Hope all of you had a great weekend. We had a great weekend for sure at the Hundeskole. We had a walking workshop. A lovely dog visited us for the workshop and participants got to watch what a mere two hour workshop can achieve in terms of teaching a dog how to walk well without pulling. A few friends I was talking to before the workshop asked me if the visiting dog had already been trained and wondered how I was going to conduct the workshop and train a dog in under two hours to get the dog walking well. But that’s just it. It’s so easy once you have the right equipment and know the fundamental philosophy behind a loose leash walk.
A loose leash walk is basically a contract between human and dog – as long as the leash is loose, walking happens. But when the leash is tight, walking stops. In addition, loose lease walk relies on body language based communication to tell your dog what you need. So you need to show with your shoulders which direction you want the dog to walk in. Body language communication is far more effective with dogs, compared to verbal communication which is not their ‘native tongue’.
Let’s assume that all’s well and you are walking nicely on a long loose leash with a dog. Suddenly the dog gets excited and bolts in front, tightening the leash and breaking the contract. So the walk needs to stop. Then you need the dog to walk back to you to release the tension on the leash so that the walk can resume. But to show your dog that he needs to walk back, you need to communicate with your shoulders that you want the dog to come back to you. So you face away from the dog and wait for the dog to return.
Once I demonstrated this technique to the participants, they were very skeptical, telling me that the dog would not return. So we practised it in the garden. What did we see? The lovely ‘demo’ dog had initially had an argument with her handler, insisting that she wanted to go in the opposite direction the handler wanted her to walk in. We just stood there, facing opposite directions. After a 30-second non-verbal argument of this kind, the dog finally understood. This was not like before. This was a new style of walk. She got what was expected of her. As our hands-on session progressed, her arguments became shorter and by the time we were ready to try the walk on the street, she was walking like a pro.
There are a few tricks to keep in mind. First up, this walk works only with a non-retractable long leash that is at least eight feet long with an H harness. Secondly, people take time to get used to the long leash. So you need to practice the walk in a garden, basement or terrace of a building, till you have mastered it. You don’t drive on the streets till you have mastered the skill of handling the car’s accelerator, brake and clutch. It’s the same for long leashes. And finally, if your dog is not normal and is exhibiting signs of stress or other behavioural problems, first get them addressed by a behaviourist before attempting loose leash walks with the dog.
The participants of the workshop all walked in with skepticism and walked out eager to try this. Most felt that their dogs would enjoy it the most. That’s what comes out of a technique that actually understands the emotional wellbeing of dogs. If there is one piece of advice I can give to people who want to make their dog’s life as pleasant as possible – learn about dogs and their emotions. It goes a long way.