A Pain in the Neck!

Most of us really enjoy going out for a walk, especially being able to sniff around and take our time exploring. However, there is one thing that affects us all that sometimes our owners are unaware of, so today I’d like to explore the real meaning of that well-used expression “a pain in the neck”!

For us dogs this expression has a real significance. When we’re out and about, most of us understand that it’s in our best interest to be connected to our owners one way or another for our own safety (particularly in these times of road rage!) but we also know that it’s not always a pleasant experience.

What tends to happen to our owners is that they don’t always remember that each lead has two ends: theirs and ours! They often aren’t aware of how what they do with their end affects us. You often see them talking to others, and shortening the lead so that they can feel that we’re on the end – even if it means virtually strangling us! When we’re walking along with another dog or person in view, they forget that it is polite doggy language to look away or sniff at the ground, and instead they tend to drag us along or tighten the lead. Could it be that they’re the ones who are frightened of this person or dog approaching? It certainly makes us feel more worried as soon as the lead becomes tight!

Let’s use the example of walking along the street and seeing another dog in the distance. If our owner isn’t sure of what to do, what tends to happen is that they shorten the lead and start walking more quickly. Of course for us quick movements are a real give-away that someone is unhappy or feels insecure. Tightening the lead is uncomfortable for us, restricting the airflow and preventing us from dealing with the situation using our canine skills. Having to cope with the sudden pressure around our throat, the sudden snapping around of our head, or worse, the jerking around of our body does nothing to allay the stress of our fellow canine. Instead it probably confuses them as to our intentions and inflames the situation rather than calming it.

Another problem is that over time this can also pose several real physical dangers, such as to our skeletal system or to our optic nerve, for example. Perhaps we need to remind our owners that even one jerk can give whiplash and cause vertebrae to become misaligned. We should also improve their awareness that our optic nerve runs down the sides of our neck and that sharp or frequent pressure from any collar can affect our eyesight. Our necks are just as sensitive as theirs! Many of our owners are told that our fur cushions the impact of collars, check chains or slip leads but this is one of the many fallacies they hear all too frequently.

So, how can you tell your owner that they are only making matters worse? As always you can start by “whispering”: showing normal subtle behaviour and slowing down, yawning, turning your head or sniffing the ground. These of course, are signs that many of our owners don’t recognise, so we may need to up the ante. You could move on to “telling” your owner that you feel uncomfortable by becoming silly and jumping up or possibly biting the lead. Be careful, though. Many owners don’t understand that we do this because we’re not coping, and they sometimes tell us off.

So, what happens if these strategies don’t work? Well, you can move on to a variety of common behaviours designed to shout at your owner to really get him to listen. Lunging and barking are particularly effective, but are frequently misunderstood, and may get you into trouble.

Why don’t we spend a few moments thinking about what we would prefer from our owners?
First of all, we need to try to help them become more aware of the effects of the lead at our end! I know it’s difficult for them to learn how to keep a slack lead, but it really helps. I wonder how they would feel if the roles were reversed: with a collar around their neck and the lead in our control, how much would they trust us?

Seriously, if you can find a way to help them realise that you need more space when passing other dogs or people on the street, this would really improve the situation. You could also ask them to think ahead a little, especially if you’re not at ease with others or with traffic: we all know that making a curve is a great strategy that we use naturally, so you could encourage them to use that too. It’s also important to show them that if we are left to our own devices, most of us are far more skilled at dealing with situations than are our owners!

A couple of final points. When we feel uncomfortable and vulnerable we often become more defensive or reactive. Well-fitting equipment such as a padded harness that is soft, comfortable and relatively wide can really help us feel more comfortable. It may not change your behaviour, but will certainly help you to relax more. Why not visit our website to find something suitable? You could become the next fashion icon!

And if you think that your owner is open to finding out more about how to help you, why not bring them along to a 1:1 session or one of our courses if you want to your human to learn more.  Sheila Harper Ltd is running many different dog courses about reactive dogs, giving dogs life skills, appropriate canine play, social skills, dog behaviour and communication and much more throughout the spring and summer of 2016.