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Why Some Dogs Are Not Adept At Leash Untangling
Does your dog untangle himself from a leash?

I was walking two dogs this week and noticed that they react very differently when they step over the leash or get tangled in it. Marley has a “let it be” approach to having the leash drop under or go around a leg, but Saylor consistently steps back over a leash that is not as it should be.

Some dogs never learn to untangle themselves when the leash goes under one or more legs, even with efforts to teach them how to do this. Other dogs step out of what my son refers to as “Leash Twister” without any instruction whatsoever. I’ve often wondered what it is about dogs that divides them into these two categories. Obviously, intelligence in the problem-solving area can play a role in which path a dog takes. (Saylor is obviously smart, so her ability to deal with a messed-up leash is no surprise. It’s harder to judge Marley’s intelligence. He’s easy to train, but there’s a charming simplicity in his take-it-as-it-comes, easy going approach to everything in life.) I’m convinced it’s far more complex than a simple question of brain power, with other factors being important, too.

One big predictor of which dogs learn to extricate themselves when the leash has gone between their legs or wrapped around them is whether it makes them uncomfortable to have the leash there. Some dogs don’t seem to care if the leash is partially wrapped around a leg or if it touches their belly, so a twisted leash does not represent a problem. If it’s not a problem to a dog to have the leash out of place, then there is nothing to be solved. So, even if those dog have great problem solving skills, you won’t see evidence of those abilities.

Some dogs are too interested in other things to focus on a tangled leash. If they are attending to the smells or sights on a walk, any issues with the leash may not be top priority. Paying attention to other things may account for the dogs who sometimes choose to step over a leash purposefully and sometimes don’t bother; it depends on how exciting the walk is at the moment. Other dogs are always too intent on the sensory experiences during the walk to fuss over where the leash is.

There are two reasons that I care whether a dog is helpful about keeping the leash properly organized during a walk or leaves that task entirely to me. Though I’m interested in what it might tell me about the dog (emotionally and cognitively), safety is the main cause for concern. It can be dangerous if the leash wraps completely around a leg, and a leash that is out of place can cause a dog to be off balance. I like to keep dogs free of leash issues during a walk, and it’s convenient if the dog can help. However, for dogs who need assistance extracting themselves from a tangled leash, I’m happy to do it for them.

Does your dog untangle himself from a leash that he has stepped over or gotten twisted in? If not, why do you think that is?

 

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

photo by CameliaTWU/Flickr

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