In last week’s article, we covered many of the frustratingly common reasons as to why dogs pull on leash. In this week’s article, we will address exactly how to curb these unwanted behaviours, ultimately leading to a lifetime of loose-leash walking. So let’s pop our shoulders back in our sockets and dive right into it.
How to Correct Problem Pulling on Leash
Good news to all the frustrated dog owners out there: pulling on a leash is a preventable behaviour that can be remedied using a force-free, positive approach.
The world is an exciting and stimulating place, and dogs instinctively want to be outside playing, exploring, and learning about their surrounding environment. For many high energy dogs, walking calmly and slowly at their handler’s side requires a great deal of impulse control that has to be learned over time.
When it comes to correcting unwanted pulling, you can use either positive or negative training techniques. It's important to remember we are talking about our best friends in the whole world; we don’t want them to become fearful by using force, we simply want them to stop pulling so we can enjoy our time together. The best course of action for long-term success is using a force-free, positive approach.
Training tools like prong (aka pinch) collars, choke collars, and remote (shock) collars may advertise greater control during walks, however they are primarily based on the negative reinforcement principles of cause and effect. Training by using negative, forceful corrections is not the approach I recommend as it may not only damage the sensitive trust bond between you and your dog, it may ultimately lead to other unwanted fear-based behavioural issues. Of the many training aids available to the consumer, anything can be dangerous if misused.
Instead, consider a chest-led harness like the Easy Walk Harness, as they are among the most popular force-free walking aids, and are recommended by countless positive reinforcement dog trainers. Chest-led harnesses not only take the pressure off a dog’s sensitive neck, it also turns a pulling dog back towards their owner, thus reducing or eliminating their ability to pull forward.
Try this technique: when your dog begins to pull, promptly stop and remain still until the leash relaxes. If necessary, you can take a step backwards, and wait until your dog turns his focus to you. Once the leash is loose, give lots of positive praise (or a treat) and step forward to continue your walk. Keep repeating as many times as necessary. Whether you have to do this ten times or one hundred times, stay consistent with your actions and remember to give tons of positive praise. Consistency through repetition is key!
Another variation of this technique is what’s known as the reverse direction method. When your dog begins to pull, instead of stopping completely, use a verbal cue (like “this way”, or “let’s go”), and walk in the opposite direction of the pull. Once your dog commits to following you, give positive praise, and use the same cue to turn back towards your original direction. Again, repeat this as often as necessary. The more your dog’s attention is on you, the more control you ultimately have.
Remember to use lots of praise and positivity for these techniques; you want to teach your dog to want to go in your intended direction. Make good use of your voice: constant happy, high-pitched communication is essential for grabbing and maintaining your dog’s attention.
Patience is Key!
A pulling dog makes for an easily frustrated walker. Even the best of us can become quickly agitated with a pulling dog in hand, however it is paramount to remain patient. Stay committed to your goals, and know that while you are working towards a long-term solution it may not come right away.
We live in a society with high expectations for instant satisfaction, which may explain why so many pet owners are quick to use negative reinforcement tools as an instant solution. For many dogs, it can take time to develop new behaviours conducive to loose-leash walking.
While this article may provide some insight into canine problem pulling, it is a simplified overview of what is often a complex, multi-layered behavioural issue. Many of us simply cannot do it on our own, regardless of how many articles we read. I highly advise hiring a professional dog trainer with certifications in canine behaviour to skillfully address problem pulling at its core. Remember, not all dog trainers are equal, and you do not have to have any certifications to call yourself a professional dog trainer. Do your due diligence and check credentials before hiring a dog trainer!
Whether you commit to correcting problem pulling on your own or with the help of a qualified pet professional, you are taking the first steps towards a lifetime of relaxed loose leash walking.
Good luck, and happy walking!
Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon holds multiple certifications in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years' experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.