Many dog owners complain about their dog pulling on the lead and want to know what to do about it.
Even as a dog trainer I find myself challenged by this now and then, particularly for excitable dogs that may not be getting the daily exercise and other environmental enrichment they need to keep them mentally and physically stimulated.
The other common factor I have noticed with dogs that really pull on their lead is that their owners have pretty much given in with frustration and so they simply continue to get away with it.
That’s why it is so important to teach a dog how to walk on a loose lead without pulling as early as possible whilst it is a puppy, because the longer it is allowed to pull you around to get what it wants (= reward for the dog) the more it is reinforced (= occurs with more intensity and frequency), and the longer it will take to re-train.
So, if your dog tends to pull YOU into the dog park, over to the nearest tree or to say hi to a fellow dog and owner coming your way, then the time is NOW to start taking back control and showing them some fair, but firm, leadership.
Here’s a little exercise to start practicing to help stop your dog or puppy pulling on the lead. It’s best to start under low distraction when no other dogs or people are around and you have plenty of space to allow you to move around in many different directions. Then build up to a walk down the street, gradually increasing the distractions and continue practicing this even as you make your way into the dog park.
You may feel a little silly zig zagging around, but your ultimate goal is to take back control so that you can even calmly walk into the dog park without your dog pulling on the lead.
The key steps to stop your dog pulling on the lead are:
- The dog is allowed to move to the full length of the lead and it should be loose at all times.
- As you move off to walk, say your dog’s name to get their attention or pat your thigh to encourage the dog to move with you. It is also acceptable to walk off without any cue.
- The aim of the exercise is for the dog to walk on a loose lead, therefore every time the dog is in the correct position (ie: not pulling or lunging) and exhibiting the desired behaviour, it must receive some form of reinforcement. This can be verbal praise, a quick pat or treat.
- You should be carefully watching the dog and as soon as it starts to move to the end of the lead, quickly change direction.
- In the early stages of training, you may wish to give the dog the opportunity to move with you by saying their name or patting your thigh to motivate them towards you. You would fade out this ‘prompt’ as the dog gains a better understanding of what is expected of them.
- By frequently changing direction, we teach the dog that they must focus their attention on the handler at the end of the lead, otherwise they will get left behind.
- It is not recommended to teach this exercise along one straight path, as this creates a scenario where the dog pulls, you pull back, they pull harder etc.
- If you change direction and the dog doesn’t follow and continues along their original path, they will ‘self-correct’ as they hit the end of the lead
- If a correction needs to be given to the dog for excessive pulling/lunging ie: a short, quick tug on the lead (NOT a rough jerk of the lead that pulls their neck!) or a verbal “no” or “ah!” as a warning, this needs to be done as early in their pulling sequence as possible as it is very hard to regain control if the dog is dragging you along and there is full tension on the lead.
- We want the dog to recognise that a small amount of tension on their collar means they need to slow down/stop/return to you. Allowing dogs to repeatedly pull on their lead will completely desensitize them to this cue.
- IMPORTANT: If you change direction and your dog moves with you without prompts or pulling on the lead, it should receive high levels of praise, to indicate that is has exhibited the correct response.
- Eye contact from the dog should also be rewarded, as it signifies that the do is paying attention to the handler.
- Give full length of lead
- Lead should be loose at all times
- Change direction frequently to maintain focus
- Praise desired behaviour at all times in teaching phase
It’s important to remember that the earlier we address problem behaviour the better and the more we allow it to continue and be reinforced the worse it will get. Dogs will not grow out of this behaviour, so it is up to us to be a firm, fair and consistent leader to help the dog understand what it is we want from them.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog training, minding and walking business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.