Ask Professor Boo is our recurring, positive reinforcement dog training and behavior question and answer column. If you have a question that you would like to ask Professor Boo, please feel free to contact him.
A leash is to the Dog-Human connection like a seat-belt is to the car-driver connection. Both are safety devices and often mandated by law. Just as we never use a seat-belt to drive our car, we should not use a leash to “drive” our dogs.
A leash allows us a safe and effective connection to our dogs in case of surprises, emergencies, or situations where attention is hard to get or keep.
Once we have trained for attention and other skills a loose leash actually offers us the best control of our dog, and least frustration and stress for our dogs.
Just as we never use a seat-belt to drive our car, we should not use a leash to “drive” our dogs.
Your dog spends most of their time in the yard – Do you need to worry about a leash? There are many times when your dog needs to be on a leash – trips to veterinarians, groomers, walking adventures, classes, etc. Groomers and veterinarians are necessary for obvious reasons. Walking adventures outside their own backyard and classes are necessary too because dogs who don’t experience these things can be under-socialized which often leads to behavioral problems.
To use a leash properly we want to use the right tools wisely so we don’t do damage to our dogs or ourselves and we don’t want to inadvertently teach the wrong things:
The Good – Standard leash is a 6 foot nylon, cotton or leather leash (leather is easiest on human hands; avoid chains as someone usually gets hurt by these). Longer leashes are not standard walking leashes. They are used for training long distance commands.
The Bad – The Tight Leash – All too often the human-dog team becomes accustomed to constant tension on the leash = tight leash. A dog can be stressed and frustrated by a constant tight leash which can often lead to behavioral problems.
The Ugly– The Flexi Leash is almost always a constantly tight leash. In addition to stress and frustration for the dog it actually TEACHES the dog to pull. The Flexi Leash leaves the dog at risk for a variety of injuries and stress responses that can lead to behavioral problems. It also leaves the human at more risk of injury than any other leash.
Good leash skills come with awareness, practice, patience and a solid understanding of what a leash is meant to do for you and your dog.
9 thoughts on “Leashes – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.”
Hi I have a 7 month old lab Codie, I take her to obedience class every week and have started some very basic agility with the same club targeting no jumping. I do training with her every day. she is doing her Good citizen Bronge award. she is so good on the lead when we are alone. The problem is by daugher has 2 dogs,2years and 3 years. when we are out together Codie is so bad on the lead and only want to play with the other dogs she turns into Marley, and won’t listen to me. I am so fustrated as I love going out with my daughter but it is not fun as Codie is very strong.
Thanking you, hope you can help.
Hi, first off, this blog is wonderful, thanks for all of the advice! Now (of course) I have a question. I have an 9 year old corgi who is terrible on a leash. We got her as a rescue when she was 6, and as far as I can tell the only training she’d gotten to that point was “sit.” She’s improved in many other ways, and improved somewhat on a leash as well, but for the life of me I still don’t know how to get her to walk properly. She is easily distracted by dogs/cars/joggers, etc, and wants to chase them– this is something we’ve been working on a lot recently, and we’re both getting better. But her main problem is that she pulls back, usually to sniff something. She’ll stop dead in her tracks and choke herself before she walks forward again. I have read that harnesses don’t give good control, but so far it’s the only way I can walk her without feeling like a cruel monster! Is there any good way to help alleviate this problem? Should I try feeding her treats when I take her out? Is there a different type of collar or harness I should switch to? Thanks!
Thanks for the note. It sounds like we need to develop a couple different walking-ways. The first walking-way would be a standard loose-leash walk which is really about peeing, pooping and getting from point A to point B. This is about business and isn’t always that enriching for the dog we are walking. This walk should include treats at the onset and throughout the walk for all good focus and pacing along side you. The second walking-way would be what I like to call the “go be a dog” walk. This allows the dog to engage their nose, and all their senses as they walk – this is the fun one for them. They can sniff to their heart’s content and you are pretty much along for the ride. There are some rules — no tension on the leash, no clothes-lining the human, no dangerous into the street or over a cliff walking ;). Ultimately if we allow our dogs to know they will have some fun sometimes but (sorry) not always, they will be able to enjoy both adventures for what they are. To increase the enjoyment of the more ridged walking don’t forget to reward for everything you like – NOT just when she stops doing what you don’t like – this will lead to more issues down the road. I would try the front clip harness as well – it is very easy on the dog and when need be and you do have to tug a bit, you are not choking them, but in reality it is your voice, body language and the promise of rewards that should “control” the dog.
