Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Training: Cut Your Dog Some Slack


Puppy on Tight LeashWorking with a fantastic puppy person this week and her happy pup, we head to a pet super store for some socialization and real-world dog training practice.

In the toy aisle, she has her Labrador sit. He sits. She keeps the leash tight.

Ease up just a little,” I suggest.

She tries, her hand does move a bit, but the leash stays tight.

Faced with this sort of moment, I point out the obvious.

Hard to give him slack?” I ask.

It is,” she comments with a slight tone of surprise. “It’s… scary.”

And that is common. People feel like they might lose control of their pup if they relax the leash or it scares them not to be able to actually feel the pup.

I can promise you,” I assure her, “That he isn’t  going anywhere without his head. He won’t get away. Try easing up just a little.”

She does and the pup stands up.

I get a look from my client.

That’s okay, that’s what happens. He’s already learned that a tight leash means control and slack means school’s out. Since our goal is for him to respond as well off leash as on, we need to turn that around. So, ask him again – Simple Sit him this time.

She does. He sits. She gives him a little slack. He gets up. But, after three repeats he stays seated by her side.

She grins.

Well done! You’ve got it!” I applaud her (and him).

It’s a small matter that makes a big difference. When your pup is sitting next to you, make sure the clip of the leash hangs down a bit. Cut him some slack. Not only will he learn to hang out without you having to hang on but it also means that when you do use the leash to communicate with him, even the gentlest touch can be felt and understood.

Now you know!

And, if you like my books. Here are four: My Smart PuppyChildproofing Your DogDogologyTails from the Barkside


  1. HI SARAH! I met you at Groom Expo 3 yrs ago, went to nearly all your seminars that year… i’m sure you don’t remember me, but when you asked what kind of dogs do you typically have difficulty w/their owners, i said small white dogs, you said you too!… i used to train at the Indianapolis Zoo, in marine mammals… You asked me to write you but i havent yet because frankly, so busy raising my kiddos up, (children). now the’re off to college… back 3 yrs ago i was considering doggie daycare. now, am not so sure… IDK. i do know i prefer working with the animal rather than the human.. Humans are so incredibly slow to catch on, and i lose patience with them. have done a little counseling, in home, and it is so easy, but then i keep going over the same stuff and i dont know what to say any more.. anyway, THANKS for sharing the elephant babies playing in the pool… the two adults in back look like they may want to play too. OR, are concerned.
    I am enjoying what you post, and esp. admire your apparent ease of delivery to what surely is a challenging bunch of humans.
    I was the first keeper to start at the then-new Indy zoo in marine mammals. Got alot of blessed experience w/ green animals, our girl cal. sea lions came in at 6 mos., polar bear cubs from alaska at 3 mos., and wild caught A. bottlenose dolphins at estimated 9 mos. to a 2=3 yr old matriarch Nova). After the head trainer (whom i still respect, (Jodi Baker, now curator) and Sr. trainer Allison (totally inexperienced and untalented) had no luck getting Nova to station, they gave her to me, as they didnt like my personality and wanted to get me to shut up. I finally figured out why she wouldn’t station by watching @ underwater viewing windows after i was forced to “cut her off” after she left me 3x.
    She was as matriarch going from dolphin to dolphin around the tank and buzzing their shanks trying to round them up. Eureka! thats why she wouldnt station. she was losing control of her pod. SO… i compromised w/ her and as soon as she stationed, i would move around the pool. Each time she was able to dive, look around, buzz someone and then meet me at next stop. worked like a charm! the stops then became longer, and movements shorter. Voila. we soon were an admirable team and began to make major progress on other behaviors. She was one of four that i was regularly working with. Allison was not happy to see us progressing. Jodi was happy, a lil jealous but as a pro, was supportive. People are people no matter where they’re found.
    anyway, that is one of my best training moments in quite a few w/ many different species, wild and domestic. Thanks for listening. i dont get to share too often because most people wouldnt really appreciate it like a fellow trainer can. I do miss the zoo. However, the satisfaction of running my own business and raising my own kids at home has been more satisfying.
    the thing i really like about your info is that i respect and would agree with everything you say, and you say it so well. I used to train show obedience dobes in the 70s. i no longer feel the urge to make a perfectly parallel sit. I have mini poodles now. Have bred my own line (not very long) for a working and nicely temperament dog that of course has knees. as a groomer i have had enough of health problems that were accepted by the breeder in the name of size , color or other morph (Shih Tzus AAAAHHH) !!!!!
    Have a wonder full day, week month year and lifetime, as i know you will cause you are a very special lady..
    sincerely- Terri = Pink Poodle Custom Dog Salon, Franklin, IN

  2. Hi Sarah —

    Great post! It’s been so helpful and such fun to follow your blog. Would you be willing to write a blog that helps owners train their dogs well despite embarrassment??!! My dog’s only flaw is “Stranger danger.” She sometimes barks at strangers who come close to me or speak to me on the sidewalk. If I ask her to sit, look at me or go down, she does it, but this involves working with the dog and ignoring the person while I get her under control. My desire to be polite and maintain social skills are at odds with good obedience work. I don’t want to stop exposing her to the public, but I need a good line to say to people! Sometimes I say, “please excuse me while I get my dog to quiet down.” Savvy people get that, but some people keep engaging me, or worse, try to engage my Aussie, who doesn’t want to be petted by unknown persons. Like lots of Aussies, she is very affectionate and friendly with people she knows, but is wary of new people. I don’t mind her being aloof, but I want her to be quiet and less stressed around new people.

    Any advice is appreciated!

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