There’s something so demoralising about being dragged down the street by your dog, pulling on his lead like a sled dog, tongue hanging out (the dog not you!) and muscles straining. Every dog owner wants to have a dog who walks nicely on lead without pulling, but it’s not always that easy to achieve.
In my last post, I discussed my reasons for recommending a harness, and of course that in most cases a harness won’t stop pulling. (Read it here "Should I buy a harness to stop my dog pulling?" if you missed it. The most reliable way to stop pulling is training, but while this might seem simple, it’s actually quite complex and requires the dog learning several connected behaviours.
For that reason, I’m not here to describe how to train loose lead walking, because there are so many factors. Instead I’m going to outline for you a few additional things to consider that might just complement your training.
1. Try a longer lead
It's a common misconception that a shorter lead will give you more control and keep a pulling dog closer to you and possibly thereby teach the dog how to walk nicely. In most cases, a short lead creates more tension between the two ends of the lead. It causes the human to pull too, causing a two way continuum of pulling. A short lead also shifts the dog off balance, so he’s not able to sustain his natural gait/pace. The result? More tension, more pulling.
But please 🙏 avoid extendable leads.
2. Adjust your posture
Hands and arms closer to your centre of balance will give a better anchor than held out in front or to the side. Feet hip width(ish) apart give a stable base and relaxed knees help to adjust your position in response to the dog. Try to avoid leaning back like the woman in the picture above - more tension on the lead, not to mention sore shoulders!
3. Consider what's in it for the dog
Behaviours are repeated because they result in an outcome the dog is motivated by. Put simply, dogs do what works to get what they want. Think about what that motivation might be - is he trying to get closer to something good or to move away from something he doesn’t like. Has pulling become part of a sequence that predicts a fun game in the park?
If you can identify some specific answers here, it will help with your training plan. You could make ‘being unclipped to play ball’ be a reward for walking with a loose lead for example.
4. First train without the lead
Make sure your dog has lots of experience and reward for being near you without the lead. I like to call this heel position the ‘zone of reinforcement’. i.e. any time he’s in the zone, good things happen. It doesn’t have to be championship obedience style heeling with the dog welded to your leg, gazing up at you adoringly! But if your dog understands that being near you is the most rewarding, it gives him much more clarity of what is expected when you add the lead.
It doesn't have to look like this!
5. Practice mindful dog walking
Be on a walk together with your dog. Relax and slow your own pace, pay attention to your own breathing. Notice what captures his attention, what causes his behaviour or body language to change. Put your phone away and connect with your dog instead!
6. Go on a 'Sniffari' together
This is more about mindfulness for the dog! Ditch your agenda/route/time frame. Let the dog choose the route, and stop to sniff every blade of grass if he wants to. Go with him into the long grass, rather than trying to get him to trot with you on the pavement. You might not get very far, but this is quality over quantity.
7. Manage excitement throughout the day
For some dogs, the excitement and spike in arousal that comes when going out for a walk is immense, and he’s definitely not going to be thinking or applying the lead training you did in the living room (or village hall when puppy classes were allowed 😉). Make sure there are other things he enjoys spread out over the day so he’s not experiencing ‘all or nothing’. You might want to investigate activities that help lower arousal levels. Spend time training something else or playing with him before the lead goes on for that walk. It might just help him into a better head space – and be more in tune/connected with you.
None of these things on their own is going to be the ‘magic’ cure that solves the problem of a dog who pulls on the lead, but add them into the mix along with your loose lead walking training and you and your dog might find you both enjoy lead walking a little more.
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