A Positive Way to Help a Manhattan Beach Dog Get Over a Fear of the Leash

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 13, 2018

For this Manhattan Beach dog training session we helped 3 year-old Chihuahua / Laso mix Tony and his new room mate Bruce, an 8 month-old Chihuahua / Pit mix who has a fear of the leash.

Bruce had a bit of a rough start to life. He had a few scars on his back due to some negligence from the rescue group and I am assuming he was under socialized based on how twitchy and anxious he was towards unexpected sounds and movements.

One thing I made sure to point out was that anything he was doing when his guardians petted him was what they were reinforcing and amplifying. Petting a scared, excited or anxious dog is probably the most common mistake most people make with their pooches.

To help the guardians stop reinforcing Bruce’s anxiety I went over my petting with a purpose method. I also recommended the guardians start rewarding desired actions and behaviors (like sitting, coming or laying down) by petting the dog within 3 seconds of doing it and saying the command word. I call this passive training.

Petting with a purpose and passive training are probably the two easiest things any dog guardian can do to help motivate the dog towards good behavior.

Although the dogs loved going for walks, attaching the leash was a problem. For some reason, the dogs were anxious about being put on a leash. To help Bruce get over his anxiety of being leashed up, I spent a few minutes showing the humans how to train a dog to develop a Conditioned Emotional Response (CER).

The great thing about creating a CER in a dog is that the dog learns to like the thing they used to be anxious or fearful about. It takes some practice and discipline to not move on to the next step until the dog is completely comfortable. But if the guardians take their time and practice this every day for the next week or two, Bruce should get over a fear of the leash in short order.

Stopping a dog from being afraid of the leash by using this kind of positive dog training is so easy. I hope the above video inspired you to try this technique for any fears your dog has.

After the session, I got a text from the guardians that they got a noise complaint about the dog’s barking. The changes to the leader follower dynamic we introduced in the session should stop this problem, but in the mean time the guardians asked what they could do. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Increase their exercise, especially before leaving them home alone. A tired dog is often a well behaved one.
  • Provide great enrichment, ie things to keep the dogs interested and distracted such as bully sticks, kongs filled with peanut butter (possibly frozen) or treat dispensing toys.
  • Play classical or easy listening music while gone.
  • Avoid farewells. Simply leave the house. If you make leaving an event by repeating a “be good while were gone” message to your dog each time you leave, the dog wont want to see you go.
  • Avoid engaging with the dogs when they are excited upon your return. This makes your return home a bigger deal, i.e., something to get excited about.
  • Practice leaving when you don’t need to go. Step outside after grabbing your keys and other things you usually bring when you leave the house. Stand silently outside your door and start a timer. This way you can see how long it takes before your dogs start barking. Once you know how many minutes it takes before your dog starts barking, you are ready for the next tip.
  • Increase pretend departure times. Once you know how long before your pup starts to bark, do another pretend departure, but come back in one minute before your dog starts barking. Practice this a few times then start adding an extra 30 – 60 seconds for the pretend trip. The idea is to progressively increase the period to time you are gone, but doing so in a gradual way so the dog doesn’t realize its getting longer. If the dog starts barking early, chop down the time you are gone and practice at the previous mark until the dog is calm and quiet a few times consistently before increasing the length of time again.
  • Teach the dog to speak. Once you teach the dog to speak, you can teach it to be quiet. Ask for a bark, then treat your dog and say the command word. Then grab a treat, look right at your dog while you hold still for 2 seconds, then give it another treat and say “quiet.” Repeat a few times, then start adding an extra second to quiet time. This helps you teach your dog the “quiet” command.

By the end of the session, the dogs were already starting to follow some of the new rules we introduced. To hear a summary of the other positive dog training tips I shared with Bruce and Tony’s guardians in this in home dog training session in Manhattan Beach, watch the video below.

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