We are all familiar with the sight of someone being pulled within an inch of shoulder dislocation as they walk their dog. It is not a good look and it makes walks pretty unpleasant all round. It is also a clear indication that the dog/owner relationship is not as it should be.
Young pups are not born knowing how to walk on the lead. They walk faster than us and their natural instinct is to move towards anything they like at maximum speed and in the opposite direction from anything that scares them. The human solution is to control the puppy’s movement by tightening the lead while the puppy pushes against the pressure holding them back. In one tiny lesson we teach the pup to push forward against a tight lead and to associate that feeling with momentum.
The solution is really quite simple but one that demands absolute patience and consistency. In the first place teach the tiny pup to view walking on a lead and collar as a fun game not an endurance test.
Start off with your pup facing you and walk backwards. Encourage your pup to come towards you as you continue moving backwards. A nice treat and verbal praise ensures the pupster is fixated on you. Think when we first teach a baby to walk we often walk backwards holding the toddler’s hands as they take a few steps towards us. The fact that they can see our face encourages focus and confidence.
Once your pup is happily trotting towards you, every now and then pivot so you now walk forwards with your back to the pup. Your pup will now walk beside you for a few paces – note and praise the first few seconds of the pup walking on the lead without pulling. You can build on this by constantly changing direction so the pup watches you to see where you are going. The more your pup watches you the better. Building focus is the way to go, think of it as a dance where you are leading. Build focus and training in tiny sessions, and slowly begin to train in different locations and with different distractions.
It is also important to have the right tools and equipment. The lead should be long enough to hold across your body, with arms relaxed and down by your sides. Leather or strong nylon is preferable to chain links. Every dog should wear a collar because they must carry a legally compliant identity disc. This is in addition to being microchipped, not an alternative. However, although a flat collar may work just fine, very ‘pully’ dogs may do better on a harness. Excessive pulling on the collar can damage young throats- leading to problems with breathing in adulthood. For this reason choke collars are definitely not a good idea.
The best harnesses are those with a ‘D’ ring on the chest as well as on the back. These are used with a double-ended lead where you end up with what amounts to a pair of reins. The beauty of this type of harness is that it is safe and the ability to control the dog at two points makes pulling much harder for them. Many determined ‘pullers’ can be taught to walk well on a Mekuti or Perfect Fit harness.
Finally, very headstrong dogs may benefit from retraining on a head collar, somewhat like a dog version of a bridal. These should be used with caution and be sure to get professional advice so you are clear how to use them, incorrect use can damage the dog.
Leonie St Clair
This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of SE22 magazine.