Does your dog pull?

Does your dog pull on the lead? For many dog owners, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” I regularly see dogs hanging on the end of their leads, by their necks, their legs pulling forwards, trying to drag along the ape that’s on the other end of the lead. For many dogs, it matters not if they have some type of noose around their necks and by that, of course, I mean choke-chains or slip-leads and to some extent, flat collars, they still pull like crazy things, being strangled every step of the walk.

I have seen those same owners then yanking on the lead hoping to stop the dog pulling forward, the dog in response to this yank, takes a sudden movement backwards, pauses and then hits the end of the lead and off they go again. I often wonder how these owners would answer if
I asked, “Why are you yanking on the lead?” Because if it’s to stop the pulling, it’s clearly not working!

It’s not easy or much fun for the owners either, being dragged along by a dog can really spoil the enjoyment of a walk. This then can exacerbate the problem, as our owner stops walking the dog as much and when they do, the dog has an even greater desire to move forward and so pulling becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This reduction in exercise for many dogs also coincides with an increase in other undesirable behaviours, such as barking and destructive chewing. Exercise levels are always something I consider when working with behaviour problems.

When I teach classes, along with recall, loose-lead walking is way up there on an owner’s want list. It’s also a skill that many private training sessions focus on; in fact I run specific loose-lead walking workshops because so many people want their dogs to walk nicely with them.

Walking on a loose-lead is actually quite a difficult skill for many dogs to learn and needs a good level of owner discipline.

It’s also not all about the dog that pulls forward; some, like one of mine, just lag behind – he loves to sniff, pee, look down drains and wander at his own pace and this can be just as frustrating.

Now, for me, I have no problem with this and this suits my walk most times, so I am happy for him to dawdle and take in everything his environment has to offer, but when I need to move him more quickly, I need to be able to bring him closer and up the pace.

So why is it so hard for dogs to walk on a lead? And is it reasonable to expect them to do so, for mile after mile of walking?

Have you ever walked with a friend who walks significantly quicker or slower than you do? I know I have. It can be quite a challenge and is tiring just trying to match your pace to theirs. This is what we are expecting our dogs to do – let’s face it, for the majority of dogs, we are just too slow – simple, dogs are built to move quickly across the ground and if left to move at their own pace and not restricted by a lead, most dogs would leave us way behind as they go about their business – is it any wonder they find it hard to walk alongside us!

So, the first thing we need to accept, is that we are going to have to train our dogs to walk happily alongside us, not an easy feat, I can assure you. The next thing we need to do is manage the dog’s pulling when we are not training, this is super important, as we need to stop the dog rehearsing the pulling.

There are a number of options available to manage the dog, some I have briefly mentioned above; flat collars, choke chains, slip leads etc, but these all put pressure on the soft parts of the neck and can cause long lasting damage to a hard core puller, but there are other more humane
and effective ways to manage
the pulling.

My starting point would be one of the many no-pull harnesses on the market, in my opinion, a good harness will have a front/chest connection point and another connection point on the back, couple this with a double ended lead and voila you have power steering for your dog. Some dogs, especially large, powerful dogs, or dogs where there is a large owner/dog weight disparity, in my opinion, can be controlled better using a good quality and well-fitted head collar. Now, not all dogs like having a head collar put on at first, but with a little desensitisation and conditioning, most dogs become accepting of this new sensation and so this can become a really useful management tool.

Now, remember those options discussed only manage the pulling behaviour and are best used for the times when we are not training, we still need to train as it’s only the tool that’s inhibiting the pulling and if we were to take it off, the dog would pull again.

Also when training, I would ask that we consider what the walk is for. For me the walk is about the dog and their needs, it’s not all about me travelling from point A to point B, so that we get to tick the 30 minutes of exercise box. So, in between training sessions, allowing the dog to sniff and wee and explore is vitally important to the dog’s well-being.

So, what are the training options? Firstly, be prepared to take your time – training takes time and it takes time for a dog to learn how to walk with us.

Imagine the dog is walking with you as if the lead was not there, think of the lead as a safety device and avoid dragging the dog around. Training like this will mean that you pay more attention to your dog. Waist belts are brilliant for this exercise, as it gives you hands-free safety.

Think of all your walks as training walks and in the early stages be prepared to not walk very far, you may not even leave your road. By keeping the initial training in as low a distraction environment as possible, you
are removing another competing motivator. In time you can make the environment more challenging.

Tire your dog prior to training; dogs with too much energy often pull. By tiring your dog prior to training, you are going to be at a good starting point. You can do this by playing a game of fetch or other games in the garden.

People very rarely reinforce often enough in the early stages of training, so be prepared to pay the dog frequently for the behaviour you want and you want to deliver this pay in the right place (where you want your dog to be – next to your leg).

So we have highlighted above the basic fundamentals of loose-lead walking, we now need to decide on the methods we will choose to employ while training. I would recommend having a one-to-one coaching session with a competent trainer as they can ensure your technique is correct and make your training more efficient. Let’s face it, in a time where we expect things to happen quickly, efficiency of the training is vitally important.

Puppy Stars provide private training to clients using humane methods and we have plenty of experience teaching loose-lead walking.


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