Living in Harmony with your Dog
Training Tips Series Post #2
Resolving Common Behavior Problems
Our Loose Leash Walking Tips
Since 2015, we’ve walked hundreds of dogs of every size, age, and energy level. We’ve also had the opportunity to use a wide variety of collars, leashes, head halters, and harnesses on our walks with client pups. Based on our years of experience as dog walkers, we are well aware that leash pulling is a very common challenge for most people, and we’ve also learned that there are very simple and effective tools and exercises to eliminate pulling and make walks more enjoyable for dogs and their humans. As we advanced to dog trainers, we were able to take what we had learned as walkers to a new level and are now enjoying even more confidence and ability when venturing out on our daily walks with our client canines. We’d like to share some of our tips with you.
Why Dogs Pull on the Leash
A pulling dog is not a bad dog. Dogs generally pull because they are enthusiastic and thrilled to be out traveling and exploring, taking in scents, sights, and sounds. In addition, the dog’s natural gait is a bit faster than our two human legs can match, so walking on a leash at a human pace is actually unnatural for young, healthy dogs. And, learning the limits of leash length and understanding who is leading the walk has to be learned by dogs. We can’t expect dogs to magically know our plans and follow our guidance without teaching them to have awareness of the leash and of us as their pack leaders on walks. Finally, leash pulling becomes a learned behavior. If a dog pulls and is successful in reaching his target or destination by pulling, he learns that pulling works to achieve his goal.
In some cases, dogs may pull because they are anxious or fearful. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on enthusiastic pulling, and leave leash-anxiety for a later blog post.
What we’ve noticed as dog walkers is that some dogs have little awareness of who is on the other end of the leash because they are so focused on the excitement of the walk. Dogs who pay attention to their walkers tend to pull less and recall quickly when they do pull. So awareness on both ends of the leash is essential. We have strategies to help us manage happy and successful walks. We’ll share these tips with you in this article.
Why Pulling Needs to be Managed
Based on the info above, you might be thinking that jogging your dog will alleviate pulling. You might be that star athlete that can manage a good, fast fun run with your dog, but chances are that the faster you go, the faster and harder your dog will pull. We do think dog jogs are great doggy workouts, but pulling can be dangerous for dogs and humans, so we recommend teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash before stimulating him to pull forward even faster and harder. Why? Your dog’s health could be impacted short and long term. You may already know that pulling can damage a dog’s neck, larynx, esophagus, and spinal cord, but did you know that pulling can cause headaches, burst blood vessels, and can restrict blood flow to the brain, head, ears, and eyes? It’s not worth it. Start working with your dog now to prevent health problems in the future!
How to Get Started
Training your dog to walk with a loose leash takes time and is best taught in person or via video. While we work on our own video tips illustrating how easy and fun leash training can be, we thought it would be a good idea to share a few tips and walking tools that will manage pulling before and during leash training. Walking is a very important component of your dog’s physical and mental wellness, so we believe that managing pulling on walks before training is perfect is appropriate unless your dog is so out of control that taking him out is dangerous for him, you, or other people and animals. If you’d like to schedule a loose leash walking session with us, we are always happy to consult and offer training, and we can even do the training for you through our Walk and Train program, In the meantime, we hope these tips help.
Tip #1: Engage your dog in daily mini-obedience sessions. Each session can be as simple as a minute or two of Sit, Down, Shake, etc. Make sure your dog receives rewards for his successes in these sessions. We have noticed that once we start engaging our client dogs in simple tasks such as “Sit”, they begin paying more attention to us on walks. Why? Treats and praise, of course! Once dogs realize they will receive rewards for following cues, they begin paying attention to our voices while walking. Rewards include treats, praise, and touch.
