National Walk Your Dog week is October 1- 7. Taking advantage of the cooler autumn weather this is a great time to teach your dog to walk properly on the leash. Whether it is a 15 pound Scottie, 40 pound Border collie, 90 pound Labrador retriever or a 120 pound Rottweiler, you should be able to have control of your dog while on leash.
First, you need to make sure you have the appropriate tools for your dog. I ALWAYS recommend a 6 foot flat leash. I NEVER, ever recommend a retractable leash. In 2007 there were 16,564 hospital-treated injuries associated with leashes, according to Consumer Union’s analysis of statistics collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of those, about 23.5 percent involved injuries to the finger. The most common injuries reported were burns and cuts, usually sustained when the cord came in contact with skin as it rapidly came out from the handle of a leash. Others occurred when the cord got wrapped around part of the owner or the dog.
Second, know the proper way to hold a leash. Place the loop of the handle inside your hand on the opposite side of the dog. With your hand closest to the dog, hold on to the leash waist high with your knuckles facing out (as you would hold your hand naturally while walking). The leash should make a loose J. Do NOT wrap the leash around your hand. If your dog pulls this could injure your fingers or hand. Your dog should feel freedom to move, not restraint from being held back. If you physically hold him in place it is tiring for you and uncomfortable for your dog. Also, dogs are natural pullers and if they feel restraint of any type, they will only pull more.
Third, you need to make sure you have the correctly fitted collar or harness. If you are not sure how to size the collar or harness for your dog you should ask a pet professional, such as a dog trainer. I recommend a flat collar for most dogs. NEVER use a pinch or choke collar. Some smaller dogs do better with a harness. If you use a harness you should use one that goes across the front of the chest and the leash hooks to the side or in front. You will have more control with the leash in this position than the harness that hooks the leash on the top of the back of the dog.
Last, training your dog to walk next to you. Before you set off on your walk with your dog, you need have him focus on you, not everything else around you. Simply hold the leash by the handle. There should be six feet of loose leash between you and your dog. Start walking and use your commands to tell your dog what you expect of him. Keep your pace slow, so he has to focus on you. Your dog should give a quick look at you and slowly begin to walk. Do not yell at, yank or pull your dog.
Now, dogs will be dogs, so you may still need to give him a slight refocus as you continue your walk. Also, I want to make it quite clear that you should NEVER choke the dog or hurt him in any way. Simply give him very clear signals so he knows what is expected of him.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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