Want to know how to stop your dog pulling on the lead? You need to take control of the walk
If you can remember your first driving lesson, hopefully you weren’t taken into the middle of a busy city at rush hour. In my case, my instructor took me to some quiet roads with little or no traffic so I could begin to learn the controls and rules. Only when he felt I was ready did we progress to something a little more challenging. This is a very sensible and safe way to approach learning a new skill of course, yet how many people have had the same amount of training and practice with walking the dog before heading out into the big, wide world?
Taking on board the idea that it is a good idea to start somewhere quiet with no distractions, it is a great idea to practice walking your dog in your house and yard exclusively for a week or even more, so when you do venture out into the big, wide world you can do so calmly and without stress, with a dog that already has an idea of how to behave. After this time, if you don’t feel confident that your dog is responsive to you then keep practicing until you do - it is worth getting it right.
A really important point here is to note the excitement level of your dog. If you can’t even pick up the leash or put your sneakers on without them jumping around excitedly, then this is where you need to start your practice. I have even been to help people who dare not even say the word “walk” in front of their dogs, spelling it out for fear of creating a hyperactive monster. I ask them to say the word “walk” out loud until the dog realizes that this doesn’t actually have any significance in itself. Look at it this way – if you haven’t got control of your dog in the home with none of the external distractions, chances are you’ll have little joy once you are outside. Just like driving a car, it is an excellent idea to start somewhere quiet so you have time to properly learn the controls. I remember this coming up at a talk I did near London. A gentleman told me that he liked to walk his dog. I replied that I like to ride my motorbike; I was so happy I knew how to control it though.
Practice doing whatever you may need to do at first regularly until there is only a calm reaction from your dog. There is no need to scold your dog at any point during the process, if they are not cooperating then the process goes no further. You can even walk away - they ‘lose’ your presence as a consequence and they learn that the walk doesn’t happen if they play up. The calmer your dog is the more information they will absorb, and they will also learn that in order to continue the walk they must remain so. By the same token, we are not after a zombie-like state from our dogs. Of course they can show excitement, as long as you feel it is under control.
N.B. Another common myth is that you can tell a dog is happy because it wags its tail. This is what leads many to believe that their dogs enjoy going for a walk. In truth, a wagging tail is a sure sign that a dog is more alert. A dog can bite you while wagging their tail!
PUTTING ON THE DOG LEAD
The next step is putting your dog on leash. Call your dog to you, with a treat if necessary at first to give them a good reason. There are dogs out there that do not like the look of the leash, or maybe they have previously had a negative experience with one. If this is the case, just calling the dog to you with the leash either on the ground near you or in your hand is a start to breaking down their anxiety. If your dog is OK with the leash, call them to you and attach the leash to their collar with as little fuss as possible. If you have a slip leash, simply place it around their neck.
Getting a dog on the leash under control at home is a crucial first step that many people do not master. If the dog is out of control before you even get the leash on, there is a good chance that once outside, surrounded by countless distractions and potential problems, they are even less likely to listen to you.
Some dogs may bite the leash when you attach it; if so you can wait or even take the leash off and walk away. Once the leash is on – and your dog is calm enough -you are ready to practice walking around your house & garden.
THE STOP-START METHOD
Being calm does not mean that a dog acts like a robot. Of course they can be excited. However, it is good if you still feel that you are happy and in control. Once your dog is calm, it is time to walk. Walk slowly first and with confidence, looking where you are going. You are leading the walk; not your dog. Move off in any direction. It is absolutely fine for your dog to walk slightly ahead of you, but only if the leash is slack. As soon as the leash goes tight, stop and smoothly turn in another direction (any direction except the way you were going), and continue to walk until the lead goes slack again - a sign that your dog has accepted your decision and is following you. Once the lead has gone slack you can turn around and continue to walk in the direction you were going. Once again if your dog moves ahead of you and the lead goes tight, turn in another direction and walk a few steps.
This process of changing direction - we call it stop-start change direction - allows your dog to learn that you are making the decisions about which direction you are moving (leading the hunt) and that all they need to worry about is being you. You will often see people jerking the leash to try to stop a dog from pulling, but your gestures are smooth and relaxed. We walk using our legs, not our arms; if you walk in a direction with your dog on the leash, they will follow you! Knowing this means that you can avoid the frustrated jerking action which will make the process more pleasant for you and your dog.
Some dogs will resist or sit down during this process. If this happens allow your arm to extend behind you and keep your elbow locked straight, so as not to yank on the lead, keep looking straight ahead and continue walking SLOWLY. Dogs that resist are challenging you; in essence they are saying “who do you think you are to tell me where to go?” Dogs of all sizes and shapes have resisted after just a little work on leash in the house or garden; after all, it’s sometimes the very first time that they have received this information. If you are patient and consistent your dog will eventually get the message and they will follow you. If in the rare event that your dog lies down and goes dead weight, you can wait, encourage them back onto their feet by calling then or keep going slowly if you think it won’t be painful to them. This is why it is a very good idea to start practicing this at home or in the garden. If your dog does this, you can drop the leash and walk away, even closing a door behind you so the dog sees that it loses the pack for this behaviour – a consequence that they are not keen on. It is important to get this process right, so practice as much as possible around your house and garden, where you both feel safe and there is no pressure if it goes wrong or your dog really starts to test you. Once you feel your dog has really got the message, you can head out into the big, wide world, feeling much more in control.
The article has extracts from Tony's forthcoming eBook "Think Like A Dog" that will come out later in the year in conjunction with his new TV show