Toronto Star

Leash manners open doors to more fun

- Yvette Van Veen

My dog is high energy and pulls ahead during walks. Since he is so athletic, we thought agility classes might help — that a tired dog might be a good dog. Will this help our dog?

Dog sports can tire a dog. However, a tired dog isn’t necessaril­y a wellmanner­ed one. They’re simply asleep, or wishing they were so.

Exercise is necessary in order to keep a dog physically healthy. Too little exercise can render a dog stir crazy. If a dog is getting too little activity, then sports classes might offer some benefit.

However, signing up for sports classes to teach leash skills is like using hockey to teach a child table manners. Hockey is great. It does not teach anyone which fork to use.

One also has to be cautious because as the dog becomes more fit, their power and endurance builds. Initial exhaustion is replaced with a dog that can pull for longer periods, with more intensity. It does this because leash skills were never addressed.

Teaching leash manners requires consistenc­y, dedication and commitment. Begin by ensuring that the dog can walk politely in quiet places. Then, when the dog is fluent, get outside and train against the distractio­ns found in the world.

Owners need to at some point train outside if they want a dog that behaves outside. Far too few people actively train dogs, giving food reinforcem­ents, on the street.

Good leash skills can benefit future dog sports activities. Dogs pull toward activities they like. They pull into parks, dog sport venues, to- wards equipment and to people and dogs at these events. Without leash skills, dog sports can become an unpleasant experience.

Leash walking is probably one of the most beneficial gateway behaviours. Once dogs know how to walk nicely, it opens the door to many fun activities. A dog that walks nicely is a pleasure to take to many places, including dog sports classes. Our dog hates car rides. We have tried feeding treats in the car so that rides become positive. However, he always winds up sick from the anxiety. Next time we drive somewhere, she rejects the treats that previously worked. We have to increase the treat value repeatedly. Instead of learning to like car rides, she seems to be learning to hate food. What are we doing wrong?

In order to teach a dog to like car rides, the dog has to have a pleasant trip. If the dog is getting sick from the anxiety, the trip was not positive. Dogs can learn to dislike treats when this happens.

It’s similar to eating a new food and becoming ill later in the evening. While we may logically know that our illness stems from the flu, the brain makes a negative associatio­n to the food. Years can pass where even the smell of the food we ate just prior to becoming sick triggers waves of nausea. Novel foods are highly prone to this effect. Logic is irrelevant. The food was tainted by the illness.

The same thing can happen to dogs. Nausea from the car ride taints the food. Each new food used to entice the dog into the car takes on a negative associatio­n.

Avoid this problem by making sure trips are short and easy. The dog should enjoy the entire experience. Some animals may need to first learn to feel safe inside a stationary vehicle. Only then can they learn to feel safe with the engine running. Finally, people can start with short trips. Food works, but only if the dog is kept at a level where they are successful. Yvette Van Veen is an animal behaviour consultant and Canada’s 1st Tested and Certified PCT-A. Write her at advice@awesomedog­

A dog that walks well outside is a dog that’s pleasurabl­e to take to interestin­g and fun activities

 ?? BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO ?? Teaching leash manners, such as not pulling ahead, requires consistenc­y, dedication and commitment, Yvette Van Veen writes.
BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO Teaching leash manners, such as not pulling ahead, requires consistenc­y, dedication and commitment, Yvette Van Veen writes.
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