ALEXANDRIA,VA-Contrary to popular belief, dogs that pull on the leash while being walked do not want to be pack leader, top dog, alpha, or dominant over their human. There is a much simpler explanation: dogs love to be outside and the walk is an exciting part of their day, so the desire to push ahead is very strong.
Dogs have four legs, we have two. They can go faster than us. Dogs also smell things 3,000 times more intensely than humans. If you love bacon as much as my dog does, imagine smelling it cooking ten blocks away.
A leash, although vital for safety, can frustrate a dog because being tied to a person stops a dog’s ability to act naturally—and just be a dog. That said, all dogs should learn how to walk on the leash in a positive way, without being jerked, yanked, choked, or shocked, so that walks can be enjoyable for everyone.
If you are overpowered by your dog’s pulling, if you can’t start to teach him for fear of being pulled over, there are humane equipment solutions to modify the pulling and reduce its intensity while you teach your dog to want to stay closer to you. Two of my favorites are the Sensation Harness and the Freedom Harness, which are both excellent training aids. They take the pressure off a dog’s sensitive neck area by distributing the pressure more evenly around the body.
The way these two harnesses work is that the leash is attached to a ring located on the chest strap and when your dog pulls, the harness will turn his body around rather than allow him to go forward. The whole dynamic of the walk changes. But be aware that some other harnesses have a front ring but are not designed to be a front clip harness and tend to just pull the harness from side to side. They are not as effective.
Don’t use choke or prong collars. These devices inflict pain and can cause real damage to your dog’s neck and spine.
Always have yummy treats to reward your dog when he is by your side. You want him to want to be close to you, with or without the leash. A few training techniques that you can start right away are:
Stop and Be A Tree
Leash pulling often works for the dog because the person reinforces pulling by letting the dog get where he wants to go when he pulls. Change this by changing the consequence for your dog.
Whenever he pulls, immediately stop and stand completely still until the leash relaxes because your dog either takes a step back or turns around to you to say, “Hey, why did we stop?” When the leash is nicely relaxed, proceed on your walk. Repeat as necessary, even if you have to take shorter walks at first.
When your dog pulls, give him a “this way” cue, and walk off in another direction without jerking on the leash. Avoid yanking by making your dog want to follow you with a jolly voice, kissy noise, or a tap on the thigh to get his attention. When he is following you with the leash relaxed, turn back and continue on your way.
It may take a few turns, but your vocal cues and body language will make it clear to him that pulling will not result in forward movement, but if he walks calmly by your side or even slightly in front of you on a loose leash, he will get where he wants to go. You can also reinforce this behavior by rewarding him every time he shows up at your side.
Vary the Picture
Taking the same route every time makes the walk predictable for you and your dog. If he knows where he’s going, he doesn’t need to focus on you. Change it up! If your dog is not sure where you’re going, he will have to pay attention to you.
Praise, praise, praise. The more reinforcement he gets for walking close to you, the more he will choose to do so.
What Not to Do
Do not yank your dog around. It might be tempting to use your dog’s leash to correct him, but doing so doesn’t teach anything past that moment. Rely on teaching him how to behave all the time.
In short, if you let your dog pull you anywhere, pulling will get him where he wants to go. Become a tree or change direction. And sign up for our upcoming single-session “Walking Nicely on Leash” workshop at Wholistic Hound Academy!
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder and CEO of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training and socialization, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.comto enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound and follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/wholistichound.