On Puppies and Leashes

A recent post of mine on Quora!

How to Leash Train a Dog

Question: My dog doesn’t like to wear a leash and gets a bit snappy when I put it on him. What can I do about this?

Well, as long as nobody’s gotten hurt, I already like your dog! He’s got a personality! Really, I wouldn’t like a leash, either, I don’t think!

Here’s what you can do:

Super important – always be standing up, and I mean please stand straight up, all the time, so it looks like you’re doing it on purpose … stand straight up proudly, and combine this with proximity. A human would react, if you did this to him, by pushing you away, or at least not wanting to hang out with you any more. You’d be sort of towering over everyone … and getting way too close, all the time. That’s the very first thing. Reinforce who’s who.

The way this feels, imposing on your animal, is the essence of dog training. It should feel, to both of you, almost as if you are ever, always, closing in on distance, always willing to “lean in,” so to speak, as if it were your lover, and the scene called for an aggressive move!

I went off on a tangent there. Leash me up!

No, wait!

Don’t put the leash on!

Ahhh … Remember I said I wouldn’t want anybody to put a leash on me? Well, somehow, in an enhanced sympathy kind of way, I feel better now!

Okay … that’s it! (Seriously, don’t put it on!)

Let some time go by this way. No leashes …

When I mentioned the “essence of dog training,” the mastery of understanding unspoken energy, as well as distance, weight and height, in the mind of the animal, I compared it with kissing your real life mate! But that’s not quite the problem! You’ve got a friend nipping at you!

Soon, you’ll put the leash back on … let’s be safe about this.

In good dog training, you’ll use “command cues,” to signify you’re “not kidding,” establishing and re-establishing you’re in charge, and do it for no apparent reason at all (muscle-flexing), putting your knees, sometimes your genital region, right in the nose of a pit bull with an attitude, on purpose, and creating the sensation that your next move will be forward, not back.

That’s not always easy to do!

The dog knows that.

So, in fairness to all, please remember he may not kiss you. Use one hand to anticipate and intercept, and if you are 100% successful, you will be, in close contact, maybe face-to-face, turning a defensive open palm into a corrective slap (to surprise), and be leaning IN the whole time, if he nips. While this “technique” merits more words of explanation, it suffices for this purpose to say, please be careful, and remember what you’re doing.

He’s hanging around now, with NO leash on.

Now you can manipulate the dog. In his mind, he has no reason, ever, to anticipate you’re ever going to put the leash on him. The only thing he’s really concerned at all about, and it happens less and less, is those times when you APPEAR to be GETTING READY to put the leash on him.

So, as the human (the smarter one), you’ll grab that leash and toss it on the couch. Don’t even glance at the dog; it has nothing to do with him.

Do this all the time. It’s going to take awhile, but it’s just a matter of time.

Then, when he’s all relaxed, laying down, come up to him and calmly put the leash on him. Don’t say a word. Don’t have observers. Chill. Just leave the leash on him and walk away. It used to be his. It still smells like him. He’ll be fine with all of this. It was the part where you hold onto the end of the leash and try and pull him around he didn’t like. No big deal. I like this leash!

Now he has some bling.

Get a short leash; you can get one only a foot long – that’s perfect. Leave it on him all the time, like nothing is happening. Keep in mind you’re never going to grab the leash, you’re just hanging it from his neck. Let him wear it.

Watch him. When his body language says “I don’t care about this leash you have hanging off me …” he essentially ignores it by the look in his eyes, pet him and ignore the leash. Casually do this for a day or two, until he’s essentially forgotten about it, because you never reach for it or seem to care about it.

Simple Progression

Now, you’ll grab the leash, once again, as if nothing important is happening, and you’ll start to do it, almost playfully, any time you want to, as if you’re stroking his tail. He’ll just have to deal with it. This should be easy. As long as you don’t take him for a walk, nothing has changed. Tug a little without moving his neck.

Don’t pull at all – this is just you saying you can touch whatever you want.

This will take time, but should be effective and permanent, and while you’re doing it, it will make so much sense, it will seem like it’s progressing nicely. It’s assumed you can take care of the dog without ever actually using a leash for, let’s say, a week (or more). Really, every day wearing his short leash he’ll care less and less about it (as long as you don’t touch it at first).

An odd thing happens when you do this. The dog will behave just a little better, having the leash on. Laying on the ground, away from you, he’ll come when you call him, more reliably, for example. He’ll feel submissive just wearing the leash; sometimes bad behavior disappears, and reappears when the leash is removed. It’s like you’re saying “I win!” It’s a really good example of how powerful unspoken communication is to dogs, and how smart they are. A dog leading you through the woods in chase is … “winning!”

Dog Poker

The leash, in the sense of “arms-length thinking,” which is fundamental to dogs and cats, is the game. (And you’re going to win this time!)

It really messes with a dog’s sense of “arm’s length” safety when he has a leash on, though nobody might be at the other end. Imagine if he were walking along, and someone stepped on the thing, causing him to get quickly stopped. No harm done, but this is an unseen, mysterious, violation of arms-length safety that hinders the dog’s sense of confidence. He doesn’t know, for sure, if he’s “away” far enough, and so does, essentially, nothing, but would more likely become more submissive (rather than aggress) as a result. It works just as effectively if the lead is super-short, which is also safer.

It’s an invisible leash, in his mind. It’s held by a ghost.

He can’t see it.

Your move!

Ready to go for a walk!

When you’re ready to take him on leash for a walk, remain assertive.

Purchase a correctly-fitting harness, especially if he has some weight, but even if he’s small (for the effect). Take the dog’s collar off, and leave it off. Make it a bit ceremonial, and stay above him and don’t fiddle around with things – once the collar’s off, rub his neck like he has just won a new freedom, and keep rubbing it a bit, while you toss the collar onto the couch, as if to say “we won’t be needing this.” Immediately and purposefully attach the harness to the dog. This is not exactly easy to do the first time, but keep a straight face and get it done. This is a new, amazing, maybe a little confusing, maybe even handsome, outfit!

Put the longer leash on and take him for a walk. You get to start this whole training all over again. Make sure you stand up straight during the walk.

Your dog won’t like it any more than the first time you pulled him, but he’ll understand he’s harnessed, and when he loses his “neck sympathy play” (dog’s ain’t dumb), and knows you can safely lift him right off the ground if you wanted to (unless he’s huge), he’ll comply. Combine this with authoritativeness. Forget about talking; it will only add confusion.

He knows you’re going for a walk; he likes going for a walk. He likes it so much, he pulls you and nips when you want to leash him. But throughout this process you’ve shown him you can put the leash on him whenever you want, pull on the leash whenever you want, dress him up and down however you want, and now you’re going to take him for a walk with his new harness whenever you want.

It will be almost, at least to him, like you’re a new person!

Have fun, be safe, and say ‘Woof!’ for me!

Here’s a gentleman on a harness! 🙂 Me and my pup Ziggy!

Original question: My dog doesn’t like to wear a leash and gets a bit snappy when I put it on him. What can I do about this?

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