I see it all the time. I bet you do too.
The dog wants to sniff something. His person wants to keep walking. She grabs hard on the leash and pulls the dog in a new direction.
Sadly, I’ve done it myself. Treated my dog’s leash like a steering wheel. But I’m trying to remember it works much better as a communication tool.
What is a Dog Leash For?
Do you ever stop to think about what a dog leash is for?
When you look around, you’ll find lots of different reasons for having one:
- it’s the law
- a leash keeps your dog safe
- they make beautiful fashion accessories
- leashes make other people feel safer around your dog
- it keeps your dog close to you
But they make horrible steering wheels. Just try pulling a 75 pound dog in a direction she doesn’t want to go.
I find leashes are much better at helping me talk to my dog than at steering her.
Talking Through the Leash
It wasn’t until Honey came to live with me that I started thinking of the leash as a way to talk to her. Maybe it’s because she’s a much better listener than my previous dogs.
Or maybe I’m learning to speak dog better.
Humans are so verbal. And some of us are talkier than others. We often forget how physical dogs are.
Sure they bark, whine, or growl at each other. But more often, they nudge each other out of the way. Put their paws on another dog’s back. Or turn their heads away.
Dog physicality means that very subtle leash work says something to your dog. And sometimes Honey even talks back to me through the leash.
Leash Communication with Honey
Here are just a few of the ways a leash says something to Honey:
- the act of putting it on her tells her we’re going outside
- when I drop the leash and let it trail behind her, she knows she has more freedom to sniff and go off trail but she should stay close
- when I unclip the leash outdoors, Honey knows she is free to roam where she likes as long as she comes back to me to check in
- a subtle turn tells Honey we’re going in a new direction
- a change of pace tells her to look at me so we continue traveling together
- shortening the leash, with or without the cue “with me,” tell her to stay by my side until I give her a release cue, “go sniff”
And recently I noticed that Honey uses the leash to say things to me:
- pulling followed by hesitation and more light pulling means she’s excited (usually when she realizes we’re near her favorite park for playing ball)
- standing perfectly straight and still so the leash becomes taut if I keep walking means she really doesn’t want to go somewhere (like inside)
- when I let Honey drag the leash, she checks in with me often because she doesn’t have the security of knowing I’m attached to her but I also haven’t given her the ok to run
Knowing that Honey takes and gives cues through the leash makes me less likely to use it to steer her around.
I used to use a front-fastening harness with Honey all the time. It gave me a greater sense of control over her.
With my last dog, Shadow, the harness was a necessity. She always followed her nose right into trouble. No matter how much training we did.
But Honey is different. And as long as I use every tool possible to talk to her, I don’t usually need a steering wheel.
Your Turn: How does a leash work best for you? Do you and your dog talk to each other using a leash. Or are you so in tune you don’t even need one?