Behavior & Training
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The Top 10 Talking Points for Trainers

Of particular interest to owners, the study took the inquiry further, walking both sets of dogs into a room with an aggressive dog locked in a kennel. The dogs who had been asked to hold a sit-and-stay position for their first task were more than twice as likely to approach and engage in aggressive behavior with the caged dog as the group of dogs who did not have to use self-control to hold a position.

Often, when we tell our dogs to “sit” in social situations, they would like the freedom to back away, even if just slightly, which they are unable to do while sitting. Dogs may squint, lick their lips, yawn, shuffle their back feet, scratch, sniff the ground or whine when they feel uncomfortable. Asking a dog to choose between personal comfort and obedience is something positive dog training strives to avoid. 

Another downside to all this sit training is that not all breeds can do it easily. Canine physical therapists have weighed in on the stress sitting puts on a dog’s knees and hips over a lifetime. The AKC lists more than a dozen breeds with a genetic predisposition to luxating patellas (floating kneecaps), which are not helped by sitting. Also, being asked to repeatedly sit, especially on hard or slippery floors, can impose considerable stress on long-backed breeds such as Basset Hounds and Dachshunds.

Knowing that self-control is a limited resource has persuaded many trainers to propose that dogs be allowed to stand in instances in which sitting makes them uncomfortable. 


Can the equipment we use cause physical or behavioral problems?

Until recently, no-pull harnesses were considered safe and gentle solutions to leash pulling. But, as many canine sports medicine specialists and physical therapists have pointed out, recent studies show that these harnesses restrict a dog’s natural movement even after the harness is removed, and that restricting a dog’s gait can have a negative effect long-term.

Head halters are also debated. While most dogs will instantly try to rub them off (an obvious sign of discomfort), many dog trainers feel that taking the time to train the dog to enjoy wearing one will create a positive walking experience for both dog and owner. There have been documented incidents of back and neck injuries as a direct result of head halters, so owners should review the safety procedures (such as not using them with retractable leashes) before using them on a walk.


Is leash walking a good way to tire out a dog?

Taking a dog for a walk has long been prescribed as a way to release the dog’s energy and curb bad behavior. However, increases in leash aggression and surgical ligament repairs have dog trainers asking if leash-walking some dogs could be doing them more harm than good.

A friend once said in passing, “It’s impossible to wear out a Labrador on a leash.” I looked this up and it turns out that many of the working and herding breeds run an average of 25 to 80 miles per day when working—distances rarely achieved on standard neighborhood walks, even long ones. Further, new evidence suggests that dogs can experience a “runner’s high” similar to that of humans. This means that in an attempt to wear out your dog by running together for miles each day, you are training a canine athlete, one who is becoming physically stronger and will tire less easily. Instead of wearing the dog out, owners can accidentally be building their dogs’ endurance and lighting up their brains with endorphins when they run together.

Additionally, being walked on a short leash and not allowed the freedom to stop and sniff can itself be stressful, and stress releases cortisol into a dog’s system. Smelling, one of a dog’s natural displacement behaviors, reduces tension and anxiety. Oftentimes, training to resolve behavioral problems with other dogs and people includes allowing the dog to sniff them or areas where they have been.


Kama Brown CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer, author, speaker and the co-owner of FÖRSTÅ Dog, a company dedicated to enhancing canine life through enrichment and scent work. 


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