What does your leash cue to your dog? Have you ever thought about it? Or noticed? Does it depend on which leash, what environment? Dogs have an amazing ability to learn environmental cues. The leash will often trigger a reliable behavior or behavior pattern.
Maybe the leash elicits a jumping pulling behavior dragging out the door and down the front steps.
Maybe the leash elicits a sit at your side.
Maybe a slip lead cues your dog it’s time for agility. Maybe a different leash cues your dog it’s time for the weekly walk in the park. Maybe one leash cues your dog it’s time to pull, another a time to walk beside you.
Maybe you unclipping the leash from the collar or sliding it over their head is a cue to RUN!! Or pull away. Or jump. Or sniff.
As I know how easily and well dogs often learn environmental cues, when it comes to my competition training I’m very conscious about what I want certain leashes, collars, gear and my actions with that gear to cue. So I make sure to train those cues to the behavior I’d like repeated.
With my agility dogs past and present, the agility slip leash going on is a cue to focus on me and work together as we get to the holding area and then start line. At the start line once in stay position, my reaching for and sliding the leash over my dog’s head is a further cue to hold steady position and stay.
When on our regular daily walks, the leash we use for on the sidewalk and street walks cues this will be on on-leash heeling at my side walk. The gear we use for woods walks is different and cues we’re heading to an off-leash walking location today. The dogs recognize the difference because consistency has been built in, the cues are reliably there.
Why is this important? Because once you recognize the power of environmental cues, you can then effect change. Many agility dogs for example take the cue of the leash coming off as a cue to begin running the course, not waiting for the handler to indicate they are ready to begin too. Or the cue of the agility leash going on to be a cue to focus on the environment around them seeking agility equipment, not a cue to focus back with their handler. Many dogs see the cue as the leash clipped to their collar or harness to begin a walk as a cue for over excitement and hyper arousal, behaviors that many humans find overwhelming or painful (when the dog bashes into your arms, legs or face). For some dogs who find walks overwhelming or frightening, the leash cues fear or anxiety, and avoidance. These are all behavior patterns that can be shifted, adjusted, changed through conscious training and conditioning.
What behavior does the leash cue for your dog?