Leash training: How to improve dog pulling on leash!
Improve your dog walks with tips from an expert!
A prerequisite for having a dog is that the owner should enjoy going for walks. Of course, all dogs - including those with the most minor activity requirements - need exercise. But sometimes, the roles in the relationship between the dog and owner are flipped upside down.
Suddenly it is the dog who takes the command by pulling the leash. In such cases, one can often get the impression that the dog takes the owner for a walk and not the other way around.
What should you do if your dog constantly pulls the leash?
Many will be tempted to answer with the same coin. Often, the owner yanks the leash to stop the pulling. This may give the owner an outlet for frustration but is not a sustainable solution.
"There are many reasons why walking nicely on a leash is an important exercise. However, for many owners, it is tiring to have a dog that constantly pulls the leash. Also, depending on the dog's size, the pulling can be dangerous on slippery or rough terrain", says ethologist and behaviour consultant at the Animal Behavior Center, Anna Bjurgård Compton.
But it is not just for the owner's sake that the dog should be trained to walk nicely on a leash because the dog can also be injured by extensive pulling.
It can be harmful to the dog if it pulls by the collar and if it is a poorly fitted or unsuitable harness or if the dog pulls in the wrong way.
Behaviorally, a dog that pulls the leash will display an abnormal behaviour in other dogs' perception, which could initiate or escalate a potential conflict of aggression, says Bjurdgård Compton.
The "medicine" against leash pulling is primarily the same for small, medium and large dogs.
Below is a list of tips from our behavioural expert to help you manage your dog's leash pulling:
1: Start as soon as you get the puppy.
A common mistake dog owners make is that they start with leash training too late.
- Too many people do not care when the puppy is small because it is not strong. Though, after weeks, months and sometimes years of leash pulling, people might start training a little. Usually, they are not consistent and therefore, the behaviour persists.
This can be compared to gamblers who continue to gamble even though they keep losing– just because there is a chance of winning. In other words, the behaviour becomes extremely strong and enduring, something we do not want, unless it is a draft dog, the behaviour consultant explains.
2: There are several techniques - choose one
- When it comes to technique, there is a lot to choose from based on the dog you have, says Bjurdgård Compton, but highlights one approach in particular.
- I am a fan of the 'backwards march', which means that I reverse when the dog pulls the leash, then I reward the dog for following me with a slack leash.
When this works, the dog handler turns 180 degrees around and continues forward with the dog. Continue to reward the dog for following you. If it starts to pull, do the reverse march again.
This is an exercise that should be repeated several times during your walk.
An alternative to this method is to stop when the dog pulls the leash without reversing. When you stop and your dog sits down and contacts you, the walk can continue. This is how the dog learns that the walk only continues when the leash is slack.
In the beginning, these exercises can be as frustrating as the actual pulling of the leash. No one thinks it's fun to have to stop every five meters because the dog is constantly starting to pull again.
Here, patience is the key to success.
Each time you stop, the dog will be reminded not to pull on the leash, and after a while, the dog will adapt. Gradually, the intervals where the dog walks nicely will increase in scope. Suddenly you have walked 50 meters without leash pulling!
3: Some breeds are more challenging than others
Pulling the leash can be a source of frustration and will put your patience to the test. But do not give up! Even for an adult dog, it is possible to learn to walk nicely on a leash, as long as you keep your spirits up and train consistently.
- All dogs, fortunately, can be trained. Still, it is clear that if the dog is bred for something contrary to walking nicely, such as draft dogs or hunting dogs, this will make the training a little more complicated.
More complicated then, but not impossible.
It is about using the dog's instincts to his advantage, the behaviour consultant explains.
A draft dog wants to pull, but the owner is not necessarily interested in the dog pulling all the time. In such a case, one can apply the "Grandma's Law" principle, which reads something like this: "If you eat your vegetables, you get something good for dessert."
The principle is based on the premise that you can get your dog to perform a less likely behavior by letting the dog do a more likely behavior first.
- If the dog stands still for 1 sec, then you say free or pull, depending on what the dog loves most. Next time maybe a step in a loose leash, then pull, etc.
Gradually you can increase the length of the intervals where the dog should not pull.
4: Think about your expectations
There are good prognoses for the "walk nicely" training if you train correctly and consistently. But can one really expect the dog to walk next to the owner's foot all the time?
This is up to each dog owner to judge, but Bjurgård Compton shares her perspective:
- For me, the walk is for the dog. For large parts of the dog's life, it lives solely on our terms. It eats when we give food, goes to the bathroom when we take them out, sleeps when we sleep, is active when we allow it and so on. On a walk, the dog should have the opportunity to be a dog.
This means sniffing to your heart's desire, running loose where it is safe and as often as possible deciding where the walk goes. Still, there are parts of life where it is practical if the dog can join and follow the owner. That's when a "follow me" command is nice to have.
Therefore, I recommend everyone to practice this as soon as possible. You may also want to consider that it may be practical to train your dog to walk on both the right and left side. I have a command for each side, so based on, for example, traffic and distractions, I can ask the dog to go to the side that suits me best.
Do not worry if this training does not give immediate results - often, it will take a few days or weeks before the dog "lights up". But the method works, so do not give up!