Okay, lets say you are out walking your dog. You’re armed with your dog training leash of choice. The dog is wearing whichever collar you’ve chosen for training. It’s a gorgeous day and things seem to be going well. The question now is: how can you tell if you’re doing it right? How can you tell if your dog is balanced?
Here’s one sign of success: sometimes you forget the dog is there. Maybe you have a friend with you and the two of you are discussing baseball or stock options and you suddenly realize that you’ve lost track of what the dog is up to. Why? Because the dog was just there, moving in synch with you so you could concentrate on other things.
I actually had this experience with my Westie a couple of days ago. We were walking alongside a busy road here in Maple Ridge and I got lost in thought about something and totally zoned out. When I snapped out of it, I realized that I hadn’t issued a single correction or even been aware of the dog for at least twenty minutes. That’s an estimate based on the ground we covered, but its in the ballpark.
To me, this is the goal of leash training, to be able to go out with your dog as part of your life and not have to worry about it. The dog is safe because he isn’t chasing squirrels or dragging you down the street. You’re safe because you can pay attention to what is going on around you and respond to it without having to keep track of what the dog is up to.
The outward signs of success in dog leash training are simple.
- The leash is slack at all times
- The dog’s head is beside your knee and it stays there no matter how you change direction or vary your pace.
- Whenever you stop the dog sits, at least momentarily.
Lets take these one at a time.
The leash is slack
This is key. Brad Pattison said: a tight leash is a rude leash. Why? Because it means the dog has no interest in listening to you at all. The leash is the main communication channel between you and your dog, and it can only transmit information when you can change the amount of tension. A dog that pulls all the slack out of the leash is like a little kid putting his hands over his ears and chanting I can’t hear you. At that point you can’t correct the dog and the only choice left is to overpower it.
Head Beside Your Knee
This is the ideal because your dog can keep track of your movements, something he can’t do if he’s in front. Its the safest place for you because if you suddenly have to turn left you are unlikely to trip over the dog. Also, you can see the dog with your peripheral vision. That means you can be aware of what he’s up to without having to take your attention off what’s going on around you.
Another reason the dog should never be in front is because of respect. In the dog’s world, whoever is leading the walk is the alpha. When he doesn’t pull or try to get in front anymore it means that he has acknowledged you as the pack leader.
One thing that isn’t often mentioned about this is that working on your overall relationship with the dog can have more effect on where he walks than concentrating specifically on position. Once the dog has accepted you as the leader in all things he will automatically drop back and walk either beside or slightly behind you.
Dog Sits When you Stop
This means that the dog is paying attention and has acknowledged the stop. That leaves you free to deal with anything in the environment you have to pay attention to, whether you are waiting to cross a street, stopping to chat with a friend or even just looking in a window. All those activities are much harder when your dog is yanking you around.
So that’s your target, people. If you work consistently on your leash training you will accomplish it. At first, it will only happen occasionally and only for short periods of time. Watch for it and give yourself a pat on the back when it occurs. Eventually it will just be the normal course of things and you can move on in your dog’s education. Leash training is forever, but it doesn’t take forever.