Follow this one rule:
Don’t follow your dog.
Loose leash walking really is that simple but if it was that easy, no one would have invented the choke chain and your dog wouldn’t still be pulling. It is easier to teach a dog to fetch beer from the fridge than to remain at heel while a cat runs across the street but it is well worth the effort, and here’s why:
- Collars can damage the trachea when a dog lunges and will damage the trachea over time spent pulling on leash.
- A dog that pulls on leash won’t look back to their owner as much and will continue to move forward if the leash is dropped.
- A dog who pulls on leash is much more likely to break or destroy their collar or leash and is much more likely to run away.
Not only is it not safe, it sucks:
- Your dog doesn’t care for the crying about your shoulder injury. This was supposed to be a nice walk in the park.
- Your dog doesn’t understand why you are pulling on their leash either. It is especially confusing when they are trying to relate to other dogs and people. A dog that greets with tension in the leash and a tense owner will grow tense, anxious, and ultimately reactive.
- Yes, I just said that. Dogs that pull on leash are more likely to have other problem behaviours, including the dreaded ‘aggression,’ and the ever un-popular ‘OMG is that a (insert chicken bone, anti-freeze, condom, or otherwise disgusting thing) your dog pulled you off your feet to gulp down?’ -Yes, that too.
- Your walks will be less frequent. It isn’t pleasant and your friends and family don’t want to walk them either. This lack of stimulation completes the cycle and here we are again, at the end of our rope.
Always follow the rule: never follow your dog, and from now on, each step you take will be together.
“Let’s Go!” Teach Walking On A Loose Leash
Step 1: Increase Exercise
This is step 1, no matter what behaviour problem you may have. Increase exercise in general, and also just prior to training sessions to ensure the dog isn’t climbing the walls when we want to work on a skill that requires self control. Balance physical exercise with mental stimulation. Teach something new, go somewhere new, make a treasure hunt; train them! Tricks aren’t just a great way to give your dog the one-on-one attention they deserve, it is time well spent; 10 minutes is equal to 30 minutes of physical exercise when your goal is to create a calm, biddable dog. Try playing fetch or working on a fun trick before trying the exercises below.
Step 2: Practice Walking
- Walk around the house or yard and say “Yes!” when you notice your dog is in the perfect ‘heel’ position
- Pair “Yes!” with a treat, delivered right next to your leg
- Name this command – “Let’s go!”
Step 3: Practice Stopping
- Say “yes!” and reward your dog for stopping with you
- Say “whoops’” to mark ‘no reward’ as your dog passes you
- Turn, and repeat
Go back and forth on your block until they get it, then move on toward the park but never, ever get lazy and let them pull you, not one measly step. If your dog won’t follow you, you need a hungrier dog, a happier voice, a boring environment, and a better treat. You’ll need to put in a lot of (sometimes embarrassing) effort to keep your dog interested in where YOU are going. Can you be more exciting than the grass and the hydrant? Can you be hotter than the scent of a female in heat? Than a cat running across the street!?
The reason your dog pulls is because they are getting rewards. It certainly isn’t because you’re back there jerking their chain, yelling ‘no pulling!’ every few steps. They want to sniff, to explore, to meet and greet and to pee and play. They may have had many years of practice and received many wonderful rewards for pulling in the past, so this will not stop over night. When I say rewards, I mean the ‘treats’ of the world: The 1000 times they dragged you to a pole and peed on it. Oh’ to pee feels amazing! What a treat! The 101 times they lunged out to greet a slobbery suitor and the 99 times they landed a tantalizing kiss! Such great things have happened at the end of that leash! So don’t be shocked when they ‘pull’ this stunt again and again and again. Your job is to always keep your cool and always follow the rule; not your dog.
The rule works because:
- The dog gets rewards while the leash is loose
- The dog is prevented from getting rewards when the leash is tight
If I can’t follow my dog, then what can I do?
You must answer this question for your dog: If pulling won’t work, what does?
Other than following your dog, you can do almost anything else:
Go the other way, just stand there, call them back, talk excitedly and keep the rewards coming once you get them with you. Your dog needs to know that wonderful things are waiting for them right next to you, where the leash is loose. That is where the magic happens. You could say ‘no!’ every single time your dog pulled and that would be all well and good but wouldn’t teach your dog what they need to know. They need to know how to get rewards. Try giving a treat, a pet, whip out a toy and play tug, take a step toward their favourite pee spot, ask them to do a trick for a stranger’s pet, pick up a stick if they’re into it…whatever you think they might want! Every dog is unique, figure out what your dog wants and have it in hand.
What about the ‘anti-pull miracle’ contraptions at the pet store?
Always follow the rule.
No matter what type of collar, martingale, harness, halter, leash, choke chain or Caesar Milan signature set up you may be using, no matter what the reason your dog is pulling, no matter what. I would rather you carry or drive them somewhere than allow them to take another step pulling you on a leash.
Anti-pull harnesses and head halters can be useful tools if you are struggling with your pulling dog. Get help from a trainer and make sure that no matter what equipment you use, you never follow your dog, especially if you choose to use correction tools. To apply punishment when the rules are confusing is cruel. Follow the rule. The only thing your dog has ever needed to understand was for the message to be clear. Even if your dog looks like they will finally take a poo if you just let them pull you just one foot to the left. Nope. They can try at the next spot, on a loose leash. It will happen. You can do this. I believe in you! Remember that walking along next to you is a very high level skill for most dogs, this will take months to master.
Do not give up. You and your dog deserve to have that nice long walk on the beach together.