Originally Published: November 25, 2015 6 a.m.
Dogs are amazing at reading our body language but did you know they can detect your tension and stress through a leash? When you maintain a tight leash on a dog you can raise not only his level of stress, frustration, and excitement but yours as well. Many people think they have no choice but to hold a tight leash because their dog is always pulling. If this is happening to you it means you need to teach your dog how to walk on a slack leash.
A leash works like a conduit transferring stress back and forth between you and your dog. A loose leash tells your dog there's no reason to be worried or tense; a taunt leash tells your dog that you're tense and nervous - either way your dog will respond in kind. Just as you don't like your dog pulling you around, he doesn't like you pulling on him. A dog on a tight leash is more likely to be reactive in social situations. A dog on a slack leash is more likely to be calm. Learning to walk on a relaxed leash is prerequisite to a pleasant walk with a calm dog.
Tension on the leash isn't the only way your dog tunes into how you're feeling. Dogs can naturally sense when you're feeling stressed and wound-up, and they don't like that feeling. The next time your dog is acting frustrated and tense, check in with yourself - are you feeling that way? Your dog may be acting as a mirror. If you are looking for a reason to take up meditation, helping your dog calm down is a good one.
On the other side of the spectrum, dogs don't like it when we're boring - and it's hard not to be. We get home from work and we want to unwind, get a few chores done,
make dinner, and then sack out on the couch and relax. That's the most annoying thing we can do to our dogs who have waited all day to interact with us.
If your dog is being mischievous, getting into boxes or closets, chewing shoes or table legs, she's telling you she is bored. Fortunately, there is a quick and easy solution to boredom. Teaching your dog a new trick, working on old tricks, playing a game of "find it" with a favorite toy, or going out and using a walk as a chance to work on urban agility, are all ways to stimulate your dog's mind and body. An hour of training equals several hours of playing fetch in terms of tiring a dog physically and mentally. While exercise and walks are important, thinking exercises will make your dog happy-tired. Just 15-30 minutes of trick training a day will make a huge difference.
This next suggestion should be obvious, but it's worth mentioning because some people think it's funny to tease dogs. Don't wave or talk to a dog that is barking at you from behind a window or door; don't pull on a dog's tail. The list of teasing behaviors can go on and on, but in short, don't do something you know upsets a dog just because you think it's funny. It's not funny to the dog and teasing can lead to serious behavioral problems.
If you want to learn more about how to be a better friend to your dog, read any of these great books: "The Other End of the Leash" by professional behaviorist and trainer Patricia B. McConnell; "Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horowitz; and "Don't Shoot the Dog" by Karen Pryor.
Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 928-445-2666, ext. 101.