Critter Culture
How To Respond to Dog Opposition Reflex

How To Respond to Dog Opposition Reflex

Critter Culture Staff



Human beings evolved to move, and so have our canine companions. Dogs need frequent walks for their physical and mental health and having a dog is an excellent excuse to get outside and exercise. But dog walking isn't always straightforward and fun, and oppositional reflex is one of the reasons why.


What is dog opposition reflex?

It's a fancy way of saying that your dog leans into pressure and constantly pulls on its leash when you take it for a stroll. Walks are exciting and arguably the best part of a dog's day. Puppies figure out early on that their senses will lead them to snacks or social encounters if they just pull. Dogs also happen to be faster walkers than humans, so they want you to keep up, slowcoach.

Playful chihuahua puppy pulling on a leash Belikart / Getty Images


What's the root cause of opposition reflex?

Opposition reflex is awkward and inconvenient for dog owners, but it reflects every animal's desire to be unconstrained. The renowned Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov—yes, the Pavlovian conditioning guy—also referred to the phenomenon as the Freedom Reflex. Your dog isn't being willful to frustrate you—it's just a keen bean that loves exploring and has strong predator instincts.

Big dog is dragging pet owner in autumn forest Zbynek Pospisil / Getty Images


Begin on the right note

When you first get your dog, work on reliable recall and getting it to come to you when you call its name. When you start scheduled walks with off-leash ambles, your dog will know to return to your side for a treat after bounding ahead. After moving on to leashed walks, respond to a pull by moving forward to gain some slack and calling your dog's name. When your fur baby turns, make eye contact and pile on the encouragement.

person walking dog on a leash alexei_tm / Getty Images


Obedience commands for the win

woman training dog on a leash

Basic obedience training also provides a solid foundation for ideal walk behavior. If your dog learns commands such as 'heel,' 'stand,' 'leave it, and 'no,' you improve communication and enhance understanding. You'll need lots of treats at the outset, and your vet or pet nutritionist will be able to advise you on how to adjust meals and calories to accommodate these positive reinforcement aids.


Halt in response to a yank

Your dog is restless, has pent-up energy, and wants to keep moving. If you suddenly stop every time it pulls forcefully, it will learn the consequences of tension in the leash and loosen up rather than dig its feet in. The leash should take the shape of a C or a J. Alternatively, do a U-turn when the leash gets tight and reward your dog for changing direction.

dog on a leash AarStudio / Getty Images


Do practice drills

First, practice holding the leash. Pull your thumb through the loop and let the leash cross your palm before closing your fist. Hold your hand near your abdomen, and keep the other hand close to your pocket where you keep treats. Head to your backyard or hallway where it's calm with few distractions, and practice leash walking drills with your dog.

Low section of woman outdoors with her dog for a walk Grace Cary / Getty Images


Try a hands-free leash

If you don't have back issues, you may benefit from using a hands-free leash. It attaches to a belt slung around your hips, so you can stress less about losing hold of the leash. There are also versions on the market that use your palm as an anchor and employ elastic tabs to absorb the impact of your dog pulling forward.

woman running with her dog on a hands-free leash Zing Images / Getty Images


Provide additional cues

Try and make your intentions as clear as possible, given the inter-species language barrier. When your dog tugs on its leash, make your footsteps land loudly with a thud before coming to a stop. With time, your heavy steps will give your dog a heads-up, and it will reduce the distance between the two of you before the leash pulls taut.

woman walking dog on a leash Westend61 / Getty Images


Be kind

Using some of the techniques outlined above, you can avoid aversive dog tools such as painful prong, choke, and shock collars. These tools pose a health risk and don't actually teach Fido a skill. You can better amend your dog's behavior through positive reinforcement, a more humane training approach that promotes optimal long-term behavioral outcomes.

man petting dog FotoimperiyA / Getty Images


Enlist the help of a trainer

Watch YouTube videos to learn leash-walking tips and tricks. You'll have to exercise patience—skills take time and consistency to acquire. If you're struggling, get in touch with a professional so you can take doggy to a class or chat about your specific issues via a video call. Eventually, you'll stop getting blisters on your hands, and outings at the park will become welcome breaks away from your phone or work.

Dog looking at food held by female owner at park Kentaroo Tryman / Getty Images


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