August 9, 2014
In the dog training world, “Opposition Reflex” is a term used to describe why a puppy first resists the tension of the leash by stopping or pulling away. When tension is applied, a dog’s predatory instinct of fight, freeze or flight kicks in. Many people don’t realize dogs have this reflex or they believe a dog stops or pulls out of spite or challenge. It was discovered by Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) and is discussed in many books since, including a 1996 book by Jean Donaldson, “The Culture Clash”AMAZON BOOKS .
To see opposition reflex in action, just put a leash on your cat. That’s opposition reflex! The more “wild” an animal is, or the more predators an it has, the stronger the reflex will be. Thankfully, dog’s have been domesticated and puppies are fast learners. Through conditioning, patience and trust, this reflex diminishes.
People make the mistake initially when getting a new puppy by placing it on the ground and following it around. Once the puppy can tolerate the collar and leash, the owner then allows the puppy to pull in the direction they want. As the puppy grows and gains more pulling strength, most owners make the mistake of putting these harnesses (that you see on sled dogs), along with a tightly held leash or retractable leash, allowing opposition reflex and the pulling behavior to really kick into gear.
Opposition reflex plays a role initially and throughout their lives, but there are other reason dogs continue to pull on lead. 1) The owner has conditioned them to lead the way 2) They’re being rewarded for pulling 3) Dogs have been conditioned to believe that the harder they pull, the more distance, smells and exercise they get, even if it means choking themselves in the process, and 4) The owners never taught them, in a language they understand, how to walk on a loose leash.
Leash pulling can be counter-conditioned at any age by hiring your local reward / science-based dog trainer.
The earlier you get started, the better.
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