Written by Christine Durrant, Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Care Consultant
I understand that leash pulling is one of the most frustrating challenges many of you face. I happen to LOVE teaching it so I am going to try to explain it from my point of view.
It's important to think about WHY you dog is pulling. This can vary many times during a walk. Is it to sniff a bush, get to another dog or to move faster? Once you define the reason, it's easier to figure out the solution.
Let's say there’s a dog across the way and your dog is pulling to meet them. In this case, no matter what your dog is wearing (any type of collar or harness) they will probably STILL PULL. Greeting or reacting to other dogs is one of the main reasons a dog will pull hard on leash. The solution? Teach a really solid "Leave It". This will solve the problem and knowing leave it is an excellent skill for any dog regardless.
Let's say your dog is pulling to sniff a bush - you could use leave it OR, as I would recommend, use it as a reward. So, if I am walking a dog and they start to pull towards something like a bush or plant I will say "let's go", turn around and then make a conscious effort to get the dog back to the bush with a loose leash (even if I have to pick up my pace for a moment) as the reward. If you are consistent with this method your dog will learn that they never get what they want when the pull but they do get it when the leash is loose.
Sometimes, dogs simply have a faster pace than we do. In this case you can teach "easy" by saying it and rewarding the dog when they slow down and "hurry" by teaching them to step up their pace on command (maybe I should do a video on this!). This way you teach the dog when and where it's necessary for them to slow down but you also speed up for them as a reward too.
If your dog pulls on leash simply to forge ahead, that is simple to teach – stop following them. Stop, wait for them to stop pulling into the leash and only move forward when they take the pressure off. If they pull again, turn around, reward the moment they catch up to your side and continue. The first few walks will be frustrating – if you let them be. Otherwise, breathe and laugh thinking “Oh ya! you are just being a happy dog”. Remember, your dog isn’t pulling to make you mad. They are pulling because they have places to be, people to see and lots of things to sniff (so use all of those things as the reward).
You can also teach heel and release the dog with an “ok” when they can sniff. I prefer loose leash walking personally but some would rather have their dog closer in. I am happy as long as I’m not being pulled so I reward the times the dog is not pulling, stop or turn around when they are and it ALWAYS resolves. Each dog is different so it may take a couple of walks or a few weeks, depending on the rate at which the dog learns, my commitment to the training and the time we put in.
I believe every interaction with a dog should be in the best interest of all involved. I always think about the reasons the dog is "misbehaving" (although to the dog it's not so) and work with that in a way that solves the problem and also supports the dog's well-being.
The one thing you will need most of all for this training is patience but once you get the hang of it, you will find it rewarding and fun for both of you. My leash training videos are packed full of tips and tricks to help you and your dog get out and enjoy some great walks together.
Christine Durrant, CPDT-KA Professional Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant