As we discussed in the earlier post on this subject Dogs Pulling. How to enjoy a loose-leash walk with your dog. | The Animal Nerd, the first step in resolving the issue of a dog pulling on leash is for both of you to get out the door in a relaxed state of mind, without undue excitement. At the risk of repeating myself, you can’t whip your dog into an excited frenzy and then expect him to behave politely on a walk.
The real fun begins once you and your buddy start your walk. If you are looking for help in resolving a pulling issue, I can assume that the problem is already well established. There are a few things to establish before beginning a treatment for pulling:
First: First, is he just pulling because that’s what he does? Is this just his normal response to being on leash, does he pull you towards something in particular? If he just constantly pulls, or just pulling because he wants to get to the next interesting thing, this is a learned behavior. He has learned that pulling gets him some reward or reinforcement for doing so. He may be getting to where he wants to be, he may be getting attention and feedback from you, he may be enjoying taking you for a run. In any case, he has learned that this is how he should act while on a walk.
Before starting on having him relearn his leash manners, you need to have the right tools.
First of all, use a standard 6-foot leash, a martingale collar and a front-clip harness. I prefer a leather leash, but canvas or any other strong fabric will work just as well. The martingale collar has pieces: a collar that fits over the dog’s head, and a circle of fabric that connects to the lead and gets drawn closed when the dog takes up the slack in the lead. This is not a choke collar – when the fabric circle is drawn tight, it snugs up the collar to the dogs’ neck to prevent him from backing out of it without affecting his breathing.
With regard to the harness, for dogs with thicker coats, an Easy Walk Harness goes on very easily and works well. For dogs with very short coats, like bully breeds, a Freedom Harness is a little more complicated to put on but has a closer fit with felt padding. The key is to fit the harness correctly and snugly, so that you can put two fingers between any of the harness straps and the dog’s skin. And the most important thing is to clip the lead to the front of the harness, on the dog’s chest. I make a habit of connecting the lead to both the collar and the front ring of the harness, simply because they are both only as strong as the plastic clips used to fit them and to hold the harness straps in place. By clipping the lead to both, if one of the clips should break, you still have control over the dog.
The key is to have the lead clipped to the dog’s chest. This way, if he pulls on the lead, he finds himself pulled around to one side, towards you. Never attach the lead to the back ring of the harness unless you are training him to pull something like a sled. Many dogs have an oppositional reflex that leads them to pull forward whenever they feel a weight or pressures pulling them backwards.
How to hold the leash: If you are holding the leash by its loop, or putting the loop around your risk, you are aiding and abetting his pull. By holding the leash in that fashion, you are giving him all the leverage and allowing him to pull your arm out to its full length and pull you off balance. The fact is, unless you have a truly giant dog, you are bigger and stronger and should not be pulled anywhere.
When I’m teaching leash manners, my favorite method of holding this leash is this: Put the leash across the flat of my palm with the loop a couple of inches above the web between my thumb and forefinger and the rest of the leash trailing below the bottom of my hand. Then bring the loop end around the back of my hand and back up from the bottom of my palm, putting the loop around my thumb. This locks the leash in place so the dog can’t pull it away from me, and by having the lead trail out from the bottom of my fist I have all the leverage provided by my back and shoulder muscles. Advantage, human.
Once you’ve established control over the dog’s ability to pull, the next step is to teach him that the real fun lies in staying near you and matching your pace.
The first exercise I use is to simply start with the basics. Start small, in an area with few distractions, leash him up and calmly walk around, changing direction frequently. Every time you change direction, prompt him by saying something like “This way!” or “With me!” (I avoid using “Come!” or any other command that I use for other purposes). And when he joins you in changing direction, reward him with a treat. You can improve this exercise by making a small maze, using whatever is at hand: chairs, folded tables, partitions, etc., and walking him through it, making random turns and prompting him. The result is to teach him to watch you for signals as to where the two of you are going, and reinforce changing direction with you.
Another exercise is the “Lunging Drill”, which teaches him the radius of the leash, and reinforces staying with his handler. Find an open area with a flat surface, fill up your treat bag with his favorite stuff, leash up your dog, and stand in the middle of that space. Show him a treat and gently toss it outside the radius that he can reach while you’re holding the leash. Stand still and let him try to get to it without correcting him or providing any feedback (be a tree). When he stops straining at the leash, praise him and walk him towards the treat. If he starts straining at the leash again, stop and stand still until he allows the leash to go slack again. Then walk him to the treat. Repeat the exercise until he stops straining for the treat and has learned that the best way to get to it is to stay with you.
These exercises should be done for short periods, only about 15 minutes at a time, two or three times a day. Once he has the basic principles down pat, you can take the treat bag with you on your walks and incorporate the direction change game and the lunging game into your walk routine. These simple exercises should increase his interaction and attention to you, and help in having him walk with better manners and without pulling or straining at the leash.
Keep in mind that walks are the high point of his day. He experiences the world through his nose, let him stop and have some good sniffs without being rushed. If he wants to stop and smell something interesting, let him have a few moments with it before prompting him to continue. This will further reduce his excitement level and help him calmly move on to the next fascinating sniff.
In my next post, I’ll address dogs who pulling in reaction to something, which could be a person, another dog, a truck, etc.