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How to stop your dog pulling on the lead

22/02/2019 - Latest News

Dog trainer Sean Pickering shares some tips to stop your dog pulling on the lead.

Dog walking is miserable when you are being tugged along at the speed of an express train. You feel anxious, embarrassed and exhausted. Over time, resentment builds up and dog walking becomes a chore. But please don’t give up. A good dog trainer can help you understand why your dog behaves as it does. Once you know what’s going on, there are techniques that you can use to change your dog’s behaviour and shape him or her into a cool calm and collected exerciser.

Why does your dog pull so hard?

It seems crazy doesn’t’ it? The dog is huffing and puffing, straining and choking yet it still pulls like a train. There are lots of explanations and without meeting your dog I cannot be certain what’s going on but here are some possible scenarios.

It’s possible, that as a pup, your dog did learn how to walk nicely on the lead, but something has happened to override that training. On the other hand, perhaps loose lead walking was never properly mastered.

The dog is afraid or anxious. If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety you’ll relate to that feeling when the adrenaline rises and you just want to run to safety.

Perhaps the dog is too excited about the walk. Again adrenalin is at the heart of the problem but the motivation is different.

The dog feels as though the lead is an enemy. But if you put yourself in the dog’s position for a second you can sympathise. The dog is uncomfortable, he doesn’t know why, he just knows that something is tugging at him and he wants to escape from it.

All of these scenarios (and others) can be addressed with force-free dog training to make dog walking a lot more pleasurable.

How to start training your adult dog to walk on the lead

Have everything ready before you start

Your first port of call should be to a qualified dog trainer who will help you to read the dog’s body language and work out why lead walking is such a challenge for you both. Don’t worry, you won’t be judged. Personally I admire anyone who has the courage to ask for help rather than rehome their dog. Choose a dog trainer who uses force-free or reward based training. Believe me, when dogs learn through positive association they will remember the lessons forever.
Invest in a dog harness that is comfortable for your dog. Make sure it’s adjustable and that you take the time to fit it properly. Some people like a harness with the lead attachment on the chest. I don’t mind where the attachment is, force free training overcomes pulling problems by training your dog to walk on a loose lead no matter where the lead attaches to his “clothes”.

Arm yourself with a clicker and a big stash of really delicious treats. I’m not talking about boring old bits of kibble, I’m talking small chunks of chicken, cheese or sausage. Irresistible goodies that are worth working for (if you’re a dog). And plenty of them – this is no time to hold back.

The aim of the training

Training loose lead walking is all keeping your dog calm.  Many dogs associate their lead with “walkies” and understandably get quite excited when you pick up the lead and head for the door.

We’re aiming to keep those adrenalin levels nice and low from the outset. From the moment you pick up the lead, you need your dog to be calm, confident and optimistic.

The first loose lead walking lesson

I can’t stress enough that this is only one of several techniques that can be used to help stop your dog pulling on the lead. No dog training techniques are “one size fits all”. A dog trainer can advise the most effective for you and your dog.

Set the scene for concentration and focus

The first loose lead walking lesson needs to be somewhere with minimal distractions for the dog. Somewhere he or she feels relaxed and comfortable. And preferably somewhere where there is nothing to remind them of their usual behaviours. Your dog trainer can usually suggest somewhere suitable.

Choose a time when both you and the dog are calm. If you are tired, hungry or grumpy, training will be more difficult for you both.

Keep the excitement levels low

Pop the dog’s harness on and attach the lead. Remain calm but positive. If your dog decides that’s the cue for a walk and starts to get aroused*, stay in one place and wait for calm behaviour. Reward a nice calm “sit” with a click or a treat. You might have to repeat that a couple of times but trust me, until the dog learns that silliness loses the thing he or she values most – your attention.
(In dog training terms aroused means anything other than calm eg excited, fearful, noisy, bouncy, crouching down)

The first steps

With your dog facing you, hold the lead really loosely. When I’m teaching loose lead walking, I don’t want to see any tension whatsoever in your hand or your arm. No ramrod straight back, nothing. Your dog can read your body language like a book so you need to send the right message.

Now walk backwards, away from the dog but still facing him or her. Encourage your dog to follow you and while the lead is slack, keep those rewards coming. If that goes well, turn your body around but keep walking so that your dog is following along behind or beside you. Encourage him with your voice, keep your body language relaxed and reward your dog while every couple of paces while the lead is slack.  The second that lead goes taut stop, regroup and start again. See – you can do it!

Now you have something to build on, stop the lesson on a good note. Lead is unclipped, (provided you are in a safe place) harness comes off and there is a massive amount of cuddles and praise.
Practice a couple of times a day if you can, in the garden or in the living room. And gradually increase duration and the distractions. The aim is to keep your dog focused on you. It will be hard work to start with and both of you will be worn out by the amount of concentration involved but it’s sooo worth it. Just remember, no-body moves until the dog is calm and keep on dispensing those rewards. 

Find a loose-lead walking mentor

Teaching a dog to stop pulling on the lead and walk calmly can be frustrating at times. Just when you think you’ve mastered it, one of you will lose focus and the wrong behaviours will show up again. That’s not unusual. If you were to draw a graph of any dog training progress it will almost certainly look like a zig-zag. There’ll be highs and lows but the general trend is upwards.

It helps to have a suitable mentor who can encourage you, remind you how far you’ve come and tweak your training techniques to get faster results.

I’m a qualified dog trainer with a wealth of experience and I’m here to help dog owners in the Romford area conquer their dog training challenges. I offer 1-2-1 training sessions, group training sessions and residential dog training where Fido comes to me for some intensive learning.

If you’d like help to stop your dog pulling on the lead, here’s how to contact me.

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