I was at a new Home Dog Training client in Johns Creek for his first lesson with their family and their great, German Shepherd, Alex. Alex was a very smart and mostly good dog. He was just a little headstrong. The family was, unknowingly, giving into Alex’s wishes and were not gaining the proper leadership position. After a few hours, Alex was completely on board with the family being the boss and his role as a “family member”. They had a great dog and were very pleased with the results we were able to achieve by the end of the first lesson. As I was getting ready to leave, they had one more question about walking Alex. They had always had smaller dogs in the past and used the extension leashes on him. They asked me what I thought about extension leashes…
I told my client that one of my few pet peeves when it comes to dog training and proper communication is the dreaded extension leash. Dog owners use them a lot and dog stores love to sell them. That is because the extension leashes have buttons, widgets, and gizmos; and we all love those toys to play with We always assume that the more buttons a thing has, the better and more advanced it must be. We are shown the extension leash with it’s cool handle and multiple buttons and think we are on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Out comes the wallet.
Extension leashes… In a word, NO.
I reminded my client that the most important thing that he must do when he has Alex out for a walk is to keep him safe and secure. Alex must feel this sense of protection all the time, everywhere. To accomplish this, my client must have his focus. If he is walking in one direction and decides to change directions, Alex must instantly respond. If he stops, his German Shepherd must know that he must instantly stop too. This must all be done in the moment, in real time. This shows that Alex is giving him respectful focus and that everything my client is doing is in his best interest.
This can only be done if Alex always has an eye on him and he must have an eye on Alex. Alex must always be very close and normally to the side of my client as they are on the walk. Constant focus and immediate reaction on Alex’s part can only be achieved if he is not wandering off somewhere.
It is now time to interject about the horrible extension leash. The only thing this leash does is to give Alex the ability to do whatever he wants. He can be twenty feet in front of my client, behind him sniffing the bushes, or even in the street. The one thing he is not is by my client’s side, providing attention and giving focus. When this happens, Alex is telling my client that he is the boss and will do what he wants to do. This is bad.
In addition, when Alex is on the extension leash and another dog or person starts to approach, Alex will probably start to bark, lung, and jump at them. In Alex’s eyes, he is not the “bad guy”, he is only doing his job by taking the leadership/protective role in the situation. My client might get mad and yell at Alex, but he are still allowing him to lead. Alex is the leader and not my client
The good old fashioned six-foot leash is perfectly designed to keep Alex close to my client and easily directed back towards him for immediate, respectful focus. With a little more training and the use of the six foot leash, they will have great “walkies” and Alex will be a very well behaved and properly focused dog.
Having the right tool is often the answer in making the job go faster and achieving a far better result.
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