Are you struggling with the problem of banged-up shoulders and strained arm muscles? Walking down the stairs with your dog on a lead reminds you of attractions equal to those in an amusement park? And the weather forecast predicting snow and icy conditions makes you dread a walk with your pooch? If so, you are probably borked by a dog pulling on a lead and this article is for you. You will find out why your dog pulls on the lead and how to deal with it.
The problem of the dog pulling on the lead is quite serious, especially since even a small dog can injure an adult’s arm – all it takes is a moment of inattention during which the dog suddenly jerks. How dreadful if the dog pulls all the time! Another problem is that with a dog that pulls on a leash we have to exclude combining walks with other activities because we are not able to hold anything else but the leash in our hand. Carrying shopping, cycling with a dog or driving a pram is out of the question.
To make walking our pet on a leash a pleasant and non-absorbing activity, it is enough to teach it to walk on a loose leash. NOTE: „loose” does not mean „long”. The leash can be 1.5m long but hang freely, not tight.
Sometimes learning to walk on a loose leash is mistaken for walking on a leg.
There is a fundamental difference between these two behaviours – when we speak of a loose leash, we mean a dog walking freely within its length, sniffing and exploring the area, whose only task is to make sure that the leash is not stretched. When walking on a loose lead, the dog is relaxed, not concentrating intensively. Walking with the lead, on the other hand, means a state of high concentration where the dog is in a specific position at our lead, which in itself excludes a relaxed walk full of exploration of the environment and experiencing various sensations from the environment.
Walks are for your dog to freely explore the world and take in new stimuli from the environment.
Your dog shouldn’t be at its highest concentration throughout the entire walk. For the mental health of the animal, it needs a clear distinction between working and relaxing mode (the proportions should be leaning towards the relaxing side). Therefore, learning to walk on a loose leash is an ideal solution that allows both the dog and us to benefit from the walk, as the dog can walk freely at the same time without completely switching off his thinking.
To start effectively combating the problem of a tight leash, it is first necessary to know the source of the problem.
Why does the dog pull on the leash?
The reason is simple, the dog has learned to pull because it can always reach its target faster. Different dogs develop different pulling strategies.
Some push forward like battering rams, others use a sudden jerking technique, and others can stand on a pole and pull on two legs. The methods used by the dog depend on what made them reach their goal. If a dog has seen that only sudden jerks allow it to get where it wants to go quickly, that is the technique it will use.
A second reason why the dog pulls may be that it is too highly aroused, which is related to a lack of emotional control. Sometimes it is enough to work on the dog’s self-control and the leash suddenly becomes loose.
The third reason why the dog pulls may be the type of leash we lead it on. Flexi leashes are fashionable and considered to be comfortable. We think that by using such a leash, the dog has more freedom and we don’t have to bother with the leash that gets tangled under our feet. In theory, it looks like a beautiful solution, but what if it teaches our dog to tighten the leash. How? It’s simple – when we pay attention to the mechanism of unfolding the leash, we immediately notice that the dog unfolds the leash while pulling it. So, he learns that to move forward and to extend the range of the leash, he has to push against its resistance. Interestingly, the sound of the lock snapping and the Flexi unfurling can irritate some dogs, causing them to pull, as the dog tries to get away from the sound.
If we are looking for a lead for a puppy that we are only going to familiarise with the leash, we should resign from using automatic flexi-type leads. A long leash (2 – 4 metres) made of Biothane, fabric, tape or leather will work much better. A perfect solution is a leash which can be rewired at different lengths (so-called training leads), thanks to which it is us who control the distance at which the dog walks, not it. Such a lead generally allows better control over the animal, because it is easier to handle and shorter than a stretched one. You can also use a training line, convenient are those made of waterproof Biothane-coated tape.
Many owners faced with the problem of a pulling dog decide to put their dog in a spike, choke, clip harness or even an electric collar.
The reasons vary, sometimes stemming from the fact that the dog is very strong and the dog owner does not have enough strength to keep the dog on the leash, so a spike, for example, at first seemingly solves the problem in the eyes of the guardian. To use these tools, you need to have specialist training knowledge, backed up by both a strong theoretical foundation and years of practice. It is very easy with an aversive tool to cause psychological and physical harm to the dog (damage to the larynx and cervical spine, micro-injuries to the trachea, etc.). It should also be borne in mind that a dog, after wearing e.g. a spiked collar permanently, simply stops paying attention to it and continues to pull, but the bad associations continue to consolidate.
Learning to walk on a loose leash
It is a simple matter, it requires ONLY self-control and self-denial. It is enough to consistently not let the dog reach the desired goal on a tight leash. If we show him that by tightening the leash not only will he not reach something he wants to reach, but he will also start to move away from it, and he will very quickly learn to control his emotions and to keep the leash loose.
There are many ways to learn to walk on a loose leash, I give a few of them. You will get the fastest results by using them in parallel.
What does a loose leash look like and how do I maintain it?
Regardless of its length, a loose leash has a „U” shape with the snap of the leash hanging down freely.
The leash should be held in the right hand, forming a loop, allowing the leash to be loosened. Before the dog tightens the lead, we try to attract his attention (e.g. by smooching) and then we change the direction of walking or continue walking in the same direction, provided that the lead remains loose. However, if the dog tightens the leash – we say calmly „NO” and immediately stand still (even growl) or take a step back, encouraging the dog to follow us or at least pay attention to us. When the leash becomes loose (Remember – it is the dog that is coming up, not you), We praise the dog – „GOOD DOG”.
The signal „NO” will be for the dog the so-called „signal of no reward”.
