My dog pulls on the lead!

For many dog owners the joy of walking the dog is diminished by the fact that the lovely furry friend, who gives so much pleasure, just does not seem to understand how to behave while on the lead…

Equipment, while out, plays a big role in the comfort of the walk for both you and your dog. A good few people walk their dogs on a collar,  which puts a lot of pressure on the neck, especially when pulling. The following picture by http://www.dog-games.co.uk shows you what happens;

Why a harness

So, if pulling on the lead hurts the dog, why do they still do it? Turid Rugaas, in her book “My dog pulls. What do I do?”, looks at the variety of reasons;

  1. The dog pulls because when he does so, you follow. In other words: you must follow!
  2. You have previously taught your dog by using corrections. The dog has learned to pull because of the timing of your correction: The dog pulls… you decide to teach him not to pull by jerking or checking (pulling back) on the leash. To be able to jerk or check, you have to slacken the leash for a moment, then comes the jerk or check. For the dog, this means pain, and he learns that the slackening of the leash means that pain will follow. Your dog will now try to avoid the loose leash in order to avoid the pain that he knows will follow, and consequently he  is even more likely to pull on leash.
  3. Walking on leash hurts his neck. He finds  it difficult to breathe due to a tight collar, so tries to escape by getting as far away as possible.
  4. You are using an extendable leash, which is designed to always be taut. Whatever the dog tries to do, the leash is always tight and makes him feel uncomfortable. The dog gives up trying to keep a slack leash.
  5. You are irritable. You often yell at the dog, grabbing him by the neck or anything else that is unpleasant – so the dog tries to get as far away as he can – pulling away from your side. In other words: stop being the one the dog wants to keep away from, no worthwhile relationship can come of this, and he won’t learn to walk comfortably with you either.
  6. Your dog generally has too high a stress level. It will make him much more active and erratic and he will have a hard time walking more slowly and concentrating on what he is doing.

So what to do…

Some dog owners have changed to walk their dog on a head collar; usually gentle leader or halti. These are fitted around the muzzle with a loop attaching around the neck.

head collar

And how do these work? The following is from an instruction manual by the Gentle Leader©: “The gentle leader is scientifically  designed to direct your dog’s entire body by controlling his head and nose. And wherever his nose goes, his body must surely follow! The gentle leader dissuades your dog from pulling on the lead by transferring the pressure of  his efforts to the back of his neck via the neckstrap, while the pressure of the noseloop communicates your natural leadership.  Your dog’s instinctive resistance to these redirected pressures causes him to stop pulling to relieve the pressure at the back of the head and to relax and walk easily by your side.”

No matter how the head collar is explained above, it is still a useful tool when working with a dog that pulls. It is important to introduce the head collar positively and get your dog use to it. Chiraq Patel has done a great video about getting a dog to love a muzzle, and these same principles can be applied to introduction of the head collar. Click here to watch.

My favorite equipment for walking any dog, is a well fitting harness with a choice of contact points. A well fitting harness allows free movement of the dogs body and divides the pressure more equally in comparison to collar or head collar. Using a longer lead with availability to attach on two points on the harness or on the harness and collar or head collar, brings you more control over your dog and more balance to your dog.

two point harness

All the above mentioned equipment can be a help with a dog that pulls on the lead, but to train your dog to walk on a loose lead is the best remedy.

How to train it:
• Step 1: Your dog learns to stand calmly next to you without pulling away.
• Load one hand with treats.
• Praise and treat when your dog is calm and/or looking at you.
• If your dog pulls away from you, don’t yank the leash and don’t reel him back in. Stand       still and wait until he returns to you. If he is very distracted, call his name.
• When he comes back to you, praise and treat.

Step 2: Your dog learns to stay close to you while walking.
• With your dog standing calmly next to you, say his name and, “Let’s go.”
• Praise and treat after the first step, as long as your dog doesn’t dash forward.
• Keep walking and praise/treat every other step.
• Gradually increase the number of steps in between rewards.
• If your dog starts pulling, stop and wait until there is some slack in the leash again. Then    take a step with him and reward him quickly for walking near you.
• Keep him guessing. Sometimes reward after 1 step, sometimes after 5, then again after 2,    then after 7.

Tip: Try practicing loose-leash walking after your dog has had some vigorous exercise. He will be much easier to work with then.

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