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Monday, 11 February 2013

Lead the way forward

Hi, can any of your readers offer me any advice please.

This is Missie, she's 17 weeks today. I had her 5 weeks ago from a lady who had bought her and her brother but couldn't keep them both as they kept fighting. I have 4 other dogs and she has settled in very well with them.

She had her 2nd vaccination 3 weeks ago and as yet I've been unable to walk her as she's terrified of the lead. She's fine in just a collar or just the harness but as soon as she sees the lead she starts to shake. A friend suggested attaching the lead for short intervals while she's playing in the house, but this is still her reaction as soon as it goes on. I really don't want to frighten her anymore than she already is but I would love to be able to get her to walk with the other dogs.

Janette Murphy, via Facebook

Karen Wild, behaviourist, advises…

Hi Janette,

Poor thing! Try first of all to work out if it is the lead being attached that she fears (and has learned to hide as a result of it), or perhaps she is completely unfamiliar with any lead, or is avoiding someone coming towards her. It might even be the sound of the clip that sometimes affects dogs.

First of all, forget about leads being attached altogether. Sit down with some really nice, smelly treats and just practice offering her a treat with one hand and letting her take it. Then have any long piece of webbing, even twine or string, with no clip and hold that in the other hand close to your body and still allow her to come forward and eat a treat. Next, assess if it is your hand movement towards her with that webbing that sends her into a stress reaction (licking, turning away, shivering). If so, we know that she needs to learn that hands approaching are not a threat, so pair this with tasty treats until she learns to stay calm. If she does not react to either of these it may be the lead clip or even if the lead you are using is just too wide when it is attached. Again, go to an easy stage by just holding treats in one hand and having a much thinner lead in your lap, or even the actual lead but do not try to reach her with it. Decide if it is the clip, the lead, the noise, and pair each element with enjoyment; if she loves a toy, pair it with playtime! Take your time and if possible, leave the lead lying around so she can just see it and get used to it when you are not there.

Never progress the training if she starts to shake or look worried. Stop immediately and re-think what you are doing. We need to change her emotional response to the lead and as you sound like a patient and caring person, it will not be long before she learns not to just accept this but actively enjoys it too.


  1. Try making it a 'fun' thing, use treats with her, take it slowly, put a treat in your hand and the lead on the floor, tempt her over with a treat, repeat this lots of time, then once she is used to that hold the lead in the same hand as your treat, once she is used to that, hold the treat in your hand and take it nearer to her collar, etc, etc, if you work slowly and repeat things many times and ONLY graduate to the next step when she is 'confident' then she will gradually get used to it xx

  2. Hiya,
    Put the lead on the floor and put a trail of treats up to it and around it, then pick up the lead, give her a treat and put the lead down, basically just build up as positive association with the lead as possible. Once you notice her not react as much to the lead when she sees it, feed her some really yummy treats from your hand and move the lead towards her slowly. If you notice her react then dont go any further, work on this each time until you can get the lead closer to the body and eventually clip it on, once it is clipped on make every experience on it pleasurable and rewarding.

  3. How about tying a very light piece of string to the collar/harness while indoors (not for outdoor walking!)? If she's ok with that, you can gradually make it longer & use something heavier, with you holding it so she gets used to the feel of the tension in it... Just a thought. Hope you get Missie out for a walk soon!

  4. Associate lead with good things eg top dollar yummy treats. leave lead on floor, if she looks at it say 'Good' and treat, every look is treated, if she goes near it, say Good and treat, leave it on floor nearby when you feed her, hold lead in your hand and treat her with other hand when she approaches. Next level touch her with lead gently, 'Good' reward. Slowly get her used to associating lead with good things. Take it very slowly, lay lead on her back, reward, hold lead in hand, not attached and lure her with treats to follow you with lead next to her. Next, hold collar, clip lead on, reward, unclip lead. For whatever reason this little girl associates the lead with something frightening, you need to show her that it leads to great things ie rewards and eventually walks. At no time force her to the lead, she needs your reassurance and patience to help her. Hope this is useful for you.

  5. It sounds like you need to create a positive association with the *sight* of the leash, before you can move on to creating a positive association about being leashed.

    To do this, get some really yummy treats - sausage, cheese, chicken, liver (whatever Missie likes best). Make sure the leash is out of sight, and take Missie, on her own, to where it is (e.g. the kitchen). Without fuss, pick the leash up and toss treats towards Missie. Do this together just for a second or two, then put the leash away and let Missie go do whatever she wants (within reason!). Do this a couple of times a day, always making sure that your other dogs can't get in the room, and she should soon start looking towards seeing the leash. At this point, you can keep it in sight - and keep feeding her - for a little longer; always wait until she's happy with the new length of time until you increase how long she can see it for.

    Once she's happy in it's presence for 30 seconds to a minute, gradually start to move it a little, and quietly flick the clip, while still feeding. When she's happy with that, you can start moving towards her as if you're going to clip her lead on, and then actually clip it on before letting her drag it around the house, all the while ensuring she's still getting tasty treats.

    It seems like quite a long process, but it shouldn't take that long, providing you don't rush her, and you use really yummy treats.

  6. You must very gradually desensitize Missie to the lead. For whatever reason (I dread to think) it appears she has negative associations with this lead. Use very small treats for a dog this size and reward her gradually for being near the lead. You might start with it being on the floor the other side of the room, then gradually nearer so she associates the lead with positive things happening when the lead appears. Don't force her you you will be back to square one.
    Sarah Morris DipCABT

  7. Hi, let her play in her harness and try just picking the lead up, putting it on the floor and affering her a treat, slowly getting the treat nearer to the lead so she has to come nearer to it in order to get the treat. Make a big fuss of her if she remains calm, if she does not interact or shakes, show no emotion and put the lead up out of sight. repeat this 6+ times a day and she will hopefully begin to associate the lead with a treat and some fuss. When she appears comfortable try clipping the lead on her harness, just for 10 seconds, and continue to fuss and treat her, when she has accepted this move, extend the time the lead stays on until she is happy wearing it in the house, then slowly start picking up the lead, holding it for short period, again using treats and fuss and continue the process in very small steps, ie, walking accross the lounge with you holding the lead, taking her into the garden, in and out of the front door, only moving to the next stage when she is clearly comfortable. It may be a very long process, but if you try and rush / force her she may never overcome her fear or it could get worse.

  8. Hi, all good advice you've been given but somewhere I've seen a collar which includes a sort of 'pull-out lead'. I don't think you'd want to use it forever but it might get her excited about walkies and with the desensitisation programmes suggested I'm sure she'll be out and about pretty soon

  9. It maybe worth starting again with a new lead that appears very different to the lead that she currently has such a bad association towards. Try and find lead that looks very different (colour/texture etc).
    initially start off with the new lead on the floor near her food bowl at dinner time. As she eats her food, the lead is near. As soon as she has finished her food, remove the lead from view. After a few days of her eating near her lead, gently clip it on at dinner time, as she is eating but unclip it after only two seconds. Gradually build this time up until she completes her whole meal whilst wearing the lead.
    You can then attach the lead and start hand feeding her dinner and perhaps moving around the house with the lead on. One step and a piece of kibble, two steps and a piece of kibble and so on.
    The idea is to build up a positive association to the lead but it has to be done very slowly, very gently and without too much stress and anxiety.
    A qualified dog trainer can help you at your home if necessary. Visit the website for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers to find a trainer near you.