When the dog stubbornly tries to pull, we prevent tugging and sniffing by shortening the lead and „catching” the dog to ourselves, then we immediately loosen the lead, wait for a moment of contact and then allow the dog to sniff what it was aiming at (within reason of course – if the aim is completely forbidden for the dog, we simply walk away with the command „GO”, giving something better in exchange). ATTENTION: we do not jerk the dog!
We reward with praise or a treat every look at us and moments when the dog walks nicely without pulling.
Penalties – learning from scratch
1) First we start with some GREAT temptations for the dog. It can be a family member with something to eat (you are allowed to call out to the dog, but not his name or any commands, you are allowed to jump in place, squat down, show the dog the bowl, etc), friendly dogs by the fence, someone playing with a ball, a toy, etc.
2) The temptation is to be great, but not personal, i.e. no one said it was specifically for our dog.
3) Another option is to simply show the dog the bowl at dinner time (dog tied or held so he doesn’t run straight to the bowl), but instead of putting it in front of the dog, we put it away from the dog.
4) We place the temptation at a certain distance (e.g. 10m) from the starting line (we mark the starting line for ourselves), gradually increasing it.
5) We say the dog’s name (or wait for spontaneous eye contact) and the command „GO”.
6) The dog wants to pull to the temptation of which direction we start walking. As soon as the dog tenses the lead slightly (initially this will be after 1 step), we calmly say „NO”, turn around and walk back to the starting line with the dog.
7) We do not jerk the dog, but take it with us. We take the lead to the start line, and by extension anything attached to it (sometimes we will pull the dog slightly, but he will quickly start walking with us without pulling back, looking forward to the next repeat of reaching the temptation).
8) At the start line, we wait for the dog to stop pulling (it will eventually stop) and look at us. When we have eye contact, we say „WE GO” and move forward again.
9) He pulls again – we say calmly „NO” and move back to the starting line.
10) You have to assume from the beginning: I have time and the dog will wait. Patience and consistency will be the source of success. The dog learns that every time he tightens the leash, he loses the ground he has already passed.
11) When we get to our temptation, we tell the dog „PLEASE” and reward the dog – play with a ball, give treats, let him eat his dinner, depending on the type of temptation.
12) We repeat the entire lesson several times (in the case of using dinner, only one repetition because the dog eats dinner) until we have the dog walking on a loose leash towards the big temptation.
13) Once we have mastered the beginnings and in everyday life (on walks, outside of practice sessions) the dog still pulls sometimes, as soon as he starts to do this we say „NO” calmly and stop or turn in place 180 degrees and start walking in the opposite direction (you can vary the exercise).
14) We do not jerk the dog, we simply turn and change direction and he is hooked to us. If he looks at us or just walks nicely, we praise „GOOD DOG” and can reward him.
15) If we care about moving in a certain direction, after a few steps without pulling, we turn back to the direction we went before, we then say „WE GO”, praise and reward them when he joins us (we teach him phrases in the process).
16) If at the beginning we walk back and forth for a short distance, we do not worry about it. Next time the stretches without pulling will be longer and longer.
HELP! MY DOG IS TOO STRONG!
Especially at the beginning of learning the loose leash, it happens that, despite sincere intentions, the dog’s owner is simply too small and weak to be able to physically hold the dog (which is sometimes also necessary, e.g. when the dog is pushing with all its might to get to the target or suddenly pulls away and thus drags us behind it). If we don’t have enough strength to stop the dog, the whole learning of a loose leash is in vain, because the dog learns that „on the sly” he succeeds.
For such exceptional dog strongmen, you may decide to use walking accessories, which will help us to keep the dog on the leash without too much trouble.
ATTENTION: The proposed accessories do NOT teach your dog to walk on a loose leash! They help us to control the dog while working/walking.
A very popular solution used with dogs is harnesses fastened at the front so-called easy-walk harnesses
The construction of these harnesses assumes that the dog is not able to pull, because the harness can fasten the leash at the front on the chest, instead of the standard one on the back. How does it work? The force with which the dog pulls us turns our dog on its side. Therefore, the more force the dog uses, the faster it will turn in the opposite direction than it intended to pull us.
With the easy-walk harness, it must fit correctly! The front strap must not be too loose as it may make our dog fall over, while too tightly fastened restricts movement.
Another solution used by dog owners is a halter.
In my opinion, it is more complicated than the harness with front fastening and requires introducing the dog to its use. Additionally, the halter can have an impact on a dog’s well-being.
Its principle is to turn the dog’s muzzle and head to the side/back when the leash is pulled. However, it is connected with the physical and psychological discomfort of the dog – it may be a reason for growing frustration in the dog (physically it cannot pull, but psychologically it does not calm down at all). It is quite a strong stimulus for the dog. Sometimes it can also lead to aggressive behaviour towards other dogs because it disturbs the dog’s communication. It is also relatively common for dogs to learn to pull it off or pull on it – in addition, before we put the halter on the dog for a walk, it is necessary to conduct several sessions of learning to wear the halter by rewarding the dog when it is on and pulling it off. Without this, there is a good chance that the dog will simply start to squirm and get upset because he doesn’t know what he has on his muzzle.
A halter is not suitable for dogs that make sudden spurts, as it can even cause spinal injuries! (And it doesn’t matter that the leash is attached to the collar on the other side – when we have such a dog, sometimes we may not manage to catch the end of the leash attached to the collar and the dog will hurt itself).
For which dogs is the halter intended?
Definitely for calm dogs full of self-denial and stubbornness, which simply push ahead, but do not take any breaks. Their only tactic is to push through the biggest obstacles like a tank. With such dogs a halter will be successful, because it will help us to react at the beginning and thanks to that, maybe gain focus.