Tip#2: Carry treats on walks. When you say your dog’s name and he responds, reward him. If he responds when you call him out of a pull, reward him. Soon your dog will begin checking in with you “just in case” there’s a reward in his future! Checking in means staying closer and having more awareness of you, so this is a great step towards loose leash success. Treats can be tiny – we carry Old Mother Hubbard Bitz on our dog walks. They are not high-calorie, are natural, are not super expensive, and most dogs love them. Your dog may prefer another variety. Treats are one of the best investments you can make to build a solid relationship with your pup.
Tip #3: Treat your dog to a no-pull harness. You’ll be lessening the pressure on his neck, and will be saving your shoulders and knees as well. We’ve walked hundreds of dogs and are aware that there is no one harness type that will absolutely stop all dogs from pulling BUT we’ve been doing this long enough to realize that there is a type of harness that works well for MOST dogs that we walk. We recommend the Pet Safe Easy Walk harness. We’ve had great results with about 90% of the dogs we walk after the Easy Walk was introduced. The Easy Walk is a “front-clip” harness, which means the leash is attached to the harness at the dog’s chest instead of the back. When the dog forges ahead, the leash pulls the dog’s chest back towards you (so he will automatically be turning slightly towards you). This is a great management tool for pullers because you can reward your dog for turning towards you, and it really limits pulling for many dogs. Keep in mind that training tools, including no-pull harnesses and training collars, are designed to manage pulling while you train your dog. They are not intended to be used forever, and all harnesses and collars can cause physical alignment issues if used long-term (particularly if the dog still pulls). If you have no luck with the Easy Walk, contact us. We are happy to recommend other options that may help with your dog.
Tip #4: Use a leash that is right for your dog. In general, if you are walking your dog with a traditional flat collar, a training collar, or a head halter, choose a well-made but lightweight leash. Heavier leashes can weigh on and even tighten training collars and head halters, causing discomfort and lessening the effectiveness of the collar. If you are using a harness, a heavier leash may be appropriate for a stronger dog. Most importantly, choose a manageable leash length. 6-foot leashes are standard and work well for most dogs, but keep in mind that shorter leashes offer more control. Some people walk their dogs with very short 1.5-foot “leash straps”. These are ideal for more crowded areas like urban sidewalks and are very good for keeping larger, strong dogs from pulling. If you are walking more than one dog, choosing 4-foot leashes may be a good option to keep the dogs from getting tangled and spreading out in different directions. Retractable leashes are not advisable for managing pulling dogs.
Tip #5: Communicate with your dog. When your dog is forging ahead, he has no idea what your plan is. Practice cueing your dog when you are going to stop, turn, etc. When your dog acknowledges you, reward him. Dogs love praise, enthusiasm, and rewards. Your dog will learn to love responding to your cues when you are lavishing him with praise.
Tip #6: Have your dog practice “Sit” on walks. Reward your dog for all successful responses. Make it fun and happy with lots of “Good dog!” high-pitched, enthusiastic praise and treats. Try walking 20-30 steps and having your dog “Sit”. Repeat every 20-30 steps and make sure to praise and reward each time. This will teach your dog to pay attention to you and will begin to condition your dog to check-in with you on walks.
Tip #7: With some of the dogs we walk, we notice that the excited, pulling behavior escalates when we enter an area that is new to the dog. Because the stimulation of uncharted territory can be distracting, try walking your dog in an area that is familiar until you begin to develop more of a leash walking “rapport” with him. On the other hand, if you live in a very busy area with lots of kids, other dog walkers, bikers, etc., perhaps taking your dog to a less populated area like a park or the beach will be helpful.
All of our training tips are guided by our love and respect for all dogs and our desire to help dog parents create harmony in their households. Dogs thrive on positive reinforcement and repetition. Practice makes perfect. Praise, Praise, Praise your good dog. You got this!
John Barrile and Shannon Morrow of Surf Sitters Pet Care and Dog Walking are both certified dog trainers who have years of experience working with dogs of all sizes, ages, energy levels, and abilities. They love sharing their knowledge and helping Topsail areas pet parents create harmony and great relationships with the canines in their homes.