If I were to do a survey of the most common canine issues, one of the top five* would be “I want my dog to stop pulling on walks.” Here are some suggestions that we have used in class that can help you to be more successful walking your dog on lead.
1) Exercise your dog first.
Take Pumbles out in the yard and play chase, or fetch or some other aerobic activity for 15 minutes before you put her leash on. If she is a bit tired or has gotten the willies out first, then she will be more likely to settle into walking nicely on lead.
2) Keep your walks short.
Begin with 15 minutes or less. I would much rather have you take three 15 minute walks rather than one 45 minute walk as this gives you good practice at being on lead, but is short enough to be fun and successful for both of you.
3) Start by walking short distances.
Walk (15-20 feet) then stop, have her sit at side, give her a treat, and then say “Let’s go” and move another 15-20 feet, stop sit, repeat. By having you stop and sit frequently to start, your dog is set up to be successful because you are only going a short distance before you reset. Then, as Pumbles begins to check in more, pay more attention to you, etc, you can begin to increase the distance between sits, until you are hardly stopping at all!
It is easier for your dog not to pull if you walk faster! A dog’s natural gate is a trot, equivalent to a fast walk in humans. It is more comfortable for her than walking or running and is easier for her to settle in to. If you speed up, your dog won’t feel the need to surge ahead of you because you’re right there with her. You can also use speed as a reward or as a tool to get out of sticky situations. For example, the use of speed as a reward may look something like this:
- Pumbles gets distracted.
- I call Pumble’s name and back up a few steps to encourage Pumbles to move towards me.
- Pumbles comes towards me.
- I turn so that we face the same way and I speed up for a few steps to make it rewarding and fun for her to walk with me.
- 6-7 steps later, Pumbles gets a treat.
Voila! I have rewarded and engaged Pumbles with the use of speed and I have rewarded her staying with me with a well timed food treat.
If you feel as though you or your dog are about to lose it stop. Collect yourself. Get situated. Do a sit, a down, whatever you can think of to get your dog refocused before you continue. I would rather you stop and collect and settle yourself than continue walking and allow all heck to break loose as the 2 of you become more and more frustrated and discouraged!
6) Use a lure.
If you really need to get somewhere but loose lead walking is not in the picture, get a fistful of treats, put it right at your dog’s nose, and lead her where you need to go. It’s better that you lure her somewhere and avoid practicing bad behavior than to give up and let her pull or allow yourself to become frustrated!
7) Above all: No violence on the leash. Ever.
If you use jerking, pulling, or tension, to get what you want, then your dog will also use jerking, pulling, and tension to get what she wants. Set the standard and be the example to your dog of how to behave on the leash and what is expected. The calmer you are on the leash, the less stress you are sending down the leash for Pumbles to pick up on and respond to. The more stressed you are, the more stressed she will get. It’s like static on a telephone line: You can’t hear anything, and you can’t send a clear message. So keep it static free and only send the communication you want your dog to have, namely, calmness, peace, rationality, and good decision making.
* The other four would probably be jumps on people, won’t come when called (or won’t listen in general), barks too much, and is too mouthy.
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