For Professional Dog Trainers: The Forgotten Art of Leash Handling – How to Keep Yourself and Others Safe in Aggression Cases

 By Michael Shikashio CDBC

Pop quiz! Do you know your leash size? More on that in a bit…

The recent explosion of online education for professional dog trainers has been a wonderful way to access the most up-to-date, relevant information to enhance our knowledge of training and behavior. Though, one component in this sea of knowledge that has been pushed to the wayside is the art of leash handling.

Those of us that started out with “traditional” methods will remember the leash as more of a training tool. Nowadays, we have many other tools, including the skillful use of reinforcers that make the leash more of a management device. Though, this shouldn’t devalue the usefulness a leash can bring to the table when defensively handling dogs who may bite. A solid grasp of the mechanics of leash handling in aggression cases by professional dog trainers will significantly reduce the risk of dog bites to the handler, other people, or other animals.

With proactive leash handling, it’s all about the milliseconds. To promote safety with ourselves and our clients, we want to buy ourselves “dog bite time.” Holding the leash properly when defensively handling a dog can mean the difference between a full damaging bite or a “swing and a miss” air snap. Much like avoiding a nasty car crash with first-rate defensive driving, the defensive handler buys themselves those valuable milliseconds by being proactive, rather than reactive.

Ok, so what is your leash size? It is the width of a leash that will fit comfortably in your hand while allowing you to quickly use a variety of leash handling skills when necessary. Too wide and it will create folds in the leash which can cost you “dog bite time.” Too narrow and it can cause pain or discomfort to your hand when a strong dog pulls or lunges, or worse, break when you need it most.

Next question in the pop quiz – on what side of your body do you hold the leash? Are you a “cross body feeder” or a “same side feeder?”

When it comes to defensive handling and working with dogs with a history of aggression, it is best to have the leash holding hand on the same side as the dog. Is the dog on your left? The leash should be in your left hand. This buys you valuable milliseconds as it will take less time to tighten the leash for control in an emergency situation (either getting the dog away from someone or another animal, or yourself) than if you have to move your arm all the way across your body — light years in “dog bite time.”

Last question in the pop quiz – will you be able to control a dog better with two hands or one hand on the leash? A common answer would be “two hands of course!” This is only true if both hands are at the anchor point of the leash (the point at which the leash is being controlled). If there is any slack in the leash between the trainer’s hands, then only the hand closest to the dog is truly doing any work. The other hand is simply a “security blanket” at that point.

You can learn more about a variety of defensive leash handling techniques (The Forgotten Art of Leash Handling – How to Keep Yourself and Others Safe in Aggression Cases), including leash locks, leash muzzles, leash harnesses, leash quick shortening, proper positioning, and even proactive handling for busy environments.

Michael Shikashio, CDBC, is the past president of the IAABC and provides private consultations working exclusively with dog aggression through his business Complete Canines LLC. He is a featured speaker at conferences around the world and is sought after for his expert opinion by numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, New York Post, WebMD, Women’s Health Magazine, and Real Simple Magazine.

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