Walking your dog should be a relaxing, enjoyable experience – for both of you. Yet, for millions of dog owners, a walk can be one of the most stressful experiences of the day. An overanxious dog that pulls on the leash or refuses to listen while out of the house can lead to shortened walks (and less exercise for a hyperactive animal), and ultimately a less enjoyable experience with your pet on a daily basis. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to alleviate that constant pulling.
The Walking Relationship
A dog has an instinctual desire to push back when you push on their chest. By wrapping a collar or harness around them and attaching a leash, you are putting pressure on them that they return in kind. It’s an instinctual reaction and it isn’t abnormal. But, it can make walking your dog a painful experience. To avoid this from happening, you need to keep your dog from putting that pressure on the leash. The more pressure they create, the harder they end up pulling.
As the owner and the holder of the leash, your control over the walking experience is absolute – or it should be. The walk begins the second you pick up the leash, the moment your dog realizes that they are about to go for a walk. The training to control a pulling dog must begin at this exact moment – reigning in all that excess energy before it can be transferred into pulling your arm out of its socket.
Starting the Walk
When you start the walk ritual, always have your dog sit and stay first. You need to put them into a calm-submissive state where their energy is being directed into following your commands. Remember, something as simple as ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ takes a serious amount of mental energy and concentration from a dog – especially when they are that excited. By channelling that energy, you can eliminate the bouncing around that they perform before taking them out. What is important here is that you put the leash away if they exhibit excitement and jumping. Don’t reward the behaviour.
Once you’ve attached the leash, make sure the dog awaits your command entirely. They should not move toward the door or try to pull you in any way until you’ve given them leave to do so. You should be able to make it to the door without the leash pulling tight. The second the dog begins to pull, return to the original position and start over again. It can take time to teach a dog that they cannot pull excitedly, but if you return to that position over and over again, they will get it eventually. Excitement won’t get them out the door. The same goes for opening the door. Do it slowly and calmly and stop if the dog starts to get too excited.
You should never have to punish your dog. After all, you have the one thing in the world they want most – a walk. By withholding that, you have a powerful reward for them when they finally follow your commands correctly.
Walking Your Dog
Once you finally reach the sidewalk, it is extremely important that you follow the same steps from before. In some cases, it requires that you exhibit even more patience than your dog, but if you’re serious about maintaining the discipline of the walk without being pulled on, you need to make sure the dog doesn’t get rewarded for pulling. Bring a bag of treats with you (or a clicker if you’re using that as a training tool) and whenever your dog properly walks forward at your side with a slack leash, reward them.
If the dog pulls too hard or starts going in front of you, calmly take a few steps backward and make them sit and stay until you are comfortable moving forward again. Always pull gently on the leash to return to the original positions. Never do anything in anger or put too much force on the leash or the dog can misinterpret your actions and pull even harder.
It may seem a little abstract, but the goal here is to teach the dog that when the collar goes tight on their neck, they stop moving. Your voice will not be nearly as effective as that single, sharp physical sensation. It takes longer than many other training exercises, but eventually, your dog will learn that they don’t get to move forward with their walk until the leash is slack. This forces them to walk beside you without pulling and hopefully without too much excitement.