We all know that our dogs need to be walked. We also know from experience that a dog that’s not trained to walk could end up pulling a lot on the leash. This habit can not only get difficult for pet parents to cope with, but can also cause some serious injuries to the dog.
There are a few different walking techniques that are being taught today. The most popular one is heel. Another technique that is rapidly gaining popularity is loose leash walking (LLW). Both techniques need training. But how does one decide what technique to choose?
Heel is a technique where the dog is taught to walk close to and one step behind the handler. The premise is that the handler is going to lead the walk and the dog needs to pay close attention to the human and follow the human’s direction on the walk.
LLW is based on a very different premise. In LLW the dog is not required to stay very close to the handler and watch the handler at all times. The dog has more freedom to sniff around and explore things on the walk, setting his own pace. The only thing required of a dog on these walks is that he not pull on the leash and to respond fast to rare human intervention in case of imminent dangers. The technique works best when coupled with an extra-long leash, to make exploring a lot easier.
Both techniques teach dogs very different skills. Heel is a technique that relies heavily on humans leading the way. So the main skill the dog learns here is to follow the lead of a human closely. In LLW however the dog leads the way. In such a situation the dog learns interesting life skills like coping with other dogs on walks, dealing with surprises thrown in during exploration, problem-solving skills and other life skills. The dog also comes to learn the idea of give and take with humans, as he is required to maintain the leash loose when he is exploring.
Animal behaviour research is throwing some new light on facts that is changing the way we look at walks. We now know animals value choice. Exercising choice leads to valuable learning of coping skills. A dog that develops its coping strategies is known to be a more confident dog, and therefore calmer and less likely to be reactive. All animals, in wild and captivity, need to feel that they have meaningful choices they can exercise and feel sure-footed about dealing with the curve balls life throws at them.
All animals need to feel ready to face the world.
An animal that does not feel ready to face the world is suffering from Learned Helplessness. This is a behavioural condition where the animal is not sure he will be able to cope with new situations in life. He has learned to be helpless and rely on humans for all decisions. An unsure dog is going to be a nervous dog. Nervousness can lead to hyperactivity, destruction, reactivity, depression or cause the dog to shut down. This is not very different from the way children react. If we don’t gently expose them to situations that teach them decision making and coping skills, they experience severe anxiety at the prospect of facing real life.
Of course your dog will always be under your care and does not have to learn to fend for himself. But giving him the confidence that he can face the situations he comes across in his life, can mean a lot to him. That would mean being able to deal with other dogs, people, new smells, sights and sounds etc. So give him a chance to be more than just a pet dog. He will love you for it.