Pulling on the Leash

As a certified dog trainer I can attest that one of the most common problems dog owners endure is being pulled around when taking their dogs for a wa(k. The problem is certainly not a small one, leash pulling can lead to several other problems: Being dangerously dragged causing falls, being unable to control a potentially dangerous dog, scaring strangers on the street due to your lack of control, not to mention being unable to provide dogs with the guidance they crave…

Of course, an obedience trainer is the right place tO start to solve these problems, but not all people have the financial resources to afford that or they simply may not have the time. Some owners (and this is not that rare) may also refuse to go to dog training school, simply because they are too proud to seek out the help of a professional or because they are embarrassed.

Heeding as taught in the Brain Training for Dogs course.  

These folks would prefer to take care of the issue themselves, even though they are not completely sure how.

Nothing can really replace the structured setting and opportunity for socialization a class offers. Dogs learn to be under control despite high distractions such as other dogs and people. If your dog is capable of walking nicely on the leash in this environment, he will very likely be well under control durin9 your evening walk around the block! So taking your dog to a dog training class is a big plus with many advantages. Not to mention the perk of having a professional point out solutions to commonly made mistakes.

Secrets to a Nice Walking Dog

Your main objective is to have a dog that walks on a loose leash. Remember: A leash is just there because the law requires it, you want your dog to follow simply because he wants to be with you and knows that your side is the best place on earth! Of course, this may seem like an unattainable goal, but you will eventually get there (or quite close to it!).

So how to get a dog into this sort of mindset? It takes a mix of classica! conditioning, operant conditioning and special tools for the most serious cases. Let’s take a look at all of these components, one by one:

Classical Conditioning

Have you ever heard of Pavlov and his studies on drooling dogs? If not, Pavlov was a Russian scientist who started ringing a bell and offering food to dogs right after. With time, it was noticed that the dogs started salivating in anticipation at the sight and sound of the bell, even before the food was even offered! This helped us understand how dogs think and use it to our advantage.

How do we app/y this in dog training? It is quite simple. We make a sound (such as a smacking sound with our mouth) and classically condition the dog to associate it with something great such as food. To learn how to use the smacking sound refer to his oagg. Once your dog gets the hang of the smacking sound, teach him the full Look into My_Ey    game.

Once things start clicking in the dog’s mind, we are ready to start moving in a fenced area and can begin walkine with the dog, making the smacking sound with the treat held at eye level. Once the dog looks up and makes eye contact, we give him the treat. With practice, the dog will be “attention heeling” like the pros!

As the dog gets better, the dog is introduced to areas with more distractions. This is when going to an obedience school is best: The dog will learn to not pay attention to other dogs and people, rather, he will chose to make you the most interesting thing out there!

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning takes place when a dog starts thinking “if I do this, I get something for it.” It puts the dog’s mind in a working mode. If the dog looks at you and makes eye contact, he will quickly learn that eye contact gets him the reward. This will mahe your dog eager to work and “operate” for the reward.

Most training today is based on rewards. While the older aversive training methods focused on having a dog obey to avoid pain or discomfort, nowadays, the dog is encouraged to “operate” for rewards. This positive method teaches the dog two things: “If I work I get something,” and “my owner brings good things and I trust him/her,” rather than having the dog fear the owner and associating the owner with aversive techniques.

How to Teach Your Dog to Stop Pulling on the Leash: For comprehensive instructions on how you can train your dog to walk by your side instead of pulling on the leash, see: Heeling & Attention Heeding.

Troubleshooting Walking Problems

So you have your dog walking nicely, next to you, but what should you do if your dog looks up at you, takes the treat and then lunges forward, pulling you and going back to his antics? Here you must be more stubborn than your dog and not give in.

Stop as soon as the dog pulls and either:

  1. Walk in the opposite direction.
  • Stop and bring your dog back to being next to you (as shown in: Healing & Attention Heeding) and start walking together.”

There is only one bad thing that you can do in this exercise: Follow your dog when he pulls. Indeed, when we deal with pulling dogs we really are most likely not dealing with a dog who wants to be “dominant” or stubborn, rather we are most likely dealing with a dog who simply thinks fiKe this: “On waits it works tnis way… f go forward and my owner follows…” In other words, the dog thinks he must drag his owner around because he was never taught otherwise!

  Stop being pulled! Your dog will look   U’ at out and seem to ask “so why did we stop?”  

Therefore, it is simply something that has worked in the past, and the dog assumes that is just the way it is. Not to mention the fact that going forward is very rewarding to dogs, and walking much faster than humans, dogs take up the “pulIer” role very easily. Once we stop walking when the dog pulls, after a few repetitions the dog starts thinking something along the lines of “oh, so it does not really work the way I thought,” and adjusts accordingly.

Tools to Stop Dogs from Pulling

If you have a very large dog and simply do not have the strength to control him, you may be wondering if there are any training tools that would at least allow you to not be dragged along for the ride. There are several different training tools that may work.

The prong collar was once recommended for dogs that lunged and pulled, but it may be too strong of a correction to sensitive dogs or dogs that are fearful or lunging out of defensive aggression (the “I attack first to prevent being attacked“ dogs). Since most people are not fully aware of what emotions go through the dog’s mind and because this tool can potentially cause pain, I would not recommend this training device.

Preferable training tools are head halters and front-attachment harnesses. Head halters somewhat mimic what a horse wears. It gives owners a higher level of control since it embraces the whole head and dogs seem to respond to it more, than an average leash. Although they offer excellent control, there are several cons to using head halters: they take a while for the dog to get used to it, they have the potential to cause injury, and they can subdue your dog’s natural behaviors. If you do decide to use a head halter, ensure that it fits your dog property. A well fitting head halter does not rub around the eyes and instead rests around the nose area, where the dog is unable to paw it off.

According to Terri Ryan, it should look like a V for victory and not an “L” for loser.

The other option is the front-attachment harness, a harness with a front ring that allows more control, and its pressure on the chest area teaches the dog how to respond properly. In order to work well, the dog must learn that he must stay by the owner*s side with the use of treats at first (as taught in: Heeling & Attention Heeding). Dogs appear to respond well to this tool and many people are quite satisfied with the results.

Of course, training devices may hetp you gain control, but let‘s remember: they are simply tools. Nothing can replace actual training, which requires time, patience and persistence. If you stop allowing your dog to pull you and abide to a “no pulling policy,” it may take an hour the first day to just walk a block, but in the long run, your dog will soon understand that when he is ahead of you, you will not go anywhere and it gets quite boring. If your are more stubborn than your dog, you will ultimately start seeing results!

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