks in the beauty of the outdoors with a beloved canine companion, enjoying the sights and smells of the world, and becoming more closely bonded as partners.  This can occur only if both human and dog have the skills necessary to the task. 

We humans commonly have abominable leash skills, mostly because we assume we have control of the dog simply because a leash is attached.  We tend to depend on the leash, and we just don’t try very hard, hence all the discussion online about what type of equipment to put on the dog to “make” it walk nicely. 

We allow ourselves to be distracted from our job of paying attention to the dog, being his partner, enjoying teamwork with our beloved dog, and most importantly, doing the required training to help a dog succeed.  Try to imagine from a dog’s perspective what it might be like to get excited about going outside for a walk with no real guidance from the human on the other end of the leash: 

“I always run to the end of the leash, pulling with all my might, nose out and stretching my legs to get to the next exciting thing along the path.  My human is coming behind, but so slowly!  I pull harder.  I don’t feel any pain from my collar or harness pulling – I think they call it being “desensitized.”  My human sometimes makes noises or offers treats, but I’m so excited about the sights and smells I can barely hear her, and the outdoors has completely captured my brain anyway!  This is how our walks always go; my beloved human just can’t seem to keep up, but I’ll just go on my own.  Partnership?  What’s that? – Bowser, a dog

One big problem with this scenario is that the human has very little control over the dog.  If anything untoward happens, another dog comes around the corner or a squirrel or cat crosses the path, the handler will be lucky to be able to physically pull the dog out of danger by dragging on the leash.  If any of the equipment fails, they’re in big trouble. 

Consider two human friends out for a walk.  There are certain understandings between them, honed from childhood in the form of politeness and manners.  Walking along next to someone requires vigilance to ensure you don’t bump, trip, or step in front of them.  When you reach a fork in the path, you use some form of communication as to which way the two of you will turn, whether it’s a simple pointing gesture or nod of the head, or actual words:  “Why don’t we go this way?”  We certainly don’t grab a human companion and pull.

Partners walking together!

How can we make a walk with a dog look more like two companions walking together than like a rodeo, or like someone leading a hostage? 

Notice the pressure on this dog’s neck, and his uncomfortable gait. A tight leash is not conducive to an enjoyable walk.

First, we have to know what’s possible.  If we’ve only ever walked a dog – er, had a dog walk us – on a tight leash, it’s hard to imagine a loose leash and partnership with a dog.  Believe it’s possible, that you have the power to make the choice, and you’re capable of learning it! 

Watch for the next installment in our series on Leash Skills!

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