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  • The Vital Importance of Leash Etiquette

    by Alyssa Wethington

    We’ve all seen the dog walking its owner down street. From the tiniest teacup Chihuahua to the mammoth shepherd mix, some dogs just don’t really get the concept of a leisurely stroll. It may be cute when the exuberant canine is small, but “walking” an 80-pound carnivore down the street with poor leash manners equates to about the level of control a water skier has over the speedboat. While nine times out of ten both owner and dog will probably return home unscathed (except for maybe a sore arm on the human’s part), there is still a very real possibility of catastrophe involved.

    Dogs with poor leash manners are not bad dogs. Most are likely just energetic, smell-driven, or excitable. While bad leash behaviors are likely to be ignored more in small breeds, a shocking number of large and strong dogs are also left to repeat negative habits over and over again on-leash. These situations become increasingly dangerous with the size and power of a dog. The more pull the animal has, the more likely a human is to lose control, possibly resulting in one of several terrible scenarios. Entering a crosswalk while traffic is heavy, lunging at wild animals or other pets, intimidating children or dog-fearful adults, or worse. Especially in large, congested cities, it is imperative that humans retain control of their four-legged friends.

    But what’s the owner of an “overly spirited” dog to do? Here’s where things get blurry. Having no professional training as a dog behaviorist, I do not claim to be an authority on the subject. However, my varied experience with a multitude of sizes, breeds, and temperaments of dogs has given me and other dog walkers a unique perspective on the subject. Pouring over online literature for dog training mostly supplies you with philosophies that are at odds with each other. Dog owners will be told by one authority to only use positive reinforcement, while being told by another that prong collars are valuable tools. Some trainers boast that any dog can be trained to walk well on leash in the same way, while others claim certain breeds are more difficult.

    The answer — much like the answer to many of life’s questions — is likely more grey than black or white. There is no one-size-fits-all training method for every dog on the planet. Take a look at the size, shape, and coat differences in dogs you see every day and realize those differences are reflected in their temperaments, anxieties, and tendencies. Dogs may share a genus and species with wolves, but they have diverted from their wild counterparts in many ways. Dogs’ evolutionary tracts with humans have been wrought with changes, and selective breeding (and non-selective breeding of those breeds thereafter) has further spawned a diversity of traits not seen in wild animals. The fact that dogs are intelligent and emotionally complex further complicates the issue.

    Specialized harnesses can often be a partial, if not full, solution to leash pulling.

    While figuring out how to train your dog can be a frustrating and time-consuming endeavor, remembering the importance of the end goal can be a helpful motivator. Maintaining control of your dog is the top priority, for both your and your dog’s safety. Before even working with a dog’s behavior, there are some steps you can take to increase the amount of control you have over your pet. Keeping a firm grip and a short leash are the very fundamentals of walking a dog in a controlled manner. Allowing dogs the full slack of a long or retractable leash immediately increases the risk of that dog meeting trouble further up on the sidewalk than you are able to mitigate. Maintaining a short leash length is something every dog owner can do, regardless of the power of the dog.

    When it comes to pulling behavior, be investigative and patient with your dog. Try to understand where the behavior is coming from. Is your dog so energetic that perhaps he or she just needs longer or more frequent walks? Is your dog pulling specifically to get at animals or people, exhibiting traits of aggression? Does your dog just really have to pee? It’s important to identify the motivator behind your dog’s undesirable habit before attempting to break it. While choosing a method of training, do research that takes into consideration your dog’s breed and temperament, and seek answers from qualified experts; not the black hole of an Internet message board.

    Whatever method you choose, consistency is key. Communicate your training methods to your partner, dog walker, and friends who help care for your dog to ensure you dog receives coherent training even when you are not present. Each time you allow your regime to slip, your dog receives mixed signals about what behaviors and acceptable and which aren’t.

    This is one of the many reasons daily walks are so important for healthy dogs. Not only does it provide them with the bare necessities (an opportunity to relieve themselves and much needed exercise) but it keeps a schedule that helps reinforce behavior. Private walking services that work one-on-one with your dog like Barkly are especially helpful in this regard. Your walker will be focused on the behavior of your dog — not coordinating the bathroom schedule of an unruly pack. Use in-app notes and communication with your walkers to your advantage to keep tabs on your dog’s behavior on-leash in ways never possible with “classic” dog walking services.

    Dogs are incredible beings to share our lives with. Their affectionate and social natures, along with their infallible go-getter attitudes, make them the perfect friends to share our daily lives with. But just like superpowers, having a dog also comes with responsibility. Often, it’s not enough to just pick up the poop. We must continually work to ensure both our dogs’ safety and that of those around them.

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