Walking isn’t just a great source of exercise for you and your pet, it’s also a special time when the two of you can enjoy each other’s company and bond. But, if your dog is constantly pulling ahead on his leash, it can turn walks into an absolute nightmare.
Dogs may pull ahead on their leashes for a variety of reasons, including a desire to run when you are walking at a normal pace; a need to investigate a nearby odor, object, or other dog/person; and the sudden burst of energy that comes when he realizes it’s finally time for a walk. This leads us to tip number one.
1. Get the Right Leash
When your dog darts out in front of you, that sudden jerk isn’t just annoying; it can also be dangerous. If your dog is the chasing type, he may decide to veer from the path in order to go after an oncoming car or another source of danger if it captures his attention.
For this reason, dog owners are strongly advised to ditch retractable leashes and opt for strong, short-to-medium length leashes. A reliable, shorter leash can be especially helpful if something entices/spooks your dog into lunging toward a source of danger. You won’t have to worry about the leash extending into that area if and when the dog bolts, and you will have better control over your dog’s movement thanks to a shorter, more manageable leash.
2. Understand the Pros and Cons of Prong Collar Use
Those seeking a leash-pulling solution may be inclined to use a prong collar when walking their dogs. While the pressure of the prongs can be effective in stopping a dog from darting ahead (which can be a literal lifesaver in some instances), and it may encourage the dog to keep slack in the leash line, it comes with its own caveats.
Many consider prong collars to be inhumane because they use negative reinforcement and discomfort to change a dog’s behavior, so there’s a chance you may run into vocal detractors if you take your dog for a walk while wearing one. Also, while a prong collar may stop your dog from pulling, it may not effectively train your dog to stop pulling ahead. Some dogs will realize that when the prong collar is not present, the consequences for pulling ahead also disappear, leaving them free to pull to their heart’s content.
If you are looking for a less controversial device to help you keep your dog from pulling, you may want to consider a harness or, for dogs prone to aggressive behavior, a head collar. But, bear in mind that none of these devices are a substitute for proper training.
3. Set the Tone
It may seem strange, but how your dog acts in a given situation is often a reflection of how you carry yourself. After all, dogs have been with us for thousands of years, and over that time they have become so familiar with us that they can pick up on the subtlest nonverbal signals we may not even know we are sending.
For example, if you begin to tense up or grip your dog’s leash more tightly when a stranger walks by, your dog may pick up on those signals and perceive that person to be a threat. Even though your anxiety is coming from thoughts of how to keep your dog from misbehaving in front of that individual, your dog may see the tension you are experiencing and exhibiting, see the individual, and then view that person as the threat that is the source of your anxiety.
This can create a type of feedback loop in which your own fear of how your dog will behave makes the dog behave more fearfully. The result is similar to the old saying, “The more you squeeze, the more sand trickles through your fingers.”
One of the most important things you can do to calm your dog’s leash-lunging behavior is to exude calmness and confidence in nearly any situation. If you walk calmly with your dog by your side and keep a consistently firm (not pulling, squeezing, or panicky) grip on your dog’s leash, it will allow your dog to relax a bit, since your body language is no longer communicating that there is a potential threat nearby. Again, your dog looks to you for guidance, and if you exude confidence and calmness, your dog is more likely to reflect and adopt that same demeanor.
4. Teach Your Dog to Walk by Your Side
Teaching your dog to walk by your side is a great way to eliminate leash pulling, and it can generally make walks more enjoyable and safer.
First, take your dog’s favorite treat and collect about 50 fingernail-sized portions of it (you will need plenty for the training session). Next, hook up your dog’s leash and take him to a controlled environment where you can begin training without disruptions, such as your backyard.
Decide which side you would like to train your dog to walk on, and then feed him a treat at that side. Repeat this step numerous times to train your dog to associate being at your side with reward.
Once you believe your dog understands that being by your side (the specific side you initially chose) translates into reward, add the next step by walking around your backyard. When your dog is on the correct side following along and paying attention to you, be sure to treat and praise him. If you find your dog walking ahead of you, stop and do not allow him to move further until he returns to your side.
5. Have Patience
Remember, when you are training your dog how to walk by your side, you are essentially teaching him a new way of doing a very fundamental task. It will take some time (and lots of treats) to convince your dog that your way of doing things is better than his own. Don’t lose your cool if he doesn’t get it after the first few tries, or even if he begins to relapse into old habits at some point.
As it is when training any other behavior, you will need to show patience and understanding to help your dog learn, adopt, and remember that new behavior. With the right attitude, the right approach, and lots of practice, you’ll have all the advantages you need to help you curb your dog’s leash pulling.