My new mantra for clients is: Your Leash is a Seat Belt Not a Steering Wheel! Ok, let’s say it together, Your Leash is a Seat Belt Not a Steering Wheel.
What do I mean by that statement? Most of us live in areas with neighborhood dogs, other people, and lots of distracting things to dogs. Most of us also live in cities and suburbs with lots of traffic and busy streets. No matter how well trained, a dog is still a dog. They come pre-wired with prey drives, the desire to be social with other dogs and humans. These pre-wired behaviors can be very hard to override. It is what makes dogs, dogs and can be the things we love about dogs. These pre-wried behaviors can also be dangerous. Dogs can be hurt or even killed if they run into traffic, or get in a scuffle with another dog.
We want our dogs to be safe, so we use a leash. This is where leashes should be taught of as seat belts. Seat belts are your safety device in a car and leashes are your safety belt while walking.
For neighborhood walking I recommend a sturdy 4’ – 6’ leash. In most cases a 4’ leash is more than enough. I personally prefer leather leashes, but no matter what you use it should be sized appropriately to your dog. If you have a small to medium sized dog you do not need a 1”+ sized leash. Usually the clips are much to heavy for the dog, and there is too much leash to hold onto for many people. The clip should be sturdy, in good working order, attached to the leash securely and well stitched. I have seen leashes fail, leather or clips break, and stitching unravel, usually happening when a dog is “misbehaving” making a bad situation worse. For this reason you should inspect your leashes from time to time.
Do NOT use a flexi-leash. Flexis are not safety belts. Flexi-leashes are like putting a child in a car seat but not belting them in. These types of leashes have a vague resemblance of being safe, but both you and your dog have a high chance of being hurt while using a flexi-leash. Here is a great article about the dangers of Flexis from Veterinary Information Network and another one from Consumer Reports.
Now for the Steering Wheel part of the Mantra. I see people who do not have control over their dog they start using the leash as a steering wheel. Their leash is tight, and they want to go another direction, they just go, trying to steer their dog where they want to go. There is no partnership, no need for the dog to pay attention. At this point both dog and owner end up working against each other. Why would the dog pay attention when they’re just going to get dragged around? Why would the dog pay attention when, they have no choice, knowing they’re going to be steered away from what they want.
When your leash gets tight and you realize you are steering your dog, not just keeping them safe, it is time to go back to training! Look around your environment and ask yourself why has my leash become a steering wheel? What is distracting my dog that he cannot pay attention to me? Am I not paying enough attention to my dog on the walk? Am I asking my dog to walk in a situation he is not trained for? Have we been walking for too long? There are so many factors to leash walking failures, you just have to think about what part is effecting your dog, and then go train for that situation.
Remember dogs don’t need steering wheels, they just need to be safe!