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Those of us who have a dog that pulls at the leash know how much of an ordeal it can be to simply go for a walk with your dog.
You clip on the leash and get your mind and your arm ready for being dragged down the street again. This is a daunting reality for many dog owners and can be a huge strain on your relationship with your dog, as well as potentially being a safety concern for both of you.
There is good news, however. There are a number of training games to help you teach your dog to stop pulling on the leash and walk nicely at your side, with the leash hanging loose in between you.
Here are some pointers to help make this idyllic dream a reality for you and your hound.
There are a number of reasons your dog could be pulling at the leash during your walks. Trying to figure out the reasons behind his behavior is a good idea; you can then tailor your training to his specific needs, to address the cause of his pulling, rather than simply using a no-pull harness to keep him under control.
Here are some common reasons dogs behave poorly on a leash.
Most of the time the owner is the one who speeds up and ends up being dragged down the street, while the dog gets exactly what she wants: to sniff at an interesting spot, to get to their favorite place to play fetch or to eat a really gross piece of garbage in the street! Dogs also have a reaction to resist the pressure they feel coming from the leash, which can lead to a nasty cycle of pulling.
Many humans cannot keep up with their dogs preferred trotting pace without jogging along. Even small dogs can move at a speedy clip! This mismatch can make walking with your dog a struggle.
There are so many new scents to sniff, the sounds of birds, cars, and people, and the neighbor walking their dog on the other side of the street! For many dogs, especially if they spend all day indoors while you’re away at work, walks are simply exciting and rewarding enough to elicit this negative behavior.
This excitement category can also be extended to reactive or aggressive dogs that lunge and pull at the leash as part of a negative response towards dogs, people, or other stimuli that overwhelm your dog and make her lose control. Reactive dogs are particularly daunting to walk, because having an out of control, lunging dog at the end of your leash is scary and potentially dangerous for you and others around you, especially if your dog is a large dog.
You shouldn’t have to dread taking your dog for a walk! You can train your dog to stop pulling and walk calmly by your side. There are a number of training techniques and exercises to encourage good behavior, as well as a variety of harnesses, halters, and collars designed to discourage pulling (although they do not really modify your dog’s behavior, they can be a helpful tool to keep your dog under control until he is well trained.)
Loose leash walking is a good skill for every dog to learn, regardless of how much he pulls on the leash. Owning a well-behaved dog is an absolute joy, and it will make your walks safer and more enjoyable. Good leash behavior is an attainable goal for almost every dog, provided you are willing to put in the time and work required by consistent training.
As I mentioned above, using a no-pull harness can be a useful tool to aid training, but it does not change your dog’s behavior. A no-pull halter or harness simply gives you a mechanical advantage over your dog, and therefore more control during your walks.
This can be a good advantage if you own a large, strong dog that drags you down the street or a reactive dog who might lunge if she is surprised or scared. There are a variety of harnesses, head halters, and collars that can aid you in training your dog to walk nicely at your side.
The idea behind using a head halter to discourage pulling is that while a dog can thrust their entire body weight into pulling on a harness attached at the shoulders, they cannot put that much force behind their head.
Halters usually have straps that go around a dog’s muzzle, behind their ears, and attach to a leash at their throat. This design puts pressure on your dog’s muzzle when he pulls and results in his chin being pulled down or to the side. Do not pull or jerk on a dog with a head halter, rather gently guide them to avoid injury to their head and neck.
Properly fitting a halter around your dog’s face so that it doesn’t ride up into your dog’s eyes, or slip down off his muzzle. One downside of a head halter is that many dogs do not want to wear them. It is important to take the time to slowly teach your dog to get used to having a halter around his face. Be patient, use a lot of dog treats, and never simply force to halter on over your dog’s head!
Harnesses that use a front clip or compression are intended to prevent your pup from pulling on her leash. A front clip harness (one where the leash attaches at the dog’s chest) discourages pulling by making it easy to redirect your dog’s attention.
A dog pulling on a leash that is attached to her chest will be pulling sideways; this decreases the strength with which she can pull, and it makes it easier for you to gain her attention. A compression harness tightens when your dog pulls, and this unpleasant sensation discourages pulling.
