Why do they pull?
All situations and dog/owner dynamics are different, there is no one reason or solution which will suit everybody. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the most common factors.
Animals didn’t survive to pass on their genes by repeating behaviours which didn’t pay (or give an advantage). We (and our dogs) leave the house by the door. We don’t usually try to leave by walking through the wall. I think we would if we could but we can’t. It doesn’t work, so we don’t do it. Leaving by the door works, it gets us outside, it pays.
This is something to be considered with our dogs. If we allow pulling on the lead to work (for the dog) by moving forward, then of course the dog will pull. How can he not pull if pulling is what works?
Now, if I was to brick up your front door so that when you opened it, instead of the outside world you were met by a solid brick wall, you would soon stop trying to leave via the front door. It just doesn’t work to get you outside. You might learn to leave through the back door or even climbing through a window. Your behaviour would change. It would change because the old behaviour no longer works.
We could do the same with dogs. What if every time the lead went tight a brick wall appeared in front of you both (you stop walking) and every time the lead loosened the brick wall vanished (you move forward)?
The dog might learn that tension on the lead doesn’t work.
Sounds easy doesn’t it? It’s not! it takes a great deal of persistence and patience and time.
So what if we helped a little by not only allowing the dog to move forward on a loose lead but also having some extra goodies appearing from our pocket as we walk. If the treats are only given at your side, where will the dog learn to be?
He might learn that your left hand side is a great place to hang around.
It is still not going to be easy because he may be in a high state of arousal due to environmental stimuli. Do more with him, try enrichment toys throughout the day, get his brain working, stop feeding from a bowl and get him really interested in working a little to get his food.
Practice indoors and in the garden. Just being at your side could result in a treat, then a few steps and build it up from there. Always be nice to your dog. Frustration, yelling and yanking will only give him more reason to be stressed (we don’t learn well under stress) and less reason to want to be at your side.
It will still not be easy because it is not easy. It takes time and persistence and patience and practice. Some dogs have been bred over hundreds of generations to be away from the handler, investigating everything in the universe. Just watch a Springer Spaniel in the park, they just don’t stop. Try to incorporate your dog’s genetic traits into his life so that he has an outlet for these instinctive behaviours.
Or just don’t bother! it’s not the end of the world, especially if you have a small dog which can’t pull you around. Get a nice harness so the dog isn’t at risk of damaging the important structures around the neck (larynx) and just enjoy the walk without worrying if they pull a little or not. I actually know of some very accomplished trainers who don’t bother with training their own dogs to walk nicely without pulling. It depends what’s important to you and in the best interest of your dog (and how much time you have).
I have a bad back, I can’t be constantly yanked around by my enthusiastic Lab so he’s been trained to understand that pulling doesn’t work. My Westie on the other hand, weighs just 7kg and I barely notice if the lead is tight so I simply haven’t bothered to train her to the same level for loose lead walking.
Keep in mind that if you sometimes allow pulling (when you don’t have much time), you’re teaching him that pulling sometimes works. He can then become very persistent as he tries to make it work, because sometimes it does. This is similar to repeatedly trying to start an old car because you know (think) it will eventually start (known as resistance to extinction).
You can also turn loose lead walking into a bit of a game for you both. With a loose lead, take one step and give a treat. Then take two steps and give a treat. Then three steps and give a treat. Keep adding one step each time you give a treat and reset. But when the lead goes tight the game is over. You then start again from the beginning with one step, treat, two steps, treat, three steps, treat and so on. This idea comes from a training method known as 300 peck. Treats should be no bigger than your finger nail. You may use food from the dogs daily allowance for this if your dog is sufficiently motivated by it, or use slivers of sausage if needed. As always, if we are adding extra calories we need to reduce the dogs main meal allowance.
Whichever way you go, be kind and enjoy your time together. One day it will just be a memory, make it a good one..
Shay Kelly is the author of Dog training and behavor: a guide for everyone and Canine Enrichment: the book your dog needs you to read