by Jenny Turner
So your dog pulls on the lead? You’ve taught him well. The first time someone said that to me I thought, “I didn’t teach my dog to pull on the lead, it did it all by himself”. But then it was pointed out that I reinforced his pulling by moving ahead when the dog pulled. His brain said “pulling works, that’s how I’m supposed to walk on the lead”.
Now that we know this, it’s obvious that the best time to teach lead etiquette is from the very first day. But if you’ve missed this opportunity, it’s still not too late to re-teach, but you’ll need time, patience and a slightly different technique.
Baby puppies don’t need to be walked, they gain enough exercise simply from running, playing, and growing is very exhausting too. But this is the time when you should get them used to the lead and teach them how to walk properly while attached to it. Start in your backyard with your puppy on a lead and just walk around. If the puppy pulls, stop walking. The message to the puppy will be pulling = getting nowhere. When the puppy looks back at you or slackens the lead, praise him and then start walking again. It should only take a few training sessions for the puppy to be consistently walking on a loose leash, then all you have to do is reinforce that behaviour as the pup grows into a terrible teenager!
To re-train an older dog you use exactly the same method, the only difference is that an older dog still needs to get their exercise. If you try this method while on your normal walks, you probably won’t get to the end of the driveway before you’re ready to give up. Alternatively, if you do training sessions separately, then let your dog pull on the lead while on its normal walk, you’re undoing all your hard work. So while in the training phase you will need to find an alternative way to exercise your dog. Letting him play with another dog, chasing a ball in the backyard, or driving to the local dog park for a run-around off leash are the best alternatives. The theory is that it will take 2 weeks of solid training to change a pulling dog into a non-pulling dog.
If this all sounds too difficult and you don’t think you’ll have the patience to see it through, there is another alternative. The “Halti” and the “Gentle Leader” were designed for such a situation. These devices fit over the dog’s muzzle and head and rely on the dog’s natural instinct to not walk with its head sideways, to discourage pulling. They work just like a head halter for a horse. But be very careful not to jerk suddenly on the lead or you will hurt the dog’s nose and neck. These devices are not recommended for dogs that have very short snouts such as CKC Spaniels, Pugs, Boxers, etc, as the strap can damage their eyes as they try to pull. I suggest that you use two leads – one on the Halti and one on the dog’s collar – so the dog gets used to the feeling of a loose leash and you can still be rewarding for not pulling, then eventually wean the dog off the Halti.