This is one of those skills that Penny and I bomb out on, and I have been reluctant to address it, even though I’ve taught a dozen dogs to walk nicely on leash before. I don’t know what my hesitation has been caused by. I think it stems from the fact that her on-leash behavior has been so variable. She’s generally respectful of the leash, in that she never tries to buck it, even if she’s aroused or frightened. Sometimes she walks at a loose leash, often she is taut behind or before me, depending on her state of mind. Sometimes when agitated she dithers, catching herself and me up even a limited amount of slack.
I don’t really care for retractable leashes, but walks with her on a static lead were so frustrating that I stopped taking her for walks. I finally broke down and got a retractable leash about a month ago and it has been the gateway to many good walks since. While it offers her more leeway to decide how close she wants to get to a threat–which keeps her from being so fearful–it also gives her a sensation of pull, and if she changes direction quickly, there can be a snap or sudden extra line that she gets caught up in when trying to get away from something she finds intimidating. It’s a crutch that allows us to go for walks, and no more. Even if she had no fear problems, the problem with retractable leashes is that there is almost always a sensation of ‘pull’ for the dog so unless you’re working with it locked, it is difficult to train a better way of walking when using one.
I am being bombarded by clues from the universe about just how important loose leash walking really is. Is it the only thing on the Introduction to Obedience class curriculum that she does not know. Each training book I read lists it as a skill that helps keep dogs calm on a walk. Even the two new books I got detail in great length the reasons why it is an important skill and one even argues that it is the most important skill for founding a good relationship with your dog.
The last point sounds a little silly. Really, we’ve been getting along just fine staying at home. Other skills like not biting or not peeing in the house seem to be pretty important. However when I compare the evidence presented with what I know about dogs, I am quite convinced that I cannot afford to wait any longer, and that me and my dog will benefit greatly from the awareness and connection that loose leash walking implies.
In fact, I was so shaken by the discussion of awareness and quality of experience, that I had to go downstairs, rouse my husband off the computer, and snuggle in his lap for a half hour in order to reconnect with him.
The whole thing just reminds me that no matter how content we may be, there is always room for improvement.