Most owners wish their dogs would walk calmly and obediently on leash, following their lead and not pulling, lunging, or dragging. But there’s a common misconception that it is cruel to do anything that keeps your dog from pulling you to sniff wherever and whenever he wants.
The author of a recent, very well-received book on dog behavior, for instance, says that if you don’t let your dog sniff when and where he wants, your dog will get upset –
“Just like how we would get upset if they came in the room and turned off the television.”
This view is incredibly common, and lots of owners use something like it as an excuse for having ill-behaved dogs who pull and lunge like crazy on leash. Of course the owners are stressed and exhausted – and in fact the dogs aren’t as happy as they could be, either.
The problem with the idea that an obedient leashed walk is cruel is that it sees the two alternatives as incompatible: EITHER your dog can’t be taught to calmly and obediently follow and heal on a leashed walk, OR you have to deny your dog sniffing and going where he wants. But that dichotomy isn’t true, and it upsets me to see it spread so prevalently. At least in dog training, you CAN have your cake and eat it too.
The solution is to give your dog what he wants as a REWARD for being obedient. You’re walking your dog and he starts to pull toward a delicious-smelling bush. You say “Heel” and he obediently joins your side, following you calmly and happily. He’s just given you respect; so now reward him but turning around and saying “Ok, go sniff!”, releasing him toward the bush! You can almost hear Rufus thinking “Thank you!” as he runs over and finishes his business!
It’s a win-win situation. You have an obedient dog, whom you control yet whom you’ve denied nothing. He gets what he wants, and so do you.
Will it confuse poor Rufus, your first telling him not to sniff, then telling him it’s ok? Not at all – even if you first use a command like “Leave it”, then reward him by giving it to him. All he knows is that you’ve asked him for obedience, he’s done it, and he gets what he wants as a result.
But is that being cruel, to ask your dog to follow and heel before rewarding him with a sniff, or a pee, or play? Imagine the same question with respect to parenting: is it cruel to tell your child that he can only watch TV once he’s finished his homework? Ridiculous. That’s good parenting. He follows the rules, puts in the work, and gets the reward.
The result: not only obedience, but contentment, respect, and trust at the same time.