Picture this – you’ve just taken your dog out for a walk. It all starts well enough, but one minute you’re setting out for a pleasant stroll, and the next, you find yourself water skiing down the sidewalk behind a four-legged powerboat. Not quite the relaxing walk you had in mind, right?
If you’ve ever found yourself bracing as your dog lunges toward every squirrel, passerby, or blowing leaf, you’re not alone. The common spectacle of dogs pulling on their leashes is as widespread as it is frustrating.
Thankfully, transforming this tug-of-war into a calm, relaxing stroll is more than just a pipe dream. You just need to understand why dogs do this, prepare your dog to walk properly, and master the walk with consistent training.
Understanding the Leash-Pulling Behaviour
Firstly, understanding why your dog turns into a mini freight train every time you clip on the leash is crucial. Dogs are naturally faster walkers than us and, let’s be honest, they’re probably a hundred times more excited about that squirrel in the bush than you are.
Plus, they explore the world nose-first, and there’s an unfathomable number of interesting smells to look for once they step out the front door. There’s also the dog’s prey drive, an instinctual behaviour making the chase of anything that moves almost irresistible. And let’s not forget, pulling can also stem from a lack of training or guidance, leading dogs to believe that forging ahead is the best way to get where they want to go.
Remember, it’s not a mischievous scheme to drag you around; they’re just being dogs!
Preparation for Walks
You have to start with the right equipment. No, not a full-body armour suit for you, but something comfortable and safe for your pup. A well-fitted harness is a game-changer especially for larger breeds like Golden Retrievers or Huskies. It gives you more control and discourages pulling without causing discomfort or strain on your dog’s neck. There are even harnesses designed to gently redirect your dog when they start pulling.
The training ground matters, too. Choose a quiet, familiar environment initially to minimise distractions. A calm and focused dog learns best – you won’t make much progress if they’re already chasing the neighbour dog or sniffing through a garden. That battle is already lost. Retreat to your home, and start your training there.
Positive reinforcement is your best friend when training your dog to walk nicely. Arm yourself with a pouch of your dog’s favourite treats and get ready to be generous with your praises. Every time your dog walks nicely without pulling, it’s treat and praise time. They’ll soon start to think, ‘Hey, walking nicely gets me treats. I love treats. I’m gonna walk nicely!’
Now, for the meat of the matter: training techniques to stop the pulling.
Method 1: The ‘Heel’ Command:
Teaching your dog to heel can be your ace in the hole. It’s basically asking your dog to walk calmly by your side. Start in a distraction-free zone, like your living room. Hold a treat by your side, say ‘heel,’ and walk. If your dog follows the treat at your pace, jackpot! Treat and praise. Gradually, you can practise this outside, taking short walks and increasing distractions as your dog becomes more comfortable with returning to their designated spot beside you.
Method 2: The ‘Stop-and-Go’ Technique
This method is straightforward yet powerful. Start walking with your dog. The moment they begin to pull, stop in your tracks. Stand still, be a statue. Wait until your dog stops pulling, perhaps even looks back at you. Once the tension on the leash eases, resume walking. This technique teaches your dog a valuable lesson: pulling gets them nowhere, literally.
Method 3: The ‘Direction Change’ Method
When your dog starts to pull, calmly change direction. You’re not just walking your dog; you’re leading a dance, and they need to follow your steps. This method keeps them guessing and focuses their attention on you, learning to follow your lead rather than taking charge.
Perfect leash manners don’t happen in one walk. Consistency is the golden rule. Practice makes perfect, and with regular, consistent training sessions, your dog will start getting the hang of it. Don’t get too discouraged if it seems like progress goes backward some days – your dog will try and test the boundaries of what they’re allowed to do, because they’re smart.
The Emotional Aspect:
Sometimes, pulling on the leash isn’t just about excitement or eagerness; it can stem from fear or anxiety. If your dog seems overly nervous or scared during walks, it might be worth having a chat with a professional trainer or behaviourist. They can offer tailored advice and techniques to ensure walks aren’t so stressful for both of you.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Even the best of us can slip up. Watch out for these common training pitfalls:
- Inconsistency: Changing rules confuses your dog. If pulling is sometimes ignored and sometimes corrected, your dog won’t learn effectively.
- Negative reinforcement: Yanking or scolding can increase stress and make the problem worse.
- Mixed signals: Ensure everyone in the household walking your dog uses the same techniques and commands to avoid confusing your pup.
Training isn’t a one-and-done deal; it’s a journey. Maintain and build upon your progress through regular practice, patience, and perseverance. Keep walks varied and interesting; new routes and challenges can make walks more exciting and mentally stimulating for your dog, reinforcing their focus on you.