Is your dog walking you? or How to walk a dog that pulls

I regularly speak with people who complain that their dog pulls when on leash no matter what they do. Walking the dog often becomes a daily battle for these people and this daily struggle starts to damage the dog / human relationship – or they give up on walking the dog, who then often acts out in other ways due to lack of exercise.

The problem is, every time you let your dog walk you, you are teaching them that that is okay. If by pulling they get to sniff what they want and go where they want, you are rewarding them for behavior you don't want. Why would they ever stop if you reward them? On the other hand, how are you going to get your dog enough exercise to pay attention to training if you can't walk him or her?

The first step is to quit rewarding your dog for pulling, unless you want your dog to pull. Now, I'm sure some of you are sitting here thinking – why would I want my dog to pull? Well, if you are reading this, chances are your dog likes to pull, so maybe you'd like to get him or her involved, formally or informally, in a pulling sport like weight pulls, bike- or skijouring, carting or dog sledding. Also, particularly in the beginning stages of teaching your dog not to pull, walking your dog can be very stressful for both of you and it can be hard to get enough exercise in. Finally, learning to pull really helps some dogs learn not to pull. Generally, dogs wear special pulling harnesses for all of the pulling sports. However, you can use any standard harness for those times when your dog is allowed to pull on the leash. If you are going to purchase a harness, I highly recommend the RuffWear harnesses, because they are designed to handle light pulling work and work better than pulling harnesses for walking your dog. You can also use a well fitted dog backpack with a leash loop for this purpose.

Starting right now, the rule is your dog cannot pull unless you say so AND he or she is wearing a harness appropriate for doing so. And put away your retractable leash. Retractable leashes can be useful in some situations, but for the most part they just teach the dog to pull and reward them with a longer leash for doing so.

So, how do you stop your dog from pulling? One solution is mechanical – using a head collar / halter or walking harness. These are devices designed to be comfortable for your dog to walk in as long as they are not pulling on the leash. These can work really well if they are properly fitted to your dog, however if they are not, they can be uncomfortable all the time. Martingale and prong collars can also be used in this way. I highly recommend against using a slip or choke collar, it is too easy to hurt your dog accidentally. If you want to go this method, the Easy Walk Harness seems to give the best results with the majority of dogs. Again, make sure it is properly fitted.

Whether you use a mechanical solution or a plain flat collar, your behavior when walking your dog is crucial. If your dog takes even a step without pulling, you need to give him or her praise and treats (if you are a clicker trainer, click and treat.) Over time you can gradually reduce the praise and treats. For the rest of your lives together, if your dog pulls inappropriately, you need pretend to be a tree or boulder and not reward your dog by allowing him or her to be successful in deciding where you go. If you have taught your dog a no reward signal – like "too bad" – use it. You can also turn around and start walking the other way. Over time your dog will learn that if he or she wants to get anywhere, a loose leash is the only way to do it.

Be patient and over time walking your dog can be an enjoyable experience for both of you. Good luck and have fun!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've got the opposite problem. A dog that sniff every step of the way. It can take hours to get from A-B. I've started dragging him but this is no fun for anyone!