Loose Leash

by Denise Mazzola, CPDT – KA

Please keep the leash loose, please.

Today on my early morning run, I saw a woman who was walking her dog on the trail. I was running with, Frankie, he was loose, dragging his leash so I could get him quickly if needed, well, that was the plan. He torpedoed past me in route to say hello to the other dog. I must admit, I was totally embarrassed that he didn’t come when called because it’s one of his best behaviors. Anyway, that’s not the point.

When I caught up with Frankie and apologized to the woman she was just about strangling her dog – her leash was so tight. The dog was clearly uncomfortable because his ears were back and his tail was tucked.

Humans make dog greeting so complicated and we ruin it most of the time. You must keep the leash loose. It can be short, but NO tension on the dogs collar.

Not only are these dogs being restricted by tight leashes, but the size difference between the three dogs also raises some safety concerns.

Dog greetings are very ritualized, meaning there is a formal way to meet. Dogs should approach each other slowly, arching around one another. They can run, but in reality, they should not race up like freight trains unless they know each other. With slow movements, they’ll sniff faces, shoulders, and then the hind end. Once they know who the other dog is – male, female, intact, altered, what they eat, where they’ve been – the dogs may play, fight, or separate and go on their way.

Fighting is not the normal outcome, unless your leash is tight and you interfere with the natural, normal ritualized greeting.  When your leash is tight, the dog feels restricted, trapped and they can no longer follow the ritual. When the leash is tight, your dog can’t sniff the other dog, can’t see what they are doing and can quickly become defensive. This is often when you see a dog growl at the other dog, which unfortunately causes you to tighten up even more. It begins a vicious cycle. Now your dog begins to anticipate what is going to happen when she sees another dog and she may become reactive sooner before the dog is even close to you, which you guessed it, causes you to tighten up the leash more and sooner!

Although this dog is not engaging in any greeting behavior, this is a nice example of the “J” shape in a nice loose leash.

What is the answer?

First, try to relax, unless your dog has a history of fighting with other dogs, let the greeting happen. Fighting is not evolutionarily beneficial.

Second, if you are really nervous, try singing your ABCs out loud. It takes your brain to another place and doesn’t allow you to focus too much on the greeting. Singing can also help your dog relax.

Third, be prepared to walk in a circle or in some other way, move with your dog to keep the leash LOOSE and from getting tangled.

Resist, with all your heart pulling on the leash. Wait until the dogs disengage and walk away. If they’ve started to play and you can’t stay or you can’t drop your leash, then call your dog to you and be sure to pay them big time when you get them separated.

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 25 years. Everything Dog provides services to clients throughout the Monadnock Region of NH by offering private lessons, group classes, board and train, as well as day training services.

Denise has been published in the trade journal, Chronicle of the Dog, and writes a monthly column for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript. She also hosts a monthly “Ask the Trainer” radio show on WKBK. Denise lives in Keene with her life and business partner, Amy Willey CPDT-KA, and they share their home with three dogs and three daughters. For more information, visit www.everythingdognh.com.

Denise Mazzola

Denise Mazzola


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