Is your dog a puller? Do they dig right in and drag you down the street? Maybe they just pull lightly, but it's enough to make your walks unpleasant. There are many ways to fix this, but like with all things in dog training, it will take patience and consistency on the part of the handler.
When I see a dog pulling with all its might, I often wonder if they are thinking their life would be easier if they didn't have to drag 120 pounds of human everywhere! Dogs pull because they want to get somewhere and the environment often works against us by rewarding the dog for the wrong thing. If they learn that pulling works, they'll keep pulling. The good news is, this is not an insurmountable problem. To stop leash pulling, you need 3 ingredients:
- Lots of Practise
- A Controlled Environment
- High Value Rewards
Lots of Practise
This is the key rule to all facets of dog training. If you want your dog to understand your criteria and make good decisions, you must practise and show them what you'd like them to do. It's not enough to simply head out for walks and hope for the best. You must decide on your methods and spend some time teaching your dog how to keep the leash loose.
A Controlled Environment
This is the trickiest factor in most dog training lessons. The environment will confuse your dog. It will tempt him. It will reward him for the wrong behaviours if you allow it to. If you are rushing to get the dog out for their walk, and you allow them to drag you because you don't have the "time" to fix it right now, they're rehearsing the wrong behaviour and they'll learn through rehearsal that pulling gets them where they want to go.
When we start teaching a new behaviour, we always want to start new lessons in a controlled environment. Make sure you have the time you need and set up in a space where there are familiar surroundings and minimal distractions. Once your dog can master loose leash walking in the living room, move to the backyard. You'll eventually get to the point where your dog can walk nicely everywhere, but don't be in a giant rush. Imagine trying to learn calculus on a roller coaster - likely not going to work out well. It's the same for your dog. If the environment overwhelms them, they'll have a very hard time learning.
High Value Rewards
Building value for your dog remaining with you on a loose leash is key. Repetitions of success will go a long way towards your end goal. Be sure to help your dog with your voice and even the occasional touch to keep a good connection. Reward using their favourite treats when they are on a loose leash. Try tactics like changing direction and rewarding them for maintaining the loose leash. That will help them understand what you're looking for.
Early, frequent lessons will really help your dog understand what it is you are looking for. Take your time and it will pay off nicely.
Try a Head Halter
One final thought: while you are teaching these important lessons, life must continue. You'll need to walk your dog on leash for many reasons and a lot of those reasons will put you in environments that will overwhelm the dogs with distraction. We love Gentle Leaders for many reasons (read about them here), but this is one of the best reasons. They will help stop your dog from pulling and they'll often help them focus as well. They are great "in the meantime" tools. While you have to live your life, you can help prevent your dog from rehearsing the wrong behaviour by using a Gentle Leader.
The key to loose leash walking is a bit of planning and a lot of practise. If you embrace both, your dog will learn great leash manners that will carry them through the rest of their lives.
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