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Canine experts believe that, in order for a dog owner to maintain a healthy relationship with his or her dog, one-half of that relationship should comprise physical exercise. The rest should be discipline and affection in equal measure. So much exercise would naturally include a good deal of leash walking. But what to do about the large percentage of dogs and puppies that suffer from leash aversion?
It’s important for dogs to behave well both on and off the leash if we are to enjoy giving them the exercise they need. Unfortunately, many dogs have a fear of the leash; they become fearful, neurotic and submissive whenever they see the leash come out. Let’s see how we can deal with leash aversion effectively:
Dog Leash Training Tips
For most dogs, bringing out the leash would be enough to make them jump for joy. They know that the leash means they’re “going walkies” and they’ll react accordingly. Yet, for some dogs, the leash gives rise to submissiveness and fear more than anything else.
A previous owner might have used the leash in a negative way – perhaps as a tool for punishing him or dragging him around. It might have been used to confine him for long periods at a time. There is also a possibility that your dog is just naturally highly-strung and is prone to easily developing phobias.
Although leash aversion can have a very negative impact on your walks with your dog, you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s not difficult to remedy. All you need is some basic equipment – and patience.
Equipment You’ll Need
Collar: This should be made of nylon webbing or leather. If the one you’re using has a snap-lock, make sure it won’t come loose under pressure and is safety-approved. Never use slip-chain collars – sometimes called “choke-chains” or “check-chains” – on an unsupervised dog as they are meant for training and are not “real” collars.
Leash: Also made of webbing or leather, about 5 feet (1.25 meters) long. This is a good length to have; you will be able to effectively control your dog without him getting tangled in the leash when you’re out walking him. Avoid using chain-link leashes; they are hard on your hands and can also slap your dog in the face, which is not something you’d want to inflict on a dog – especially one that’s suffering from leash aversion!
How to Leash-Train a Leash-Hating Dog
Your goal is to get your dog used to the leash in small increments while keeping him well within his comfort zone at every step of the way. Remember, he already has a fear of the leash so it will be natural for him to feel some discomfort in its presence. However, keep an eye open for signs of extreme fear: salivating, hyperventilating, submissive urination, rolling of eyes (often showing the whites). Take baby steps at all times!
If your dog is seriously afraid of the leash, you’ll need to proceed very slowly indeed with getting him accustomed to it. Choose some “fun” places to leave the leash where he won’t miss seeing it: near his bed, in his favorite play areas or next to his food bowl.
One you notice that he’s no longer reacting to the sight of it, you can proceed in a more active manner to introduce the leash to him:
- Try holding the leash in your hand as you prepare his food;
- Wrap it around your wrist as you groom and pet him;
- As he eats, sit by him with the leash wrapped around your hand…
Keep doing this until he no longer shows any signs of discomfort. It may take some time but remember that you’re trying to keep him comfortable while accustoming him to the leash. Any rushing will undermine your efforts.
Attaching the Leash
When he reaches this level of progress and is not showing any signs of uneasiness, you can proceed to attach the leash to his collar. Using a firm but calm voice, give him a “sit-stay” command, then clip on the leash. Be matter-of-fact about it; your dog will take his psychological and emotional signals from your behavior. If you act as though it’s not a big deal, he’ll follow your lead.
Once he has the leash on, allow him some time to get used to the sensation of having something dangling from his neck. He may become a little agitated at this stage and try to scratch the leash off or rub it off along the ground.
If he shows signs of anxiety, divert his attention with a game – a short game of tug-o’-war would be a good choice. If he can run without getting himself tangled in the leash, toss a ball or toy that he can fetch. Alternatively, if the two of you are outdoors within a safely-enclosed area, you can take a short walk. Don’t try to touch the leash at this stage; just let him walk around unrestricted.
After five minutes or so, remove the leash. Give him lavish praise – he has been a good boy! Pet him warmly and reward him with a couple of small, tasty treats.
Repeat these last 3 steps a few more times before you advance to the next level. You’ll want to give your dog plenty of opportunities to become accustomed to the sensation of the leash before you proceed to use it to control his walking. The more positive results he associates with the leash (treats, walks, games etc.) while wearing it, the more smoothly he will progress.
Now it’s time for a 5-minute session in obedience training. Practice a sit-stay and the “Come!” command while he’s wearing the leash. This will reinforce your leadership and authority. It’ll also remind him that he’s still to obey you while he’s wearing the leash.
When he’s effortlessly obeying your commands with the leash on, you can take him for a short walk. If he’s nervous, don’t reinforce his jumpiness by giving him your attention. Just ignore him and carry on walking. Remember that he takes his cues from you, so stay calm and give it time to pass.
If, at any point, you feel that he’s simply too skittish to continue (e.g., if three or four minutes have passed and he’s still panicking while walking on the leash, go back to the level at which he was last totally comfortable. At this stage, wait a few days before attempting to proceed.
Points to Remember
Patience is key! Don’t try to rush your dog’s progress. Forcing things will be counter-productive to your end goal. You’re trying to get him to be calm and relaxed around the leash. If you become frustrated or stressed out by his lack of progress, he’ll be able to tell, causing his levels of anxiety to increase, rather than decrease.
Don’t pamper him when he becomes nervous. When you react to his trembling and crying with cooing and petting, you’re telling him that it’s all right to feel like that. If he’s apprehensive, either ignore him and carry on or distract him with a short walk or a game. If he’s still behaving panicky after three or four minutes, go back to the previous step and spend more time on it.
Remember, it remains extremely counter-productive to punish or correct your dog for nervous behavior.
For More Information
For further insight into a variety of leash-related problems, as well as detailed information on common canine behavioral problems and their solutions, you should check out “Secrets to Dog Training“. Written by an expert on dog training, it’s a comprehensive, downloadable training handbook for responsible dog owners. It covers just about every topic you could ever need for building and maintaining a happy and healthy relationship with your dog.
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