Is walking your dog a problem?

2011-08-25 00:00

The function of any relationship is the extent to which it meets the needs of the parties involved based on trust and respect. Creating a relationship with your pet whereby you are perceived as the leader means your dog behaves submissively because it trusts you. Not because you shout the loudest, hit and kick the hardest or run the fastest. This is not respect. It is plain and simply cruelty and bullying. Just like humans, dogs associate their experiences with locations and circumstances, and the acquired memories will have an impact on future behaviour.

A typical example is the first encounter with a leash, either as puppy or older dog. The four most common problems with leashes are running away, pulling, not moving and chewing. Let’s look at different situations. Running away or avoidance behaviour If pets resist or retreat when an attempt is made to place collars, chains or harnesses in position, owners may run after, shout or grab their pets to force compliance. Immediately there is a perception that the restraint is life-threatening. If the leash is left on the floor or on an object, there will be no concern and the pet will even sit or lie down next to it. However, should someone take hold of it again then the flight or fear-like behaviour kicks in. Thus the item or location by itself is not a threat, but only when handled by someone. Pulling or boisterous behaviour If dogs pull constantly on the leash it is indicative of a relationship where they see themselves as higher ranking. Dogs use this opportunity not only to lead the owner, but also to retain it for status maintenance purposes. Freezing In stressful situations dogs will resort to fight, flight or freeze behaviour. Due to the stress experienced in a previous encounter, normally as a result of leash tightening or jerking, the pet refuses to move. Owners may then use force or stop walking altogether. Chewing Lastly, dogs will chew leashes which are held by the owner. Chewing in itself is not necessarily due to leash concerns, but may have evolved to a status creator because of the owner’s reactions to the chewing.

When people have leash issues I concentrate on getting pets to walk next to, or behind their owners without a leash. This is normally on the property where the dogs live and is especially important when the rank structure has to be re-established. Once dogs understand that the owner is higher ranking, leashes are introduced. If some sort of leash-phobia exists I will show how to desensitise, or if the dogs pull, the owner is shown what remedial steps to take by using body language techniques. I must emphasise, body language, not jerking or choking the poor creature. This will only increase stress levels.

For various reasons many people stop walking their dogs altogether. They are depriving themselves from enjoying a regularly satisfying activity which is therapeutic for both parties.

The biggest single reason for walking a dog using body language is typically when the pets weigh more than the owners and are also much stronger. A psychological approach is far more accurate when resolving pack leadership issues. Dysfunctional relationships are corrected in a matter of days whereas using the antiquated force or fear approach can result in further or even more severe behavioural issues developing.

Please contact me or your vet’s practice should you have any behavioural concerns.

• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist who can be contacted on 083 340 8060 or visit www.dogtorsteve.co.za

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