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What Dieting & Dog Training Have in Common

No I haven’t gone crazy. There’s one important thing that dieting and dog training have in common. Let me explain!

This week I’ve been paying particular attention to loose lead walking with my clients. Not especially because they have been concerned with their dog’s skills in that area, but because they’ve consulted me for other problems which quite often stem from a lack of them.

You see when a dog is pulling on their lead, we are engaging something that is called the opposition reflex. It’s something I use a lot of in agility training when I’m building drive and excitement for a particular behaviour or for a dog’s toy.

The basic premise is that when we hold a dog back from something they want, it supercharges their desire for whatever it is.

Which is fine when I’m deliberately using this in training to generate excitement and enthusiasm. When it’s used like that it can be a lot of fun for both dog and handler 🙂

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Jade epitomising desire as she races to her toy!

But it’s not so good when it’s being switched on and off indiscriminately with a dog that’s being asked to walk quietly and calmly on their lead.

You see when a dog pulls forward on the lead and it goes tight, it’s more than their throat that’s being damaged. It’s also their ability to meet and greet other dogs appropriately.

And when that isn’t addressed by training, it can turn into anxiety and reactivity (barking, lunging, generally appearing quite aggressive) towards other dogs that it meets out and about on a walk. Which is the bit that people tend to contact me for my help with.

This dog is demonstrating what frantic, reactive behaviour looks like 🙁

Because other dogs are likely to be put off by a dog straining and lunging at the end of their lead, perhaps by growling or staring fiercely at the dog in question – thus confirming the lead pulling dog’s fears. And so the emotional cycle continues and gets rehearsed more and more frequently.

And not only that, a dog that is constantly being held back from what it wants either by its lead or some other physical restraint, always has its opposition reflex firmly switched on. Which has the effect of making them appear very manic or suffering from some sort of attention deficit disorder!

But what does all this have to do with dieting I hear you ask?! Don’t worry, I’m getting to that 😉 Quite simply, it’s to do with self-control.

You see successful diets require us to actually follow the instructions in order for them to give us the results we’re looking to achieve. Which requires us to have the self-control to follow the advice the diet offers. But the opposition reflex is often in play for us here too!

You know that list of foods that are banned whilst you’re on the diet, those naughty but nice pleasures that you have to forgo? Doesn’t holding yourself back from them look a lot like your dog’s response to being held back from a tasty treat or their favourite toy?? 😉

This is why dieting for a set period doesn’t work, and it’s also why dog training won’t work if you only do it once a week. It works when it is part of your lifestyle, a series of habits which become naturally ingrained into your everyday activities.

Loose lead walking isn’t important to our dogs. In fact that’s true for most areas where we want our dogs to show some self-control. It’s us that need to set the boundaries for their behaviour, and diligently remind them of them.

To start with, as with developing anything new, changing habits from the ones we’ve been used to is hard going. But it’s definitely worth it – for both your health and your dog! 🙂

Today I’m grateful for how much quicker my dogs pick up self-control in their training than I do in my healthy eating habits 😉

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