There are a number of collars that are designed to stop your dog from pulling at the leash, but some options, such as prong collars or chain collars, can injure your dog if used incorrectly.
Correctional collars such as these should only be used by an experienced owner who knows how to properly use them. In fact, using any collar to walk a dog who pulls can cause neck injuries if you are not careful. However, there are a few training collars designed to tighten, but only to a certain point, to prevent your dog from choking himself when he pulls or lunges on the leash.
When teaching your dog loose leash walking, patience is key! Give yourself time to wait until your dog has calmed down. Walks are exciting, and it can be frustrating to keep trying to get your dog’s attention if there is time pressure.
If your dog gets really excited and barks whenever you pull out or attach the leash, wait until she has calmed down to clip on the leash, and make sure she’s calm before you step outside. Reward your dog with a walk for calm behavior; taking her out while she is jumping and barking will only encourage her inappropriate behavior during walk time.
Here are a couple training exercises that will help your dog develop good walking behavior:
This technique teaches your dog to yield to small amounts of pressure on the leash. Start indoors, in a familiar, fairly boring place. Once you have waited for your dog to calm down, clip on her leash. If things are calm, apply a small amount of pressure in one direction and wait for your dog to move in that direction, or even shift her weight that way. Tell her “yes!” or “good!” or click if you are clicker training, and reward her with a treat.
Repeat this process until your dog readily responds to pressure on the leash. Once she is consistently exhibiting this behavior in the boring room, take your training sessions somewhere more exciting, such as a room with more distractions, or outside on your street, if it is not overwhelming to your dog. Gradually work up to training with more and more distractions. Remember to reward your dog for following your guidance, and never jerk on the leash to try to get her to respond.
If your dog constantly strains at the leash during walks, this technique will help her learn to yield to the pressure on the leash. If you move to a more distracting environment and your dog starts to pull again, simply stop and wait for her to respond correctly to the pressure she is putting on the leash. Only when she stops pulling and the leash is loose do you move forward, thereby rewarding her for allowing slack in the leash.
This exercise helps teach your dog to handle their environment and manage distractions. Simply count out loud “One, two, three.” On three, reward your dog with a treat. In the beginning, you will likely need to give your dog the treat right to his mouth until he learns that treats come when you say three.
Once he has made this connection, start delivering treats right at the seam of your pants at your dog’s head height. This will teach him to be super close to you when you say “three.” Eventually, he will learn to stick close to you while walking in order to get treats.
Just like with the Silky technique, start teaching this game somewhere relatively boring, and gradually up the distractions as your dog can handle them. Your dog will come to understand that treats are coming when you start counting, and he will be at your side when you say “three.”
It is extremely important that your training sessions are consistent, otherwise, your dog will get confused and not learn the desired behavior. However, we don’t all have the time for training sessions every time we have to take the dog out for a walk.
Try exercising your dog in other ways for a while until he has learned to walk nicely. Games of fetch, hide and seek, training games, or simply hiding treats or toys around the house are all good ways to exercise your dog without going through the ordeal of a walk while your pup is still in training.
Another way to help your dog distinguish between training time and a more relaxed walk is to use different collars or harnesses. Perhaps you use a regular harness for relaxed walks, but clip on a no-pull halter when you head out for a training session.
While constantly rewarding your dog will help her learn desired behaviors, eventually, you will want to wean her off of taking treats every time, or she will likely gain weight, or get bored of your treats. Start using a random reward schedule so that your dog will keep up the good behavior, while not receiving a treat every time she does it.
If your dog is reactive and pulls or lunges aggressively at dogs, people, or other triggers, you may need help from a professional dog trainer. These issues are also solvable with patient and proper training, but it will take more care and attention because your dog is likely scared of his surroundings. Start in a super safe environment and gradually work up to more distractions, but try your best to steer clear of triggering stimuli so that your dog is able to remain in control.
With a bit of work and a lot of patience, your dog will stop pulling soon and be walking calmly at your side. Gone will be the days when he pulled you down the street in a frenzy of excitement! Your walks will be much more enjoyable, and you will feel a special bond with the dog at your side. Let us know how your leash training goes in the comments below!