- Is Walking Your Dog a Drag?
If your dog walk is more of a drag than a delight, follow these 10 tips to turn things around:
You are far older and smarter than your dog. If YOU can't stop pulling on the leash, how can we expect it of your dog?
Hold your leash by the loop, as God and the manufacturers intended.
Don't keep shortening it up or raising your hand high in the air to maintain tension on the leash. Again, if you want your dog to keep a nice slack leash, you have to demonstrate that you can do the same.
If you need to get a hands free leash to break the habit, do so. They're great.
This tendency is most pronounced in puppies who have not yet resigned themselves to a life of being constrained by a six foot tether. If you tug on the leash, the puppy will balk and refuse to walk.
We can teach dogs to move with the leash when we guide them with it, and many dogs learn to follow the tug on the leash as they get older and more experienced with being puppeteered by human beings. But your life will be much much easier if you remember that dogs don't like to be pulled and dragged and make an effort to keep the leash relaxed (see point 1).
There is absolutely no benefit to tying your dog's leash around their neck. The neck is a sensitive area - try pressing on your adam's apple for thirty seconds. Even light pressure feels uncomfortable. But does this discomfort prevent dogs from pulling?
Dogs pull for a lot of reasons - their human goes too slow, they've seen another dog up ahead, and they are on the trail of a squirrel, for example. Dogs will put up with a LOT of discomfort to get where they want to go more quickly. Boredom is a potent punisher.
Boredom isn't just punishing for dogs, either. A study found that when left in a room with nothing to do for 15 minutes, the majority of people chose to play around with a device that delivered little electric shocks to their skin rather than just sit there, being bored.
If humans would rather electrocute themselves than sit quietly for 15 minutes with nothing to do, then dogs will absolutely put up with a lot of pain to go see another dog, or to figure out where that raccoon went after it crossed the road.
While they are doing that, though, they are crushing their windpipe and putting pressure on their thyroid gland. Some vets, like Dr Peter Dobias and Dr Jean Dodds, claim that the canine tendency to develop low thyroid in their senior years may be related to this.
Small breeds have such small, soft little tracheas that they should NEVER have their collar attached to the leash - even slight pressure can contribute to a collapsing trachea, which sometimes requires surgery to fix.
The best equipment for leash walking is front clip harness - but not a "no pull" harness. Anything that advertises itself as "no pull" is designed to make pulling uncomfortable, but as I've said above, if a dog CAN get somewhere faster, they will, whether or not it is uncomfortable. Some "no pull" front clip harnesses squeeze the dog's shoulders and can contribute to joint problems.
A good front clip harness (I like Ruffwear's Front Range harness) is comfortable for your dog, but makes it more difficult for your dog to pull, which is different from making it easy but unpleasant. Attaching the leash to the front of the dog gives you some torque, and meanwhile no pressure is put on the neck at all.
If you are tall, or your dog is short, you may need a longer leash. If you are short or your dog is tall, you may need a shorter leash.
"How close should my dog be to me in order to be safe in this particular situation?"
"If I hold my leash by the loop as God and the manufacturer intended, will my dog have an appropriate amount of range?"
"Is this leash a comfortable length for me and for my dog?"
Your leash is not a fishing line or a marionette string. It is a safety line, designed to keep your dog from running in front of cars, jumping on children, or bounding up to a bear. If you draw an imaginary circle of safety around yourself, your leash should be the length of the radius of that circle.
When you are standing on a suburban sidewalk, your dog can easily roam six to eight feet around you without ending up in the road. On a busy city sidewalk, your dog will need to be within a few feet of you to avoid clotheslining people as you walk, unless you're looking for the sort of Meet-Cute you get in 101 Dalmations.
If you pick the short, "good dog" leash, your dog will know this isn't going to be a romp in the woods but that they will need to be on their best behavior. When you switch it to the long line, they'll be ready to romp!
But if this walk is for your dog? Act like it.
Dogs love walks, but not moseying along the sidewalk in a straight line. Dogs want to explore their world and catch up on all the neighbourhood gossip. Snoopy down the street smells under the weather. A bear came by last night! What's this? Oh, a racoon and her babies came by here this morning. Where did they go?
