Loose Leashes Make Better Relationships

Submitted by Lucy Martin

This past Saturday, Rayna and I attended a workshop at Dogs in the Park (Guelph) on Loose Leashes. We had a full day of theory and practical exercises that laid the foundation for a much more pleasurable leash walk with my dog. I want to share what stood out for me:

  1. Keeping a loose leash usually takes months of consistent practice – it rarely happens on its own.
  2. It takes two to pull. It’s impossible to pull without something to pull against. I have at least as much to do with keeping a loose leash as Rayna.
  3. If my dog doesn’t understand how to walk beside me without a leash, she can’t understand how to work with me ON leash.
  4. The leash should only be for an additional measure of safety, and not the principle means for moving my dog from point A to B.

Wow! So walking with my dog is really about our RELATIONSHIP – a relationship that takes time to develop, being committed to the process, and having strategies available to help us move through the frustrations and breakdowns that are common in learning this skill.

A mantra at the training school is “set the dog up for success” but I think it really should be “set both you and your dog up for success.” Nothing enhances a relationship like accomplishing something meaningful together. But how do we do that? I know it’s not enough to just want my dog to ‘stop pulling and walk nicely’.

One of my takeaways was the value of taking it slow – not to try for an hour walk with no pulling but to start small with a step or two, and build on that. A walk to the car. A walk to the street corner… . I think it’s important to remember that walking on a leash is not a natural activity for any animal – when I put myself in Rayna’s paws, I understand the vulnerable position she is in. She has a ligature around her neck that I can tighten or pull when I choose. I can restrict her ability to investigate her world. I can hurt her in multiple ways, with leash as weapon.

When I take seriously the power I have when I hold the other end of the leash, I acknowledge that how I choose to use the leash has a direct impact on my relationship with Rayna. Do I use the leash to restrict or change her movements? Does the leash create a dynamic of conflict between us? Am I being fair in how and when I utilize the leash? Do I choose connection and enticement to redirect her when necessary (and the leash simply is superfluous)?

Defined as such, a loose (or taut) leash is a clear indicator of the state of our partnership. Are we engaged with each other and moving as a unit? Are both of our desires, interests and needs being met (is there give-and-take or is there an imbalance)? Is the leash a source of connection or control? If the leash wasn’t there, would the picture look any different? Will Rayna choose to engage with me over all else?

No, but that’s okay with me. We have different interests after all (trust me, there are places I don’t want to go, things I don’t want to smell or taste!). My hope is that by accepting and supporting her different desires and interests, Rayna will reciprocate with a willingness to participate in what is important to me (like being able to enjoy a walk together in an urbanized setting where leashes are expected and enforced).

So loosen those leashes on your dogs. And your human relationships too. I invite you to develop and refine the tools and skills you need to enhance your connections with whoever is at the end of your tether. A great resource to get you started is Shirley Lynn’s upcoming workshop called Cultivating Joyful Living: Balancing Self Care Within Relationships (May 23-24). Over the two days, you will “set yourself up for success” in a small supportive group. Learn and practise new skills to improve your relationships and your self. Join the growing list of participants who have benefited from this workshop.

Contact Shirley Lynn today to find out how this course will benefit you.