Why tightening the leash is a bad idea

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Postby SisMorphine » October 10th, 2006, 11:53 am

As human beings we protect our young, our friends, our family, by keeping them close. To human beings CLOSE = PROTECTED. Because we feel this way our instinct is to pull our animals in closer to us in case of danger, not just even when we know there is danger, but just in case. Tightening the leash, or picking up a small dog, is actually the worst thing you can do.

Fight vs. Flight
We've all heard this in reference to dogs, but what does it mean exactly? When a dog feels threatened, or is afraid, they go through two options in their head of how to deal with it: hold your ground or turn and run like hell . . . ie: Fight vs. Flight. Most dogs will choose flight as their first option. But when the option of flight is taken away they can only fight.

Aggression: Fight
Leash Aggression. Barrier Frustration/Aggression (barking viciously when in crate, behind door, behind window, in kennel run, when approached). These occur because the dog is feeling trapped. If something were to happen, they wouldn't be able to get away. So to try to save themselves from being put in a position where they would normally run, but now can't due to being somehow restricted,the dog will put on a very aggressive display, frothing, barking, snarling, even if danger isn't present. He's like a person who panics at the thought that something may possibly happen. He is saying "My teeth are huge. I swear I'll mess you up. See? See? Don't come near. You don't want to mess with me, if that's what you were planning on."

The Dogs Who Do This
Dogs who display barrier frustration when danger isn't even present (someone walking past the kennel, another dog walking across the street and not even looking in the offending dog's direction) are dogs who have fear issues. These are not forwardly aggressive, self assured dogs, the way that most people see them. These are frightened dogs who don't trust either other dogs or people for one reason or another. They're not bad dogs, they're frightened dogs.

A Tightened Leash
When you tighten your leash you are taking away a dog's flight ability. For some dogs the end of the 6 foot leash is enough so that they don't feel threatened when another dog approaches, but when you continue to tighten the leash their option of flight slowly disappears. And as I said before, when flight is gone then the only option is to fight. So when another dog approaches your dog keep the leash loose because there is less likely to be a problem that way.

Tight Leash vs. Short Leash
Now, I admit it, I watch Ceasar Milan. Many trainers (or in my case, trainer-in-training) watch his show, but not because they agree with his methods. In fact, most trainers will tell you that many of his methods are outdated and will work as a quick fix . . . or are just simply dangerous or stupid. We watch it because we need to know what is being put out into the public as far as dog training goes so that we know where our clients are getting their ideas from (this one especially helps in private consults which usually begin with "Well I watch that Dog Whisperer guy and he did blah blah blah, so that's what I've been doing but he's only getting worse. . .").
One of the things that always bothered me was that when he walks a dog he keeps that leash short short short. In all of my classes, with all of the trainers I've worked with, that is the biggest no-no because, as I said before, a tight leash can heighten, or even cause, aggression. Well, as I watch it more and more I realized that there is a big difference between a tight leash and a short leash. You will see when you watch him that even though he keeps the leash short so that he can have more control over the dog, can give a better correction, that leash is never tight. The leash is always loose, and the owners are always told to relax. It is because that dog is not at the end of the leash, feeling the boundary, that he is not having the leash aggression/barrier frustration triggered. So there is a way to keep a short leash without tightening it up . . . teach your dog some leash manners.
Also note that other dogs will take advantage of a situation with a dog who is on a tight leash. They will sense the dog panicking because he is restricted and they often will go into pack mode and will attack him, even if he wasn't yet showing any outward signs of aggression. Both situations can be prevented from happening by a loose leash and a self assured dog.

My Own Experience
Mike came to me with leash aggression. He is a dog with a lot of baggage that is being worked through slowly but surely, he is not as self assured as he seems though we are working up to that point. I have seen his leash aggression slowly disappearing for two reasons: 1) Through the intense training that we are doing for both obedience and agility he is gaining more self assurance in his daily activities and he is a much happier dog because of it and 2) Through training he is not pulling at his leash like he used to. Because he can't feel the end of his leash, he can't feel the barrier, he does not feel the need to put on a show or to defend himself.

Now we did have an incident the other day in agility class. Everyone keeps their dogs seperated, respecting each other's space, except for one flighty Lab owner who follows behind her out of control canine (don't get me started on her). The Lab came bounding over to Mike and they immediately entangled themselves in a sniffing circle, thus pulling both the lab owner and myself into the mess. This is a BAD combination. You have a dog with leash aggressive tendencies, on a tight leash, in a tight spot with another dog (who is out of control), with two people standing too close. Mike began to growl. The normal human reaction is to grab that leash and pull. I wanted to but instead I dropped my leash and took two big steps backwards. As soon as that leash tension disappeared, and as soon as my hulking frame wasn't penning them in, Mike relaxed. Of course the Lab owner didn't drop her leash and Mike began to become tangled . . . DANGER WILL ROBINSON! When the Lab owner finally got her head out of her butt and listened to the instructors and I telling her to drop the leash and step back, the incident was over, I recalled Mike, no harm no foul. Of course then the lab owner, ditzy as all hell, said "Oh so we're doing offleash agilty now?" not at all understanding what had just happened . . . idiot.

I hope none of that sounded preachy, but I just wanted to make people aware of the possible ramifications of a tight leash in a bad situation. A loose leash and some self confidence (for both you and your dog) can go a long way in preventing most dog fights.
Last edited by SisMorphine on October 10th, 2006, 12:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby mnp13 » October 10th, 2006, 11:56 am


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Postby SisMorphine » October 10th, 2006, 12:03 pm

Thanks :greenWave:

After our experience this weekend, and after recently hearing people talking about tightening their leash when other dog's approach (not here), I felt it needed to be said.
"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." -Anatole France
They're like service dogs gone wrong.
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Postby cheekymunkee » October 10th, 2006, 8:10 pm

Great post! Thanks for that!
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Postby Purple » October 10th, 2006, 9:10 pm

Described my Doberman to a T.....I never understood the kennel aggression, so thatnks for the education!
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Postby call2arms » October 16th, 2006, 9:33 pm

That was an interesting post to read.

Sounds like a dog I know. I wish I could do the "drop leash" thing, only I don't know what the next step would be, and that would make me even more nervous, and so would Jessie.

I just can't get past the point: what happens after you drop it? If a fight was to occur, wouldn't it make it even harder to separate the dogs? And then you're the crazy person who let go of the leash because you tought it would stop the barrier frustration? I understand that technically you should know how sociable your dog is and how he reacts with other dogs off leash and all, but you never know... Well, I don't. I think I really don't trust my dog enough, but I'd rather not than too much.

I'm really rambling here.
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