After spending a couple days in the heavily dog-populated San Francisco Bay area recently, I found myself wondering: Why is it so hard for people to walk their dogs on a leash?
Dogs are so numerous in that area that I’d estimate I saw at least 300 human/dog pairs or groups out walking. (I had my young dog Woody with me, and so I was out walking him, too. And on the last day there, I picked up my son’s dog, Cole, and we stopped at a large, well-known off-leash area for dogs, Point Isabel, where one can observe at least 100 dogs at any given time of day.) I’d guess that a full 85 percent of the dogs I saw were either pulling or dragging their owners down the street. About half of these pulled steadily (“Come ON, let’s GO!”), and the other half pulled intermittently (“Wait, I need to sniff this! Okay, let’s go! Wait! I need to sniff that! Okay, let’s go!”).
Of the 15 percent of dogs I saw who were not pulling, about 10 percent were old, super slo-mo dogs who looked like they couldn’t (or just really didn’t want to) go faster than their human could walk. A few of these were being pulled by their owners – and that’s quite a sad sight in my book, an owner hurrying an old dog faster than he or she wants to/can go. I can’t help but wish the same fate to those people – having a distracted attendant rush them down facility halls when they are old and stiff and perhaps a little blind and/or deaf. Sheesh!
I’d guess that only about five percent of the dogs I saw being walked behaved nicely on leash: no pulling, no extended sniffing sessions, no stopping to bristle or bark at other dogs or people, just quietly matching their pace to their human’s pace, stopping and waiting quietly when the person stopped.
It’s a tragedy, because (of course) if it’s a big hassle or chore (or scary) to walk your dog, then he’s not going to get walked enough, and the less he walks, the harder it’s going to be to keep his cooperation on walks. Although I deplore their use, I see why people resort to choke chains, pinch collars, and even shock collars; the reason I deplore them, mainly, is that they rarely work. The pulling/reactive behavior persists (and sometimes worsens), because the person still doesn’t know how to teach the dog to walk nicely on leash; he or she just has a bit more control over the dog’s pulling/lunging etc.
Personally, I think the key to teaching a dog to walk nicely on leash is to start with tons of walking OFF-leash – and I know that I’m spoiled in this regard, in that I have tons of space in which to walk my dogs off leash safely. When your dog can walk nicely with you without a leash, then walking on leash is easy.
Here are a couple of past articles we’ve published on walking your dog. And I’m going to assign a few writers to write some more.