Robin and I were at a new Home Dog Training client in Dawsonville on Wednesday working with his three-year-old Boxer named Babe.  Our client’s brother had raised Babe from a puppy but recently moved into a condo community that did not allow larger dogs.  Babe came to live with our client and his family.  Their biggest issue was Babe’s (natural Boxer) energy and lack of focus. 

We first worked on regaining Babe’s focus and respect towards our clients and then properly redirected the energy into appropriate channels. During one of the exercises, we asked them to put Babe’s leash on.  They brought out an extension leash.  We then proceeded to explain why this was inappropriate…

Choose the proper leash for your dog

One of the first things that Robin and I teach our clients is the concept of how dogs learn.  The problem that most of us (humans) have is that we think that our dogs learn things in the same manner that we learn things.  We learn things using many methods.  We may memorize our times tables.  We may read books and then discuss our opinions of the outcomes from different points of view. We may change our minds on an outcome based on new data or different ideas.  Our leaning capability, for better or worse, is multidirectional.

Our dogs, on the other hand, use only one of the learning processes that we use.  Remember I mentioned that, when we were young, we memorized our times tables.  “Seven times eight equals fifty-six…”.  That was always one of the harder ones for me and I just had to constantly say it and think it until it was burned into my brain.

Once there, it never changed. It is a simple, linear process.  There is no logic that may change it or conditions that may redirect it.  It is the constant, universal, and timeless answer to a specific question.  We must always direct our dogs linearly for them to properly learn.

In understanding the process of the learning process, we need to recognize the mechanics of our dog’s educational development.  What tools do we employ to get our dog to consistently learn?  When we were in school, we had books, classroom lectures, quizzes, study halls, etc. These were all tools that allowed us to focus on the correct answers in a calm and safe environment.

We need to provide our dogs the same type of learning experience.  We need to teach them in a way that allows them to calmly and respectfully focus on us.  That is the moment where we will build the appropriate, bonding relationship.  That is the moment where our dog’s meaningful learning will take place.

Finally, we need to make sure our dog understands that we are the teacher.  As I mentioned earlier, we must be calm when this takes place.  We have the best opportunity of being calm when teaching our dogs if we have done everything possible to take charge and have thoughtful plans to deal with any issue that may arise.

So, why are we talking about all these things when all you asked was what leash you should use with your dog?

The leash is probably the most important teaching tool that you will ever use with your dog.  You must understand the process of teaching in order to successfully determine the best tool to gain the results you require.

Let’s first talk about the one “leash” you should never, ever use.  The extension leash is one of the worst dog products on the market today.  Many dog owners think it is great because their dogs seem happy with their somewhat unconstrained ability to move around and go where they want.    The leash fails in two major respects:

  • NO TEACHING: Since the “happy dog” has freedom to do whatever he wants, the owner can not teach.  He can push the button and let the leash out and give the dog more freedom to not focus on him and his commands.  There is no button to bring the dog back and have the owner regain his dog’s focus.  No focus, no learning, bad tool.
  • SAFETY: Our dogs, like us, have the greatest ability to learn when they feel safe.  As their teacher, we need to provide an ongoing safe environment for them.  If they are out twenty or thirty feet on the extension leash and suddenly run into the street, we can’t press the “get back here” button to return them to safety.  No safety, no learning, bad tool.

Bottom line, never, never, never use the extension leash.

We suggest using “the old fashioned and boring” standard six-foot leash for your dog.  There are no buttons, no fancy, plastic handle, and no gears and springs.  There is simply a clasp, six feet of leather, cotton, or nylon, and a simple handle. This tool meets all the requirements to effectively teach your dog in a linear, safe, and consistent manner:

  • FOCUS: Your dog must understand that you are always there and you must be aware of your dog’s temperament. When you and your dog are attached with a standard leash, he can easily feel you and you can easily feel him.
  • DIRECTION: Linear teaching focuses on “keeping on the right course”.  When wearing a leash, you are normally working on lessons such as “walk nicely”, “don’t jump”, or “come here”.  The standard leash allows you to slightly tug and redirect your dog to you.  This is the single point of focus or direction you are trying to teach, and your dog needs to learn.
  • SAFETY: You must provide a safe environment in which to teach your dog.  You can easily grab the standard leash and pull your dog back to you, if needed.  This offers you the confidence you need to be the great teacher and strong leader your dog will respect and provide focus.

Robin and I often go to clients with big dogs.  When we ask them to snap on their dog’s leash, they bring out a half inch thick leash.  Half inch leashes are designed for smaller dogs or puppies (under fifteen pounds).

If a large dog starts to actively pull, it is much harder to hold the thinner leash and regain control.  The thinner leashes, because they were designed for small dogs, have lighter and weaker clasps.  Large dogs can often break these clasps.

If your dog or puppy is over fifteen pounds, please use a one-inch-thick leash.  If he is under fifteen pounds, you can use a one-half inch thick leash.

When we first started to talk about the “standard leash”, we said that it should be six feet.  This is a great length for basic obedience training, specific behavioral training, and simple walking.  Since you can always hold less of the leash, we see no reason why you would ever need any of those two or four foot leashes.

We also suggest that you get a longer leash.  They are often called “training leads”.  They are the same thing as “leashes”, simply longer and normally not kept in the same location in the dog stores.  We like to use twenty-foot training leads for puppies or small dogs and thirty-foot training leads for larger dogs.  You should use the same method of picking the width of the training lead as we just discussed above.

You can think of the training lead as a “really long leash”.  It is used for the same teaching purpose as your six-foot leash, simply at a greater distance.  You can use if for farther and more advanced come and recall exercises.  You can use it for advanced semi-off-leash walking exercises.  It is great when you want your dog to potty outside with no fence.

Well, there you have it.  I know that I was a little long winded, but I really needed to explain why you had to throw away that extension leash that cost you $50 for a simple leash that will cost you $7.50.  It is all about understanding the nature of your task and using the appropriate tool.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 or (770) 718-7716 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over sixteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.