Leash-handling is not where most of us put our attention, however, it is one of the most important parts of working with a reactive dog. Having a somewhat choreographed system makes leash-walks far more manageable and safe. The last thing we want is to have our dog yank the leash out of our hands and take off after the trigger, or, drag us face-first down the street.
Having the right tools is important, but using them correctly and proactively is even more important.
Let's look at a few images:
The Holy S#!% Handle
The first is the way many people choose to hold their leash. "The tighter the better", right?
Wrong. This is one of the more dangerous ways to hold a leash, especially if you have a large or strong reactive dog. If the dog pulls hard enough and fast enough, your fingers can be easily crushed or broken, OR you can sustain a degloving injury. Don't look that one up. Just trust me. You don't want it. Many times, clients have come into our Cranky Canine class with their fingers broken and wrapped for this very reason. Don't be like them!
The Carefree Catch
This is not the worst... As long as you can easily shorten the leash quickly. But...there is no backup here - if you drop the leash, it's gone. That's the biggest downside. This is how you should hold the leash if you are very comfortable in the environment and your dog is not a puller/lunger.
You will likely be holding the slack of the leash in your other hand, which means that you have no hands left for feeding or proper defensive handling.
The Loose Loop
This is typically the way I hold a horse's lead as it's nice and relaxed. This is just fine as you are holding up the slack from dragging on the ground or tripping up you or your dog. You can adjust the slack to be longer and allow for freedom and sniffing, or you can gather it up to be shorter if need be.
I don't feel as though I have enough control with this on a busy street or typical trigger environment, so I tend to avoid this unless I'm in a really safe zone.
Alternately you can hold the slack of the leash this way if the handle is attached to your body through a hands-free waistband or an umbilical leash.
The Leash Lock
This one is by far my favourite if you can practise this and get really comfortable getting in and out of it. It's comfortable if you have a nice, soft leash (cotton, nylon, leather) that is not too thick.
Drape the handle over your thumb, pinch the leash (with your free hand) 1 to 1.5 feet down from the handle and drape that pinch over your pointer finger. All the slack should be wrapped up in your fist.
Nothing is going to pull this leash out of your hand and your hand is less likely to get injured. If you need to drop the slack, it's easy to do so with a quick opening of your hand while the handle remains connected to you.
I recommend having the leash in the opposite hand to the dog so that you've got the leash on one side and the dog and treat pouch on the opposite side. This means you don't have to twist your body to get the food to the dog!
Walk down the leash
If you need to quickly shorten the leash, don't wrap it around your wrist! Instead, practice walking your hands down the leash like this: