Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Training Case Study #1: Dog Scared of Leash


golden retrieverEars-back and wagging, this well-loved Golden Retriever comes to me, smiling as nice dogs can. I greet her warmly; she’s exactly what most people want when they choose this breed.

So, what’s the problem?

It seems, ever since she came back from training, she moves away from anyone holding a leash. Her human is distressed. So am I.

This happened after training?

Yes,” she reports, “They told me she was difficult. She doesn’t seem difficult…

And she’s not. That wording and this result flags me that she had punishment-focused trainers; people who see training as something you do to dogs, not with dog. They focus on ways to “set up” the dog so they can “catch them” doing it wrong then correct them. When training doesn’t go as planned, they do not look at their methods; they call the
dog “difficult”.

This dog is a soft, sweet being. If someone treated her roughly, she probably froze in place or tried to get away. Both reactions, which are different faces of both fear and confusion, can be mislabeled as being “stubborn” or “defiant”. Such a perspective tends to trigger more corrections. When the dog gets even worse that is seen to confirm that the dog is indeed being difficult and a miserable cycle is begun.

What did this nice Golden retriever learn? That leashes are dangerous and people carrying leashes are even more dangerous.

My job? To change her mind and, in so doing, remove this fear from her life. Here’s the short course of what I did.

1) Fold the leash up in my hand so it is less scary to the dog. Get a pocket full of truly tempting treats. (Freeze-dried lung is one of my favorites.)

2) With the folded leash behind my back, happily and casually walk up to the dog as she presses herself against the garage door. I praise her as I approach, stand with my side to her, hand her a treat and walk away immediately. That is key with fear – come then go. Do not linger.

3) Now repeat only I bring the leash out to my side – give the treat – go away. Repeat until she is okay with that.

4) Repeat only bring the leash more in front of me – still folded – and pause. If she glances at it – treat then go.

Proceeding along this course she starts to tentatively nose the folded leash in less than 10 minutes. I give her a break. When working with fear, I allow the dog to rest and process frequently.  I use such time to  review the session so far. I know I am on the right track because she is calmer, more relaxed and more responsive.

It took three short sessions but, by the end,  I could rub the leash all over her body and she no longer fled at the sight of it.

So that’s a quick overview of Dog Training Case Study #1 – ask any questions and comment below. I am happy to explain, review, or suggest. All dog people – whether pet lovers or dog pros – are welcome to weigh in. – Sarah


  1. Great advice! Dogs want some structure, but as you point out, training is not something you do TO the dog, but WITH them.

    On another note… I had no idea that freeze-dried lung was a “thing.”

  2. Exactly, Jeff.

    And discovered the lung treats years ago: dogs love’em, very tummy friendly, and full of good joint support nutrients. Just used them today while working a dog who didn’t want to get in the car.

    Where are you on your hike? Can you share a link to your blog here? Your pictures are so spectacular!

  3. My heart aches when I read this. It’s a wonderful story of trust revisited and a word of caution for people who’d like to send their dogs out for training. I avoid anyone who uses negative superlatives to describe a dog/puppy’s behavior. Dog’s aren’t hyper- they’re passionate. Their not difficult, they’re distinct. In face this is my leading test of a colleagues professionalism- is the cup half full, or brimming over? As trainers we are licences to influence both the dogs and the people we come in contact with. We must help people find the spark and passion in their dogs. Thanks for sharing this story Sarah– I will share it with my followers!

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