Hope that helps,
I’ve started training my 4yr old labrador as per the advise I found on these pages, to not pull on his leash. He is incredibly strong and at times pulls no much that I have no choice but to start running after him. I’ve only tried this on one walk so far (stopping when he pulls) but am hoping after a few times he’ll get the drift – he is a smart animal.
The problem is – my husband and I like to take our dogs to an open field to run free for good exercise. They really love this. But will this undo all the hard work I put into leash training if I allow him to run free at times?
Thanks for the question. To begin – remember this is a process and you are correct – he will “get it” after some repetitions (and at 4 years old it may take a little longer for him to get it — but he will). Also, you may want to investigate the front-clip harnesses that will give you a little bit of a leg-up (no pun) against his strength. Now onto the open field question. If this is a safe location and your lab has a good recall – letting him have some fun zooming free time will NOT undo the leash training. Dog are very good at details and quickly understand the difference between “free” and “on leash.” Just be sure it is a safe place and you have really good recalls!
I have a 15 month old boxer that insist on taking the lead during his daily walks. He’s very strong and will literally drag me along during walks. I’ve tried every technique I know to correct his behavior and nothing seems to work. Could I possibly be using the wrong type of lead? Any suggestions as to a good lead I might try that won’t hurt my hands in the process of trying to control him would be greatly appreciated. But MOST OF ALL…how can I accomplish a relaxing and stress free walk for myself as well as the puppy?
Thanks for the question. I like a good solid leather leash – provided your boxer will not make a very expensive chew toy out of it – it is the easiest on my hands and allows me the most grip and control over the leash. To correct this problem there are several levels or tools. 1 – Please try to work on basic command games before you go out for the walk to dissipate some of your dog’s energy. If walking is necessary for peeing and pooping then begin these games right after the elimination is complete. 2 – Make sure you are not the one putting the tension on the leash – this will often drive dogs to pull more on the leash as your tension engages their oppositional reflex. 3 – Shamelessly lure your dog (use super high value treats – SHVT) along for walks for the next several weeks until you have no pulling. This will keep the walks in good control without you having to use the leash to control or “correct” him. And, it will condition a very nice walk for him. Then when he is not dragging you to the ends of the earth any longer you can allow him to have more freedom and more fun doggie-walks. Remember if you let your dog lose off leash to run they don’t plod along in a straight line like we humans do. The way we walk is boring and probably darned irritating to many dogs so make it worth his while to walk with you in the boring human-way with the SHVT. Don’t hesitate to look for a good skilled positive reinforcement trainer to help you through this. Typically in my classes I offer students five different lose-leash walking tools – one I don’t even introduce until Intermediate class. Beware of big corrections for this as you can easily damage your relationship with your dog or you can make pulling worse by actually inadvertently teaching him to pull more and more.
i two havanese/maltese puppies. They are 6mos old. One has learned quickly on the leash but one seems to be stubborn. He wil suddenly stop and plants his feet firmly and will not budge. He will literally allow you to drag him if you keep going. I have tried everything. He does it so much that it is impossible to take him on a walk. It is like he wants to be in control and he will not come. He will several steps and then do it again. He will suddenly keep his feet still and slide if you continue walking. Please help !
Thanks for this question. There are many reasons a dog may not wish to walk on the leash and balk as you have described yours does. To begin with I would suggest you make those walks really, really rewarding – perhaps deliver dinner while you are walking with him – for instance, a piece of kibble for each step he takes next to you. Then I would seek out a professional who is very well versed in canine body language and behavior who can help you understand why your dog is balking and assist you with some of the other good positive reinforcement techniques out there to help with his walking.