When you were a kid, you may have played the game in which you used two empty tin cans and some string to make a “telephone” so you could talk to a friend from a distance. When one person spoke into a can, the other person could hear their voice in their own can, and vice versa.
It’s a very simple experiment in sound energy and how waves work — the vibration of one can makes the string vibrate, and this vibration is picked up and amplified by the other can. It doesn’t need any outside energy source or magnets or other tricks.
If you never did this as a kid, I would tell you to try it now just for fun. Except that, if you have a dog, you’re playing the tin can telephone game every single day — or you should be.
In this scenario, you and your dog are the cans and the leash is the string. By holding the leash, you are “speaking” into one can, and your dog is listening at the other end. There’s no outside energy source required because you are that source, and whatever energy you send down that leash is what your dog will “hear” and respond to.
There’s one big difference between you and your dog and the tin can telephone, though. The cans won’t work unless the string is held taut, but if you hold the leash that way, your dog won’t hear you. A tense leash is a tense dog, and a tense dog can act out in unexpected ways, like becoming overexcited or aggressive.
The goal when walking your dog is to have no tension on the leash at all and the first step to achieving this goal is to pay attention to your own energy. If you’re not calm, your dog won’t be either. Think of the difference between a scream and a whisper. You want to use the latter, not the former.
It’s important, though, to not mistake a loose leash for a long leash. Depending on your dog’s size, your leash should be between three and six feet long, and no more. Variable length leads actually prevent communication by giving your dog the illusion of not being connected to you at all, and you should never use one on the walk. You should also never use a harness for a walk because they just send your dog the message “Pull.”
In practical use, the leash is there to keep your dog from running away from you, but in reality it’s doing a lot more than that. It’s through the leash that you and your dog have a constant conversation on the walk, whether you know it or not. What happens at your end affects your dog every single moment from the instant you put the leash on.
One of the biggest problems on the walk that people ask me about is their dogs pulling. When this happens, it’s because you’re not telling your dog not to — or you’re tensing up on the leash and telling your dog this is exactly what to do.
Remember: Your energy is intention times emotion. Before you even start that conversation through the leash, have the intention to be the Pack Leader, then follow through on it with calm, assertive energy. Don’t be frustrated if you don’t get results right away. If your dog is used to pulling you around on the walk, it will take a stronger intention and calmer energy to send them the right message.
Once they get the message, though, and see you as the Pack Leader, the whole conversation changes tone and becomes one of the most pleasant and bonding things you two can do together.
Stay calm, and keep that leash loose!