Does your dog act like a sled dog when you walk?  If so, then you are always going where he wants to go and probably getting your shoulder pulled out of its socket.  What’s the view like from behind when your dog is the leader?  Not so good, huh? When you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes!

All dogs need to learn to walk nicely by your side without pulling ahead or dragging behind.  Your dog should be looking to you for direction.  Many dogs are able to comply but so many others have such a natural instinct to hunt or are so excited to be walking that they pull constantly, even when they have been trained to heel.  There are several ways to deal with this behavior.  First, you need to have your dog outfitted with the proper equipment.  A regular flat collar, a martingale, a metal choke collar or a prong collar are ineffective for major pullers.  These only cause the dog to choke and cough, and may damage the dog’s throat.  Instead, there are several collars or harnesses which you should consider:

  • Head halters such as the Gentle Leader.  These collars fit over the dog’s nose somewhat like a horse’s halter and the leash attaches to the nose loop.  When the dog pulls, the nose loop pulls the dog’s head to the side which stops the dog from pulling. These collars are very effective for most pullers, but some dogs have trouble adjusting to the feeling of the loop over their noses. The proper fitting and introduction of the collar to the dog is critical to the success of its use. And for some dogs, like my Gizzy, the head halters are ineffective. In fact, Gizzy pulled so hard that he crushed his tear duct in one eye from the loop compressing on his nose.
  • Body harnesses such as the Easy Walk.  These harnesses fit around the dog’s chest and back, and the leash attaches to the front of dog’s chest.  When the dog pulls, the harness tightens around the dog’s chest and stops the dog.  I have found these harnesses to be most effective, however, a small number of dogs experience chafing under the front legs and some can twist their bodies and escape from them. The old-style harness where the leash attaches on the top of the dog’s back are completely ineffective to stop a dog from pulling.
  • There are other types of devices that have been shown to be effective for some dogs: the Sporn (www.sporn.com) and the Weiss Walkie (www.emilyweiss.com) are two popular types of leashes and harnesses to try.

Additionally, the proper leash is an important ingredient for preventing pulling. If you really, really want your dog to stay close to you as you walk, always use a flat 4 foot or 6 foot leash instead of the retractable leash that gives your dog the ability to run 15 feet or more away from you, giving you less control over your dog.

Believe it or not, when you allow your dog to pull, you are unintentionally reinforcing the behavior. Your dog is getting his way.  And if you try to jerk him back, something called an opposition reflex kicks in: If you pull the dog, the dog pulls more.

Here are a few tactics to practice. First, pick a time when you can concentrate on working with your dog, obviously not when you are in a rush to go to work or take the kids to sports practice.  Designate a time of day when you can have a leisurely walk and can work with your dog uninterrupted.  Have your dog on a short leash and the appropriate type of collar as discussed above. Stand still with your dog by your side (traditionally, a dog heels to your left, but unless you are competing in shows with your dog, it does not matter to which side your dog walks). Start to walk slowly, keeping the leash tight.  If your dog starts to pull, change the direction you are walking.  If he resumes pulling, do another about-face and keep on walking.  Because you are keeping a tight leash, your dog has no choice but to follow you.  Your neighbors will watch you curiously as you zigzag up and down the street, but that’s okay!  Continue walking this way until your dog gets the idea that he must follow you. 

Another effective way to teach your dog not to pull is for you to stop walking when your dog pulls. Just stand there, don’t pull on him. Only begin walking again if he ceases straining. You are rewarding him for walking nicely by resuming the walk.  He will learn that pulling gets him nowhere.

With these tactics, your dog will eventually begin to realize that in order for him to have a walk, he must be watching you and not pulling.  Remember to praise your dog in a happy voice as he walks nicely by your side.  Your dog thrives on your happy praise and tells him when he is pleasing you.  Every time you or someone else walks your dog, you must practice the above strategies. 

I only covered a couple of ways to resolve leash pulling. Please consult with a qualified positive rewards trainer or behavior consultant if you’re still having problems.

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