Does an evening stroll with your dog leave you with rope burn on your hands, a sore back and a dislocated shoulder? Do you see other dog owners calmly walking their dog on a loose leash and wonder,”why can’t my dog walk like that?” Well he finally can, using the tools and techniques described below.
Dogs pull on leash because we inadvertently reinforce pulling when we stumble along behind them, letting them pull us here and there. Dogs learn: to get to the interesting stuff, you have to drag mom along behind you. Many dogs come to group class with a long history of pulling so we get to work on fixing this right away. The longer your dog has been pulling you on walks, the harder it will be to change the behavior, but it CAN be done!
There are two parts to fixing the behavior: First, we must not allow the dog to pull to get to where he wants to go. Secondly, we must teach him how we would like him to walk.
There are a number of tools for sale that claim to stop pulling. A front clip harness is the best tool and of the front-clip harness available, I recommend the Freedom No Pull Harness with a double clasp leash. The double clasp leash gives you two points of contact on your dog, one at his chest and one between his shoulder blades. Once your dog no longer pulls, he can wear the leash clipped in the front only.
If your dog wears a harness where the leash clips on the back, this can accidentally encourage pulling. Your dog has an oppositional reflex, meaning when he feels pressure against his chest, he pushes into it. A front clip harness takes the pressure off the chest so as not to trigger the dog’s oppositional reflex. Similarly, when you walk your dog on his collar and it is pulling on his neck, the oppositional reflex is triggered and he pushes back against it.
If you use a tool like a choke chain or a prong collar to stop pulling, your dog can develop other behavior problems as a result of wearing these. Prong collars and choke chains hurt. When your dog feels pain or his air is being cut off, he mistakenly thinks things in the environment are causing this and can become fearful or anxious. Fear and anxiety often manifest as aggression. If you are using one of these tools to stop your dog’s pulling, please consider switching to a Freedom No Pull Harness. Its simply a better choice for your best friend.
Now its time to begin re-training your do to walk on leash. Begin with your dog on your left. Have the leash and the clicker in your left hand. Anchor your hand to your waist. Have treats in your right hand, out of sight on your right side.
Say Let’s Walk and take one step forward. Immediately click and treat while your dog is still at your knee, before he gets ahead of you. Be sure to whisk those treats out of sight immediately after treating. Repeat, gradually adding steps until you are walking short distances. Use a high rate of reinforcement when you first begin the exercise. As your dog gets better at loose leash walking you can give fewer and fewer clicks and treats. Remember to talk to your dog in an encouraging tone of voice. This is not a strict heeling exercise, so as long as your dog is on your left and the leash is slack, you can click and treat him.
If your dog should get out ahead of you, tell him Whoops! and turn in the opposite direction so that you are once again ahead of him. When he catches up to your knee again, click and treat. You can then turn together and continue in the direction you were originally walking.
In the beginning, this exercise must be practiced in a low distraction environment. A hallway is a good starting place. You can then gradually increase the distractions in the environment by working in the living room, then the driveway, and then eventually on the sidewalk. Each time you switch to a more challenging environment, go back to the very beginning: One step, click and treat. Practice this a few times in the new environment before adding more steps. You will get to the level of behavior you had achieved in the old environment quickly. You must give your dog a chance to generalize the behavior to the new environment. The most difficult challenge you will encounter is being consistent in not allowing your dog to pull ahead. When you say Whoops and turn him around, you are in effect using “penalty yards”. You dog learns, every time I lunge ahead, mom takes me backwards. Your dog learns that if he wants to keep going forwards he must keep the leash slack.
A common question my students have is “What do I do when he lunges off to the side to sniff something?” This is an excellent question. Lets be realistic: marching along at your side and never stopping to smell the (pee soaked) roses is boring for your dog. All the good smells are off to the side. So we want to give your dog the opportunity to enjoy sniffing around, but not as a reward for pulling on the leash. When your dog starts to veer off to the side, ask him to Look (a behavior also taught in Basic Good Manners). When your dog turns his head in your direction, mark it with Yes! and then enthusiastically tell him Go Sniff and run over to the smelly spot with him. Now you are using what he wants as a reward for checking in with you.
Here are a few more tips:
- Exercise your dog hard before going out for a walk. This will help take the edge off his energy. You can exercise him indoors by getting him to chase a ball up a flight of stairs. You can purchase a toy called a Flirt Pole which allows you to stand relatively still while your dog runs and chases the toy.
- Walk the same stretch of sidewalk back and forth for the duration of your walk. Each time you pass by the same smell, it becomes less and less interesting for your dog. As your dog becomes less and less distracted by the environment, he will be able to focus better on you and you will have better luck with the training exercise.
- Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise, both mental and physical. Dogs need to run off leash. Two or three leash walks a day is not adequate exercise for a young dog. Dogs also need mental stimulation. Provide puzzle toys for your dog to figure out or teach him some tricks. Training is mental exercise!
The Freedom No Pull Harness is available at Pampered Pets. To ensure a proper fit, please email [email protected] to set up a harness fitting. For a limited time, Pampered Pets will take 50% off the purchase price of a Freedom Harness, if you turn in your dog’s choke chain or prong collar at the time of purchase.
By Pampered Pets Lead Trainer Valerie Balwanz, PMCT, CPDT
Suggest a future training topic or learn which classes are right for your dog by emailing [email protected]