The most common behavioral problem my pet sitting clients list on their forms is leash pulling. It’s also biggest window into how often, and long, a dog is walked.
Many trainers and pet sitters hear “I would walk him more often, but he pulls me down the street.” Instead of working on the pulling issue, pet parents often resort to purchasing products that advertise fixing the problem, or worse, they completely stop walking their dog. They may leash their dog to go potty or from the car to the dog park, but their dogs no longer get the benefits from a walk or run with their parent.
There is a way to improve how much and how hard your dog pulls. The first thing you should do is gather any pinch collars or choke collars and toss them in the trash. The point of those is for your dog to feel a pinch in his throat every time he pulls. Most dogs develop a tolerance to the pain and keep pulling, and the long term effects on the inside of their throat will make your stomach turn. If you do feel you need a tool to aid you, get a Gentle Leader. The key is to remember it’s a tool. Use it for a week or so while you follow the tips I’ll provide later in this post. As your dog improves and you gain confidence, wean off the Gentle Leader. Eventually you won’t need it unless you try walking your dog in a new park with lots of pups around and want the extra help. Again, remember it’s a tool and not magic.
Before you leave on a walk, take a deep breath, and do your dog (and yourself) a favor: keep your phone in your pocket. The more your focus is on your dog, the walk, and the environment around you, the better off you are. If you are distracted or tense, that will be communicated to your dog through the leash*. Now, let’s walk!
The following are different exercises I do when a dog, whether my own or a client’s, pulls:
1. My dogs rarely pull anymore, but if they miss a day of walking, which only happens because of rain, then the next walk starts off a little nuts. To regroup, I call them to me by saying “Puppies, watch!” They all ignore what has their attention and sit at my feet, watching their mom. 8 eyes are on me, and they each get a tiny training treat. I do this as many times as we need for them to get back in their normal walk routine. It typically only takes one or two regroup sessions for them to calm down and walk on a loose leash.
2. Stop walking: If you plant your feet in the ground, your dog may continue to pull and even make choking noises. He’s fine, but the second he loosens up, take a few steps and praise him. Repeat when he pulls again, even if you only took two steps. You could do this once or for 10 minutes straight, it depends on how stubborn your pup is. He will soon learn that not pulling means walking forward comfortably.
3. 90 Degree Turn: If your dog pulls in a certain direction, such as when you leave the house and he immediately heads to the right, then make a 90 degree turn. He will have to follow you. If he pulls again, turn. It doesn’t matter if you end up walking in a square for a bit.The point is, you, the pack leader, chose the direction and your pup followed you.
4. Double the Training: Take advantage of the no-pulling training session to review other basic obedience commands. For example: Stop walking the second your dog pulls, and happily say “Charlie, come!” When he trots back to you, praise him. You can work on come, sit, and sit stay.
The above four tips are not the only solutions to end leash pulling, but they are certainly my favorites. Many trainers want your dog to walk next to you, on the left, on a loose leash. Others say your dog should be at your side or behind you. I don’t agree. Sure, if you are doing obedience trials, then you need to follow those rules. But what I want for you is to enjoy walking your dog. He wants you to take him on walks, and you will do it more often and for longer periods of time if you enjoy it.
My hope is that you can walk your dog on a loose leash, even if he’s a few feet ahead of you. I just want you and your dog to get all the benefits from a good walk. For your pup, it is a mental and physical experience. For you, it’s exercise, time outdoors, and getting to know your pup. If your dog sees a squirrel or another dog and lunges, just call him back to you. Be consistent with your training, especially if multiple people in your house walk the dog.
*Be sure to work with your dog on a 4-6 foot leash, not a retractable leash. You need as much control of your pup as possible.