Have you ever been in a new city or location or situation and uncertain of where to go and the person who’s supposed to be guiding you keeps getting you mixed up? “This way,” they say as they walk forward slowly but while scanning the signs to the right and left. And then, “Wait no… this way.” And then, “Oops. I meant the other way instead.” If you have, I’m sure you remember the stress and frustration. Now ask yourself, do the dogs I walk at the veterinary hospital or shelter get mixed signals, too? Am I conveying an air of uncertainty or am I developing their confidence in me? If you’re not sure, test yourself. Note that this is not an obedience and training session. This is a case where you are just trying to get from point A to B, such as having to move a patient from one area of the hospital to another.
Question 1: When you are walking a dog and you want the dog to stop, which way should you hold the leash to prevent forward movement?
If you said backwards, you’re right. You’d only guide upwards if you were trying to prevent the dog from moving downwards. Now, just for fun, watch what the majority of shelter and hospital staff actually do. Better, yet, estimate how many actually do it right!
Question 2: Other signals can also help a dog know when we want them to stop. Can you see a difference here?
In the photo series below, the leash is tight between both hands for no reason. The leash is also pulled tight between the handler and the dog, even though the dog is walking nicely by the handler’s side in position. When the handler stops, she tries to shorten the leash by pulling high with her right hand. She can’t shorten her leash as much as she would like in order to provide good guidance because her right arm isn’t long enough and also because she can’t slide her left arm far that far down the leash. This dog was walking slowly and behind the handler the dog was about to stop anyway, but for dogs who are walking at a fast clip, this method upward leash pull will allow them to pull forward instead of helping them stop in the right location.
In the next photo series, the handler is correctly walking the dog with the leash hanging in a loose “U” since the dog is in position. The dog is learning that when in the appropriate position, the leash is loose. When the handler wants to stop, she gathers more leash in her right hand which allows her to easily slide her left hand down the leash to provide a better signal for the dog to stop. As a result, the dog begins to halt sooner instead of being confused and walking forward for a few more steps.
Question 3: Your body posture also provides an important cue to a dog if you want him to stop. Which body posture says “I’m stopping” to you?
When slowing down to a stop, the normal body posture is to lean your center of gravity back. For instance, if you’re playing a game of red-light, green-light, you would sprint on “green” with the goal of trying to get to the finish line before everyone else. When you stop suddenly on “red”, so that you’re not the last one to be stationary and be eliminated from the game, you notice that you have stopped by leaning your center of gravity backwards.
These photos demonstrate that If your weight is on your toes and you’re upright, or leaning forward when you stop, the dog gets mixed signals. Your body says continue forward but the leash says stop. As a result, the dog will tend to stop a step or two late after he feels pressure from the leash and collar rather than having a chance to stop earlier with proper cues.
Here you can see that if you’re walking a dog and you want to provide clear signals that you are stopping, your weight needs to shift to your heels and your center of gravity back.
Test These Points Yourself.
If you don’t believe it, try this on yourself and your friends. Find a partner and practice leading them and stopping. They must walk with their eyes closed. Afterwards, have them tell you how it felt from their perspective. Since they will have their eyes closed, you don’t need to have a loose leash, but you should follow the other tips while practicing.
To see these human-only and human-dog exercises taught in a step by step manner watch the DVD, Handling, Moving and Restraining Dogs in Stressful Environments: Pt 1 A Workshop on Essential Skills with Special Techniques for Medium and Large Dogs.