Leash Your Enthusiasm
Leashes were intended to keep our dogs close to us and moving in the same direction in situations where being off the leash could be dangerous. Leashes keep our dogs safe, so learning how to be comfortable walking on a leash is a critical skill.
However, leashes can cause problems between dogs. They prevent dogs from displaying normal body language and remove options for alternate behaviour choices from the dogs. When they’re on leash and close together, dogs can’t look away easily from another dog, they can’t move away or run away – they’re trapped. If you add in tension on the leash like when the human moves away and pulls their dog away, then things can easily escalate into a reaction from one or both dogs.
In the dog world, there’s a “3-Second Rule” - dogs can handle a strange dog in their space for about 3 seconds, but anything longer begins to be a problem. Many dogs can tolerate longer time frames, but most dogs would prefer to move along quickly so that interactions remain friendly or neutral.
Often, you see people stop and begin to chat to someone, both with their dogs on leash. There’s immediate and continued communication between the dogs but people are frequently unaware of what’s taking place. If your dog hasn’t learned polite leash behaviour, it can become a stressful and or even frightening experience: just because there wasn’t a fight, or a snarky display doesn’t mean it was fine for the dogs.
Even if you don’t seek out interactions on leash, they will happen, and it pays to be prepared.
What can you do?
- Work hard on teaching your dog a strong “come when you’re called” cue. Use your cue to call your dog away from another dog and keep that 3-second count in your head. Don’t panic, remain neutral and use your well-rehearsed recall cue. Calling away is better than pulling away. Tension on the leash will change the encounter.
- Teach your dog to focus on you to help them calmly pass by another dog. Keep treats on hand to help your dog be successful and to reward their response. When you first start your training, use distance to help you be successful – pass by further than a leash length away.
- If you do stop to chat, teach your dog to sit beside or behind you and remain calm and neutral until it’s time to move along. Again, choose more distance than normal if you’re still in training.
These crucial skills can keep your dog safe and comfortable in a wide variety of situations.
If you have a dog who struggles on leash, consider reaching out to a professional dog trainer who uses positive and force-free methods. Dogs who are reactive on leash aren’t fun to walk and probably aren’t having much fun themselves. Working on some behaviour modification with a qualified trainer is worth the investment. With some good training direction, knowledge and practice, everyone can enjoy their walks!