Don’t Jerk Me Around!
With the nicer weather on the way, you may be looking forward to longer walks with your dog, enjoying the blossoming trees, warmer breezes, and blue skies along the Potomac. But what if your dog is one of those leash-pullers? One of those who makes walks miserable because he’s pulling so hard on the leash that your wrist feels like it’s spraining, and he’s wheezing and coughing and choking himself? Well, the good news is: you’re not alone – a lot of dogs do this –and, there is hope! It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks – with persistence, consistency, and patience. I repeat: this may take a LOT of persistence and patience!
So: BE CONSISTENT. Stick with it. Remind your dog that you’re the pack leader by walking tall, deliberately, and confidently.
Here are a few other ways to train your dog not to pull on the leash:
- Keep the leash short but loose. That way you can correct your dog instantly but the leash can quickly return to a relaxed state.
- Keep the collar up behind the ears (not low on the neck, which encourages and aids pulling, using shoulder strength). High and close to the ears is a more sensitive spot and thus your dog is more responsive to correction there.
- Some folks have good luck with Gentle Leaders, harnesses, Halti leashes or prong collars. I can say from personal experience with my dog Polly that none of those worked to keep her from pulling. Only much persistence and lots of treats!
- Make sure your dog is calm before the walk begins. Otherwise, it’s kind of like telling a kid you’re headed to Disney World and then telling him not to get excited! If your pup freaks out when she sees the leash or hears “walk,” it’ll behoove you to do a little training and provide time to calm down before leaving the house. If she races around in ecstasy, allow her to do that a bit, but sit calmly with the leash until she, too, is calm. Do not attempt each next step (putting on collar or leash, gathering your things, etc.) until she has calmed down and is sitting obediently. This may require lots of practice, training, praise and treats itself. You’ll need to model control and calm behavior as well.
Before correcting your dog, warn him with a word such as “stop” or “easy” before he pulls to the end of the leash. If he responds to this, offer praise and a treat. If he doesn’t, tug quickly and sharply on the leash, and turn abruptly and start walking the other way. This will show him that pulling on the leash is bad because it keeps him from going where he wants to go. Once he rejoins you and keeps the leash slack, reward him and turn back to your walk.
The ASPCA offers a great training method, for which you’ll need lots of small and desirable treats at hand:
“Start with your dog standing at your left side. With several treats enclosed in your left hand, hold your left hand right in front of your dog’s nose (within 1 inch of it). Say ‘Let’s walk,’ and walk in your intended direction. Every few seconds, pop a small treat into your dog’s mouth and praise her for walking along at your pace. You’ll need to frequently reload your hand with treats from your left pocket or from a treat pouch attached to your waist. If she pulls ahead or to the side, immediately stop. Get your dog’s attention by calling her name again. Ask her to sit, and praise her when she does. Then put the treat-loaded hand back in front of her nose and start walking again. Go a little bit farther every day that you practice. After at least a week of daily practice with lured walking, stop luring her along with your treat-loaded hand, and instead just carry your empty left hand in a natural position at your waist with elbow bent. Say ‘Let’s walk,’ and reward her, about every other step you take, with a treat that you get from your left pocket or waist treat pouch. When she can walk along without pulling for several minutes, begin gradually increasing—over many daily training sessions—the number of steps you go in between treats so that your dog is walking longer distances between rewards. Reward her every other step at first, then every 5 steps, then every 10, and so on. Eventually, you should be able to walk with your hand comfortably at your side, periodically (every minute or so) reaching into your pocket to grab a treat to reward your dog.”
So give it a go! And let us know on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/doggywalker) how it’s going!
Written by: Ashley Denham Busse
JUST A NOTE: We here at Doggywalker do not recommend flexible/retractable leashes. They can be extremely dangerous, for a variety of reasons: they can cut, burn, or even severely injure body parts they come into contact with; they also give you less control over your dog: your pup may see a squirrel in the street and dart out before you realize it and can pull the leash back in. Retractable leashes also make it harder for you to communicate with your dog since they don’t respond to your movements as well.
Ashley Denham Busse has worked part-time for Doggywalker.com since 2006. Doggywalker.com is a professional pet-sitting company located in Old Town Alexandria, celebrating more than 13 years of providing daily walks and customized in-home pet care. Visit http://www.doggywalker.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.