My recent opinion piece on retractable leashes provoked more thinking on leashes and dogs.
Why do you use a leash? I know most people will say one of a few things.
“I use it to walk my dog.”
“It keeps my dog from running away.”
“It’s a law.”
Add your own reasons . . .
But I’ll bet very few dog owners will say that the leash is a way to communicate with their dog.
I had horses for over 35 years. For a long time, I thought of the rein as a method of control. It wasn’t until I opened up to my mare Lark and listened to her and accepted her as a schoolmaster, not only in riding, but in life lessons as well. It was then I learned the rein was alive with the chatter of my horse. I just had to soften my hand and body, so I could feel and receive what my horse was communicating to me. What a miraculous revelation! I celebrated when I came to this realization.
When I got my Labrador Retriever as a puppy, I thought of the leash as a way to keep her safe –from running away. As soon as I arrived home from the breeder’s, I took 8 week old Hannah out into the yard on a leash hoping she would toilet. Within a few minutes my friend Wendi arrived to meet Hannah. The first thing she did was to unclip the leash! I panicked, but Wendi said, “Deb, she’s not going to run away. She’s a little puppy and will follow you most everywhere. Take advantage of it now and teach her how to handle freedom. It’s dogs that learn this early who are much less inclined to take off and run.”
What a great lesson to learn; of course, Wendi was right with 40 years of dog training under her belt. I employed it with my second puppy to the same end resolution. It is because of this I can walk my dogs off leash and be confident that they will range appropriately and come to me when I call them. This gives them the chance to BE dogs and enjoy the freedom to run and explore and sniff, all under my strict supervision in isolated areas away from dog traffic.
But the leash still has a place in the lives of my dogs. I went to obedience classes and worked hard on leash manners.
And one day I had an AHA moment! “Oh my gosh!” I said to myself aloud. “The leash is just like the rein on a horse!” At that point I stopped thinking of the leash only as restraint or control. It became a way to communicate with my dogs. I can “feel” my dog through the leash because I also use a buckle collar instead of a harness. I believe that the collar, being so close to the head, delivers more communication than a harness. I can “feel” when my dog is relaxed and happy. I can “feel” when my dog’s intensity increases. I can “feel” excitement. I can “feel” when my dog is totally in hand and paying attention to me. I can deliver a light closing and release of my hand to get my dog’s attention. My contact, like that on a rein, is light and vibrating; it offers no invitation for pulling. (It takes two to pull!)
Communication is awareness, and we need to listen to what our dogs are saying to us; their feedback is invaluable. When on leash, the handler with a soft and listening hand develops sensitivity and is able to listen to their dog. Two way communication only makes our relationship with our dogs more enjoyable and results in a happy, confident, and trusting bond.