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Friday, June 28, 2013

Training Tips: How do I stop leash pulling?

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We've all been there...your dog is full of energy, pulling you down the street, perhaps wheezing and hacking the entire way, while your neighbors stare at you silently judging.  This experience is frustrating and does not allow your walk to be an enjoyable experience.

Leash pulling is common among many dog owners.  The most common reason a dog pulls and forges ahead on his leash is because it gets him to where he wants to go...plain and simple.  Leash pulling is actually a learned behavior and not an attempt by your dog to assert dominance in your relationship (contrary to popular belief).  If you performed an action that resulted in you achieving your desired result, you would logically keep performing the same behavior.  Your dog is no different.  True, it may be slightly uncomfortable for your dog, but if he wants to sniff that incredibly interesting pee spot a few feet ahead and he achieves success by pulling ahead...then he is going to repeat the same action.

A few other reasons why your dog pulls may be due to lack of exercise and lack of stimulating environment.  If your dog has been cooped up all day without exercise, he is going to be a bundle of energy and have trouble concentrating on you.  His attention is going to focus on more interesting distractions on the walk (i.e. other dogs, exciting smells, bushes to pee on).

Training Tip:  Outlined below is our recommend 5 Step Process for correcting leash pulling

Step 1:  Do you have the correct walking gear? - Before training commences, make sure you have the appropriate leash, collar, or harness for your dog.  The appropriate equipment will not train your dog for you, but will make the experience a little easier and enjoyable.  See our post on "Collars vs. Harnesses:  Which is Best?"  do determine which equipment is best for your dog. Some trainers believe that harnesses encourage pulling.  However, in our experience, if your dog can't breathe using a collar (too much pressure on the windpipe) they won't be able to concentrate on the training.

Step 2:  Be prepared...with treats and patience - When approaching ANY training situation you must be prepared with treats.  We recommend selecting a treat that is soft so that you can easily break the treat into small bites and quickly reward your dog.  Second, use a treat that is new and exciting for your dog to hold his attention.  Have your treats readily accessible so you can reward your dog in the first 3 seconds of him completing the behaviors correctly.  If you wait longer than 3 seconds, you risk losing your dog's connection with understanding the desired behavior.

Step 3:  STOP. - Before going outside for your walk, create a calm and focused environment.  If your dog starts to get overly excited when preparing for the walk, put down the leash and wait for him to calm down.  This is often counter to the way we approach walks when training our dogs as puppies.  Most of us...ourselves included...have approached walks as the most exciting event to ever occur when training our puppies.  This is to make leashes and walks sound fun.  However, when your dog grows up, this overly excited state can create more challenges when it comes to maintaining your dog's focus.

picture and caption  So, remember before you place the leash on your dog make sure he comes to you and is sitting calmly.

Jack ready for his morning walk!

Once the leash is on, walk towards the door.  If your dog pulls before reaching the door, STOP.  You don't need to verbalize any commands, simply stop moving.  Do not pull back on the leash, just be frozen.  This will probably surprise your dog at first, however, this is desired so we can capture his attention.  

Once your dog moves back and allows slack in the leash, proceed to move forward.  Once your dog begins pulling again, STOP, wait for slack in the leash again, and then move forward.  Your dog will quickly learn he only gets to move forward when there is a neutral leash and no pressure on the lead.

Step 4:  Praise - When your dog comes back to you or walks close to you with a neutral leash, actively reward with treats and praise.  

Step 5:  Be Consistent - As long as you are consistent with any training, leash pulling included, you will achieve success.  It is key to stop moving EVERY time your dog pulls.  Allowing your dog to pull even once out of ten times, will send a conflicting message.  If you have a dog walker or family member who regularly walks your dog, share the same message and ensure they are also practicing a consistent method. 

Be prepared that this will likely take several days to a couple of weeks for your dog to completely stop pulling on the leash.  He will continue to test the limits to see whether pulling will still result in getting him what he desires.  Be positive and stick with it!

Happy walking!!


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