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How-To: Hold a Leash

The ASPCA’s Trish McMillan Loehr, MSc, CPDT, Director, Applied Research and Behavior, is BACK to blog for you again – this time she’s talkin’ canine communication.

Every time we interact with a shelter dog, one of us is training the other. Unfortunately, when we allow shelter dogs to lean into their collars and drag us along by the leash, the dogs are training us to go wherever they choose. And holding the leash improperly (wrapped around the hand, for example,) can result in hand or wrist injuries.

Good leash skills can help you walk dogs safely and teach them good leash manners.  If you walk dogs on a flat or martingale leash collar, here’s how to hold a leash in a way that gives you more control and more safety.

*Please note, your computer's not broken...there is no audio on these videos!

How to hold a leash:
  • Slip your thumb through the handle of the leash. If you are taking the dog for a sniffing walk on a long leash, or if you have a dog who doesn’t pull, close your hand – and this is all you’ll need to do.
  • If you need the dog to be a little closer to you, loop the leash over your thumb, and then fold it a few times in your hand until you have the length of leash you need.
  • For a dog who is getting overexcited, or who might become aggressive, a shorter leash will give you more control.
  • For maximum control and safety, make sure the leash is coming out of the bottom of your hand (near your pinkie finger) when you are finished folding.
  • If you stop to talk to someone or give the dog a break, either put a foot on the leash or hold it, hands together as though you’re holding a baseball bat, braced against your belly button, so the dog doesn’t continue to pull you around.
  • If the dog is pulling hard, simply point one hip in the direction of the pull, with your legs shoulder length apart. The dog will not get any give in the leash and will likely stop pulling.
If you need to give the dog more leash, you can easily open and close your hand, keeping your thumb through the loop. All of the accordion folds will immediately drop out of the leash, giving the dog the full length of leash, while you still maintain your hold. The leather leash used for this video was quite thick, so the accordion folds are larger than they might be on a thinner nylon or cotton leash. Practice doing the fold shown in the video without a dog at the end until you can do this quickly and efficiently. Remember, if a dog pulls and you bend and give like a willow tree, he will be encouraged to pull harder. If he pulls and encounters firm resistance, as though tied to an oak tree, he will give up pulling more quickly. In the following two videos, we see Danielle Bender of Champaign County Humane Society in Urbana, IL, lead shelter dog Kia to her favorite play area. Compare how Danielle handles the leash in the “willow” hold versus the “oak” hold. If you would like to learn more about dog behavior and leash handling, check out the recordings of the recent webinars in our Canine Communications Series. How does your agency train new staff and volunteers in leash handling? Trish McMillan Loehr, MSc, CPDT, ASPCA Director, Applied Research and Behavior Related Links: Webinar – Canine Communication: Understanding Canine Body Language Canine Communications Series More posts from Trish McMillan Loehr on Shelters’ Edge