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Go for the neck

By Scott Hunt

The Dog Grumbler

 

DOGS need to learn to walk on lead.

They need to learn to stay close to you when required and not try to drag you to where they want to go.

The bigger the breed, the more important it is to start while the dog is small.

Nonetheless, a large untrained dog can still be taught; it just takes longer (and more muscle).

I don’t use halters or harnesses.

These make it easier to hold a strong dog pulling on the lead and probably provide some exercise (for dog and owner), but they don’t teach much.

All dogs should be fitted with a collar which cannot be pulled forward over the ears and off.

The most important thing on the collar is the owner’s telephone number. The registration tag comes second.

A standard clip-on lead is all you need — not a stretchy one.

If you need to restrain a strong dog, run the lead down between the front legs and back under one of its armpits.

This disrupts a dog’s stance and thus it’s pulling power, but still communicates via the neck.

Consider this: the neck is a quadruped’s natural control point.

This is where mum grabs a pup. This is where a dog will grab another in a fight or game.

This is an area of strong muscle which is always tense when a dog is walking or standing.

I maintain that the best way to let a dog know you are displeased with it is to pick it up by the scruff of the neck and growl in its face.

When your dog steps off the footpath, make a sharp sound and jerk the lead, then guide the dog back where you want it.

This makes you team enforcer.

Of course, walking is about absorbing smells, so where possible let your dog stop and sniff things, being sure to give another jerk and move on before it is finished.

This makes you team leader.

Your dog will not strangle itself by pulling on a leash. Your dog will not sustain damage to its neck.

A small dog picked up by the scruff of the neck might squeal in fear (especially if people are watching), but it will feel no pain.

And it will understand the message.

The best training for on-lead walking is off-lead walking. Go to an enclosed area and walk around.

Let your dog watch you, find you and touch base occasionally. Sit a while every now and then.

If your dog gets to do this regularly, it will be less likely to pull when on lead.

I use the command “stay close” to mean “heel”. I use it crossing streets and I enforce it strictly with the leash.

In this situation, most dogs relate the required behaviour to the surface they are walking on and learn that it only applies until we get to the other side.

If you are consistent with this, your dog will feel uncomfortable crossing bitumen without a human.

“Heel” or “stay close” is also a concept that dogs understand, like “finish”, and once learned it can be applied in any situation.

The leash is a necessary part of training and in many situations required by law, but it can bring problems of its own.

It can prevent a dog from performing much of the body language required to meet another dog.

Like most creatures, your dog has a territorial imperative which applies to an arbitrary space around its owner.

As it tries to establish a perimeter and enact inter-dog rituals, it drags its owner towards the other dog/owner and drags the protected area(s) closer, increasing tension.

If the owner is smelling more and more tense as this happens, you have a recipe for disaster.

Walking off-lead allows you to build confidence in your dog’s connection and commitment to you and its ability to interact with other dogs peacefully — and hopefully teaches you to smell less tense.

A lead is an important means to an end.

That end should be behaviour.

Like most dog training it takes time, repetition and faith but the rewards outweigh the effort. I promise.