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   Oppositional Reflex in Canines


Dogs exhibit a natural response to pressure known as opposition reflex, where their instinct is to push against a push and pull against a pull. Many pet owners find this challenging, especially when dogs keep pulling on the leash during walks. When dogs are new to leashes, they may react with fight, flight, or freeze responses. Understanding why this occurs and how to prevent it is crucial. The primary trigger for this behavior is a taut leash. Therefore, it is essential to maintain a loose leash while walking. If your dog pulls and the leash tightens, remember to Stop, turn, or establish eye contact. Once your dog learns to stay close and walk with a loose leash, you can gently correct any necessary pulls with the leash and then release the tension. Here are some useful techniques to address leash-pulling behavior in dogs.

  • Begin by teaching your dog the "close/heel" position at home off-leash using a U-shaped lure to guide them behind and then next to you. Mark with “yes” when they are positioned next to you with their head held high beside your thigh. Reward them in position, then toss a treat to reset them in order to repeat the process until they grasp the desired position.

  • Progress gradually by rewarding your dog for staying close as you take a few steps at a time, increasing the distance gradually. Practice side steps and pivoting movements to ensure your dog maintains the position.

  • If your dog falls behind, gently tap your thigh as a reminder of where they should be.

  • Signal to your dog by making your steps heavier and slower when they begin to pull, indicating that you are about to stop or correct them. This cue helps them understand and gives them a chance to slow down before any corrections are made.

  • If a gentle leash correction doesn't deter pulling, stop walking instead of repeatedly pulling on the leash. Halting movement teaches the dog that a loose leash allows them to keep walking, while a tight leash prevents forward progress. Consistency is key – avoid allowing pulling at times and then enforcing strict rules later, as this can confuse and frustrate your pet.

  • If your dog starts pulling, try saying their name to get their attention. When they look at you, they naturally slow down and stop pulling. However, if your dog is highly distracted or fixated on something, avoid using their name as they may not respond.

  • Bring your dog's kibble or treats on walks and reward them whenever they stay close to you or give you engagement. This reinforces the positive association of sticking by your side. You can even practice this off-leash in the yard.

  • Teaching the command for "heel" or "close" involves keeping your dog at the hem of your pants, without walking ahead or wandering off to sniff. This structured walk requires full engagement. Initially, practice short sessions with frequent breaks to prevent frustration. Once your dog understands the concept of walking close, gradually increase the duration they maintain that position.

  • Avoid Retractable Leashes: Retractable leashes pose various risks, potentially harming people or dogs if tangled. They can also reinforce the behavior of pulling for more freedom. Handling off-leash dogs can be challenging with retractable leashes in crowded areas. Consider using them for trained dogs in controlled settings, but avoid using them in busy public places.

  • Engage with Figure 8s: Utilize Figure 8 movements to slow down your dog and encourage them to focus on you during walks. Perform Figure 8 patterns before walks to promote interaction and a loose leash. By swiftly moving in a Figure 8, your dog will naturally walk with you and look up, enhancing engagement.

  • Implement U Turns: Use U Turns to regain engagement and maintain a loose leash when your dog pulls. Offer praise when your dog returns to the desired position after the turn.

  • Practice Auto-Stops/Sits: Teach your dog to sit automatically when you stop to instill calmness in the absence of movement. Encourage sitting every time you stop to establish a sense of calmness during pauses.

  • Once your dog shows excitement and drive for a close walk, maintain a structured heel for about 60-70% of the walk. Towards the end, use the cue "break" to indicate to your dog that they can enjoy a more relaxed walk with some freedom. During this part, they can walk ahead as long as they remain calm and keep the leash loose, allowing them to sniff as they decompress. Remember, decompression walks are just as crucial as structured walks, but it is important that they earn this freedom walk.

  • After your dog understands the difference between structured and freedom walks and demonstrates good leash manners, gradually introduce more freedom walks. You will notice that they will choose to stay near you and remain calm even during freedom walks. You can mix it up with 50/50 walks, 20/80 walks, or opt for all freedom walks and switch to a structured walk only when encountering distractions or busy areas.

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