Dogs need "sniffy walks" for their psychological well being. A walk without sniffing might as well be a blindfolded walk to a dog. You should give your dog as freedom to sniff about as possible given the circumstances (see above). Stop and let your dog spend five minutes investigating that lamp post if they want to. Who are we to judge? We spend hours a day staring fixedly at plastic rectangles.
Let your dog look at things they are curious about, too. If your dog is quietly observing something, let them continue. You'd want your dog to let you stop to look at a pretty sunset, wouldn't you?
The slower you walk, the more frustrating your walk will be. Heck, take a scooter or something on your walk to help keep up with your dog. It'll be a lot more fun, and involve a lot less pulling, if you move at a rate that is natural and comfortable for your dog, instead of having to ask your dog to slow down and wait for you all the time.
A dog's ideal "walk" would be a series of joyful sprints, with frequent sniff-stops. If you're out to deliberately exercise your dog... why not give them what they want?
Do don't do that to your dog.
Talk with your dog. Have conversations with your dog. Imagine your dog is answering back - they are, in their own way, with a flick of an ear or a goofy grin or a waggy tail.
Talk about what they are doing:
"Do you see a kid on a bike? What a funny kid! Don't go jumping on him now. Good dog. Thank you for being so gentle with him. Oh, a rose bush! Don't spike your little nose!"
Tell your dog how you feel about what they are doing. Don't shy away from hyperbole. They love it.
"Ow! You're going to rip my arm off! Oh thank you, I LOVE it when you walk next to me like that. You're so great."
Talk to your dog about your problems.
"Do you think I should change jobs? My boss is making my life hell. But I could use the money. What would you do? Well, I hardly think eating goose poop will help my reputation at work, but thanks for the input."
The more your dog thinks of your walks as walks with YOU and not just a chance to escape the house while lugging the old ball-and-chain, the more you will move together in synch and harmony.
If you are going to ask your dog to give up something they love, like goose poop or barking at that annoying little dog across the street, you're going to need to have a reason they can understand. And that reason is called PEPPERONI.
Dogs are predators and scavengers, and most of us make them live off of dry meat pellets. One of the only things that will argue persuasively with your husky's genetic instinct to run pell-mell for a hundred miles a day or your aussie's innate need to chase all things that move is FOOD.
And if you want your dog to do something BORING? Oh heck. It had better be REALLY good, because most dogs would rather chew off their own tail rather than suffer from boredom.
Food also has a natural bio-feedback mechanism which relieves fear and unhappiness. That's why we eat Ben and Jerry's when we're upset. So high value food can make a massive difference in a nervous or stressed dog's life.
Dogs who are looking in your eyes naturally fall into a perfect heel position. If your dog checks in with you often, as they will if you're telling them interesting things about your best friend's new boyfriend and feeding them treats for being such a good listener, they won't be charging off madly in all directions. They'll be walking WITH you, instead of walking despite you.
But what if you forget about your dog and get absorbed in staring at your plastic rectangle again? Your dog might want to jump on you or yank you sideways just to wake you up a bit. Teach your dog that a polite hand nudge is enough to get the treats and attention flowing again.
Feel free to wobble dramatically and act like you might fall on your dog if they pull like that (please don't actually fall on or scare your dog).
You can also keep your dog on their toes by changing direction unexpectedly, especially if they're being a real pill and dragging you heartlessly toward a dog who clearly wants to eat them alive.
Use your FEET, not your HANDS. When your dog pulls and you resist with your feet, your dog is pulling against your whole body weight plus the friction of whatever surface you are standing on (hopefully not ice). If you pull with your arms, then you can only contend with the amount of force your arms are capable of resisting, which if you're a woman who works in an office may be barely 50 lbs.
...Again, if you need to attach the leash to your body, do so.
If your dog CAN pull you, they WILL. No matter how much the equipment squeezes or pinches or chokes them. If your dog can get somewhere interesting, and escape the boredom of crawling along the sidewalk in a dull straight line, they WILL.
And why should we hurt them? Just to prevent them from enjoying their walk? We're out here for them, aren't we?
Make it fun, for heaven's sake, and your dog won't be so desperate to get away from you.