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How to Hold a Leash and Other Small But Paradigm Shifting Tips

Yesterday, my husband and I took a walk with my pack plus our board and train dog. I had the board and train dog and Amalu. He took Ash, Anubi, and Amidi. Ami and Anu kept swinging into me and the B&T dog, who would then break her heel in an attempt to interact with them. I turned to him and saw he had all three leashes looped over his wrist and he was holding the very end of the leash. I asked him to hold the leashes halfway down their length, and viola, my dogs suddenly remembered they were supposed to be walking politely and minding their own business.

I have found, as a trainer, that it is often the small things that we do without even thinking about it (whether by instinct or by training) that can make the biggest difference in a person's training success.

One of the first things I learned in my apprenticeship was how to hold a leash.

  • First, put the leash in the hand opposite the side your dog walks on. So if your dog walks on the left then you hold the leash in your right hand.

  • Then, hook that thumb through the leash's handle loop. This gives you an idea of where the end of the leash is.

  • Then, gather the rest of the excess leash up on that same hand and grasp it lightly in that hand. This keeps the extra leash out of the way but accessible should you need to give your dog leash.

  • This also frees up a hand for treats, a clicker, an e-collar remote, or even a bag or a cup of coffee.

  • Also, your dog can knot the leash around your hand and cause damage this way.

Are there other ways to hold a leash? Yes, definitely. This isn't the only way to hold a leash and I was skeptical when my mentor made me practice doing it her way (and practicing with both hands, which took awhile to perfect). However, I've tried a lot of different ways and I find this truly is one of the most versatile ways to manage your leash and still be able to easily reward your dog. If you do hold your leash another way, make sure that it's flexible. With the loop over your wrist, you have little control if you aren't hold the leash further down its length too. I am much more likely to simply drape the leash across my palm and close my hand to keep the leash a certain length or open my hand to let the leash out a little (as my good friend and peer is doing here) than I am to wind the leash up around my wrist. And though the positioning might look lacking in function, here she is keeping the leash behind her back so that as soon as a dog gets out of position (past her legs) the leash immediately goes tight and they back off the leash pressure.

The method mentioned above is also one of the cleaner ways to manage multiple dogs and multiple leashes on a walk. I also color code so I know exactly whose leash belong to whom.

Another tip that I realized I did naturally, but is less common in many clients I work with is treat delivery. Treat delivery can be difficult, particularly when you have to manage a leash, a clicker, or other types of equipment. One day, while I was working with a class of teenage dogs and their owners were struggling, it finally clicked as to why they struggled.

One of the keys to gaining duration in a position, whether that be a stationary position such as Sit or a moving position such as Heel, is to reward intermittently for the duration that the dog holds the position. The means if you are working on a dog hold a Sit for longer you will want to give them a treat, wait a beat and then give another treat, wait another couple beats and give another treat. This is how the dog starts to learn that they are rewarded for the position rather than the action of sitting.

However, if you don't have treats readily available, the timing and delivery becomes difficult and it can become murky to the dog what they are being rewarded for and they often will tend to break from the position in anticipation of the treat. A treat pouch is a very good way to make treats more accessible, but those can still be clunky and difficult to use in the right moment. Notice that in the picture I have a treat pouch, but in my right hand, I am also cupping a number of treats. If I take a small handful of treats and I cup them in my hand and then simply extend one treat from the cache out to the dog when rewarding them, I don't have to fish back in my treat pouch to reload. This makes cases where you need a high rate of reward much easier to manage. It this case I was working at a close distance (less than 10') with an extremely dog reactive Malinois. I needed to be able to reward very quickly for desirable behaviors.

Talking more about treat delivery. Remember when I said that you should hold your leash in the opposite hand that your dog walks on? Much of the reason for this is that this way I can treat the dog on the side they are walking on. If the dog is walking on the let and I reward with my right hand, unless I twist my body heavily to the left, most likely what I am doing is accidentally pulling the dog in front of me and rewarding them for being out of position. If you have a dog that constantly swings in front of you when walking that might be the culprit. Note in the picture with the reactive teenage Sharpei, I have my left hand free and ready with treats. With the older and calmer hound mix in front of me, my friend holds the leash in her left hand because she's past the point in his training of needing treats during the walk.

And then one last tip on treat delivery. Often, I will treat out of my hand and with the dog in position. That's the traditional method for treating dogs. However, tossing treats on the ground can be helpful in certain circumstances. If I am building drive for a behavior, for instance Place, tossing a treat away and then calling the dog back to the behavior can build drive to get to their Place. It also has the added bonus that the dog releasing from the position is part of their reward. Additionally, when I am working nervous dogs, for them taking a treat from my hand can be a lot of pressure and a bit scary. However, dropping the treat on the ground instead relieves that pressure. If I'm working a small dog, particularly when I know their owner has a difficult time bending down to treat them, I'll train the dog to find their treat on the floor instead of my hand. And then finally, if I have a dog that is getting over-exicted/over-threshold, then I might scatter treats on the ground to both distract and slow down the dog. Can this have the disadvantage that the dog starts looking for treats off the ground? It can and I definitely also teach a solid Leave It when I'm training this way. However, dogs are very context savvy. They often understand that you are the one that dropped the treat and instead of scrounging on the ground, they will instead to look to you for their next treat.

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