Walking dogs is one of my favorite things to do as a pet sitter. We get to be outdoors, get some fresh air and bond together. But, regardless of the breed or temperament of the dog you’re walking, there are certain standards when it comes to holding the leash correctly.
When we do it right, using a leash prevents several possible scenarios, such as:
- Injuries to yourself or your dog
- Aggressive behavior
- Negative reinforcement
In Training Your Dog the Humane Way, animal behaviorist Alana Stevenson explains why you should develop proper leash techniques: “Improving and developing your leash skills and holding the leash correctly helps you control your dog, prevents you from jerking and yanking on his neck and frees one of your hands so that you can give him treats or carry something he values on the walk.”
The Right Equipment
There is a bewildering variety of dog collars, leashes and halters on the market today. But this is actually great — it affords you the opportunity to find the right equipment for your dog’s breed and personality.
I’ll say it: Choke chains shouldn’t exist anymore. These are collars made out of chain links designed to control a dog by pulling cruelly tight around the neck. The Humane Society of the United States says “there is no way to control how much the choke chain tightens, so it’s possible to choke or strangle your dog. It can also cause other problems, too, such as injuries to the trachea and esophagus, injuries to blood vessels in the eyes, neck sprains, nerve damage, fainting, transient paralysis and even death.”
Beyond choke chains, avoid any equipment designed to train by intimidation, pain or fear. There are much better and more humane ways to train your pup.
Once you have the collar or harness and leash that works for your dog, the first thing is get yourselves comfortable with them. Practice getting the harnesses or collars on and holding the leash as you walk around indoors until you and your dog are familiar with the process.
Once you have both become accustomed to the way the new equipment works, you can then start working on leash etiquette.
The Right Amount of Slack
When holding the leash, your grip should be firm enough that you’re not in danger of having the leash jerked from your hand, but not so tight that there’s constant tension. Your dog should know that you’re in control — but not to the point where he fears you.
Ensure that the leash is not so loose that it drags on the ground, either; otherwise, your dog or you may get tangled up in it.
Hold the end of the leash firmly. I prefer to wrap it around my wrist, regardless of the breed of dog. Others prefer to loop the leash around their thumb and close their hand into a fist. Use a method that affords you the most control with the least risk of injury.
Stopping the Mad Dash
Don’t just use your arms to prevent your dog from darting forward on the leash. “It is useless to use only your upper body strength to pull your dog when he lunges with all his weight,” says Stevenson. “If you do, you will have little choice but to yank back on your dog, which will not only reinforce his behavior by making him more reactive and pull against you but may also result in muscle strain in your back and shoulders.”
This cute Golden Retriever gives his human a lesson on proper leash technique:
When dogs make a sudden dash for something interesting, engage your whole body to stop their forward plunge. Stevenson has good advice for proper technique when walking a dog who tends to lunge: “If you freeze and tense your muscles, keeping your arms pinned close to your body, your dog will have to pull against your body weight. In addition, by not yanking back on your dog, you will not encourage him to pull you.”
All dogs have the potential to make that sudden dash, and so remain vigilant while walking your dog. Holding the leash loosely or not paying attention could result in disaster if she sees something she wants and suddenly goes for it.