I love walking my dogs, whether they are dragging me down the street or walking pleasantly beside me. While obviously one scenario is more pleasant than the other, I take great joy walking my dogs either way.
This is not always the case for everyone else though. One question I get asked the most is, “how do I get my dog to stop pulling on the leash?” For most people being dragged down the street is unpleasant or uncomfortable but for many others it can be down right dangerous.
Out of my four dogs, only one pulls on leash while out walking. He is my 12 year old lab mix who is roughly 55-60 pounds. Years upon years ago I gave up the struggle of trying to teach him how to walk well on leash. When I adopted him I was a novice trainer and only had a few tricks up my sleeve to get the job done right (I have a lot more now) and I enjoyed long walks (we are talking hours) and I simply was not going to sacrifice those walks in order to take the time to teach him proper leash skills. This was my problem not his and being that he is 55-60 pounds and I am 160 pounds, well, simply put, I have the strength to physically control him.
Many others can not say the same. In order to even get to a point that you can walk your dogs pleasantly, let alone to the point of enjoyment, one must invest the time, energy and sometimes money. Money is a pretty easy fix. On the shelves of just about every pet retail store you will find a slew of different products all designed to help you gain control over your dog while in public, such as being on a walk. From gentle leader head halters, to easy walk front clip harness to more traditional style collars such as prong collars and choke chains. All of these devices are lumped into one category: TRAINING AIDS.
I caps those last two words not to yell at you, but because I want to make clear that they are aids, meant to help you on your training journey, not complete it. Nothing can replace solid training and depending on a tool to do all of the work for you is just not going to cut it.
The first two items in your loose leash walking training, time and energy, are the parts most people struggle with. Out on my morning walk this morning I was on the parks trail a little behind another person out walking their dog (she is who inspired this blog). I watched her several times take her phone from her pocket, type and put it back. It must have been a dozen times. Obviously she was texting. Where does this leave the dog? Well on an easy walk harness, forging forward sniffing every blade of grass. Not a single ounce of attention was paid from the owner to the dog, or the dog to the owner. They were on the same trail, attached to the same leash but they were not together.
In my training classes I like to paint a mental picture for people so they can fully appreciate why this is kind of a sad scene for me. I like to say, “I can be sitting in the same room as my husband but he is more with his xbox than he is with me.” Now everyone needs time to themselves and you don’t need to be paying attention to your spouse, or anyone else you have a relationship with, 24 hours a day. We all need time to just be us, but if I were to go to dinner with my husband and he was on his phone or game system all night and I was essentially at the dinner table by myself, well I would be a bit upset. Sometimes you just have to be in the moment with someone.
The one thing I can say to this girls credit, at no point did she get frustrated with the dog. Maybe she was like me and enjoyed walks with her dog regardless of how badly he pulls. He wasn’t pulling as badly as I have seen other dogs so perhaps, this was not so bad to her or maybe they have made leaps and bounds in their training and this was a fine stopping point for her. Either way, if it is something that does not bother you and does not pose a threat to the dog or the public then it really doesn’t matter so long as you and the dog are happy.
It only matters if the dog, public or owner are at risk for injury, illness, or psychological trauma. However, if you are like the millions of people looking to walk with a dog that does not pull and walks generally close to you I highly recommend seeking a trainer that can help you establish four things:
1)Positioning-In order to begin walking we need to teach our dogs where to walk, most commonly know as heel position, and how to get there, to find that spot on their own. I begin by luring my dog with a treat or toy to my left side and facing the same direction. Once there I will lure them back to come position (directly in front of me) and back to heel. I reward each time they get to my left and to my front. I repeat this several times in a 2-5 minute session. You can even use leash pressure to move your dog from one position to the other and, in fact I recommend in some sessions luring and in some sessions using leash pressure.
2) Leash Pressure-This helps us to override our dog’s natural opposition reflex, the reflex that actually tells them to pull harder on the leash. A dog’s opposition reflex is the reason so many people complain that their dogs will pull even if they are chocking themselves. Leash pressure helps us to communicate to the dog that when the leash gets tight instead of pulling harder against it, to move in the direction the leash is pulling. This will help us to move our dogs back in to the correct walking position. Properly established leash pressure also allows us to communicate with our dogs through minute tugs rather than leash pops, essentially allowing for us to use fewer, if any, corrections in our training.
3)Lure Your Dog Along-Play games with your dog in the house, back yard and front yard where you lure your dog along with you. If in the house or in a fenced yard you can even lure them along without the leash, helping to establish that they need to walk with you even if they don’t have a leash on. Slowly, over time, fade out the lure.
4)Walk Nice Toward Things-Set up games where your dog has to walk with you toward things that they want (I recommend on leash). It can be their food bowl, a toy, a pile of treats, another dog etc. The list can go on and on. Whatever your dog wants, have them walk nicely beside you in order to get it. In the back of my facility there are some woods and a creek. My German Shepherd just loves to play in the creek. In order to do so we have to walk to that creek side by side. If ever she breaks from position I immediately turn around and head back the way I came, just for a couple of paces. Once she is next to me and I have her attention we head back toward the creek. If the item is something your dog really wants more than the world you may be turning around a lot. If it is something mildly stimulating to your dog you may have to only turn around a couple of times. Practice with both levels of stimulation so your dog learns, regardless of how excited they are, all good things come through you and in order to get things they want they first have to do things you want. All four items can take a long time to establish (we’re talking months) and training collars can expedite that process but all four items should be well established long before you take your dog on an actual walk, where you are going to expect them to understand what is expected of them. Simply put, it is unfair to expect your dog to know how to walk with you and to tune out the exciting world around them if you have not put in the leg work and time to teach them just what is expected of them when outdoors, in public and on a leash.