There's rarely a day that goes by that I'm not asked for advice about how to solve a pet problem. Dog behavioral problems being the most common.
Such was the case recently with my friend Ida and her chocolate Lab, CoCo, who apparently had missed her calling as a sled dog. CoCo was so bad on the leash, Ida had taken to using two to maintain some semblance of control - one attached to a harness and one to a choker.
Unless you're into the Iditarod, that isn't fun. And for Ida this had been the norm for seven years. I hated it as this was so easily fixed. I've walked a bunch of dogs in my life and am pretty confident I can teach anyone how to do the same. Maybe not at a perfect heal but certainly in a controlled enjoyable manner. And while I've tried about every leash and collar invented, my favorite is a rope slip leash, which I have given to so many people that we now sell it at the Shelter.
And for those of you who swear by the harness, you might as well face the fact there's a reason dog sled dogs wear harnesses. To increase the dog's power. Yes, you may feel more secure, but I assure you a harness just makes your dog stronger when they pull you around the block.
So, here's the scoop. First use a leash that gives you more power, not the dog. My favorite slip leash used correctly provides security and control over the dog's head. And where the head goes, the body follows.
Next, the walk begins before you put the leash on your dog. You set the tone for the entire walk if you start with an excited "Hey, let's go for a walk" that sends your dog into a frenzy. However, if you initiate it more calmly, calling your dog quietly, slipping the leash on gently and maintain that relaxed approach to the door, you set the stage for a much better walk.
Lastly, take charge of all decision-making on the walk. You HAVE to be in front as leading from behind isn't very effective. Also this means you decide how fast you walk, where you walk, what your dog sniffs, where he pees, etc. Being the leader everywhere but especially on the walk reinforces your role in your pack tremendously.
Unfortunately, people don't take the lead in their dog's life nearly enough. More dogs are walking their owners than the other way around. And it's likely if you're not leading the walk, you're probably not a leader at home either. Not good for your relationship with your dog.
I'm convinced bad behavior results more often from poor leadership than anything else. Honestly, very few dogs are emotionally prepared to be the pack leader and allowing them to assume that position is doing them more harm than good. In my experience, the number of dogs with issues because of poor leadership drastically outnumbers those resulting from neglect or abuse. Abuse is very bad, but not as prevalent as lack of leadership.
In fact, the very first dog I helped overcome persistent insecurity was Abby, a Golden Retriever that had only experienced love and kindness her entire life. But she was an emotional mess. She was afraid of everything but stormed the front door aggressively, wouldn't go outside alone, couldn't be walked by her owners and virtually lived under the bed night and day. But she was well loved. Just not well led.
One of the first things I did to initiate both Abby and her owners to a new way of life, was to take Abby for a walk. I then established rules to live by that began with her owners taking the leadership role in the home as well as on the leash. I did much the same with Ida and CoCo, who now share daily walks enjoyed by all and that bear no resemblance to the Iditarod.
So for those curious about the end of Abby's story, if I tell you that I see Abby every Thanksgiving trotting happily down Washington Avenue in the Turkey trot amidst a mass of runners and walkers with her tail cheerily swishing the air that should give you a clue. She's come a long way from the cowering dog under the bed that I first met.
The benefits of asserting leadership will not only make walks more enjoyable but will extend to every facet of life with your dog. It may mean some work and energy in the beginning, but I assure you it will pay off in the long run.
Carrie Roe is president of the Humane Society of Parkersburg.