Hope this message finds you well. I have a question for you my dear. My girl Lady (Cocker Spaniel) pulls when I walk her, not even funny. She really is a sweet dog, and I love her a lot, but this pulling is driving me crazy! I also have some issues with my knee, and her pulling can hurt me. Please give me a tip how to stop this pulling!
I hope that both you and Lady are well. She sounds like a super sweet dog, but I totally understand wanting to stop her pulling on leash when you walk her, especially since you have a sore knee. This is actually one of the most common problem behaviors that I get called about, and to be honest, I’m a little surprised that no one has written in about this before! It seems that there are a lot of dogs out there who pull on leash.
The problem with dogs who pull on leash is often one that builds up frustration in the owner, as walks aren’t enjoyable anymore, and often times, the dogs end up getting walked less. And this just begins a vicious circle, as when the dog gets less walks they often get more excited when they do get their walk.
We also need to be aware of the fact that dogs move much faster than we do. Most people walk their dogs at a speed that is 30% less than the dog would if he were off leash. On top of that, dogs don’t usually move forward in a straight line as they do when they’re on leash. Most dogs trot all over the place, here, there and often they backtrack a lot as well. So walking politely on leash is not typically natural for our dogs.
There are a number of training aids on the market to help with no pulling. I highly recommend front clip no pull harnesses for pullers. My favorite is the Freedom No Pull Harness, which has two points of contact. One in the front of the chest, and another along the back of the harness. Unfortunately they aren’t available in any pet supply shops in Montreal that I know of, so they need to be ordered online. You can find them here.
Another aid I recommend is a head halter. The most common ones are the Halti and the Gentle Leader, though I don’t advise them for dogs who are very hard pullers, or for dogs who lunge. I’m not terribly fond of head halters that clip to under the neck though. If the dog lunges or pulls very hard, I find that they can cause damage to the neck or spine of the dog. The head halter that I prefer most is the Slip ‘N Go, which connects from the top of the neck, and works much like a roman bridle does. (A roman bridle is a bitless bridle.)
The only shop that I know of that carries them in Montreal is the Doghaus, which is one Sherbrooke West in NDG. If that’s too far for you to get to, you can always order them from Hotdogs All Dressed.
Keep in mind though that if you do choose to use a Slip ‘N Go head halter, that you’ll need to condition to your dog to wearing one before you start using it. Most dogs don’t like wearing head halters, so it’s best to slowly introduce your dog to one with the help of treats. Start by asking your dog to place his muzzle into the loop, where you’ll have a treat waiting for him. Do this multiple times before actually putting the halter on his head. Once you can get to where the dog is happy to wear it, practice with the leash attached to it in the house, again with the help of treats before you start using it on your walks.
While training aids are great, and I do recommend them, they do not take the place of training. Many dogs will walk nicely with a training aid, but may revert to pulling once you remove the harness or head halter. This is why it’s also important to teach loose leash walking. When I teach loose leash walking, I am not concerned with the dog staying right beside me while walking. I actually prefer that the dog be ahead of me, so I can watch what he’s doing. I just don’t want him pulling, in any direction.
My favorite method by far is Ian Dunbar’s Red Light/Green Light protocol. It’s actually quite simple, but like all training, you need to be incredibly consistent for it to work. In a nutshell, you stop if your dog pulls, and you move forward once the dog stops pulling.
As soon as your dog puts any tension on the lead, you just stop moving (the red light). Don’t wait until your dog starts to pull, but rather stop as soon as there is the slightest bit of tension. You don’t have to say anything either. Your action of stopping is much louder than words. What is very important to remember though is your hand position. You need to keep your hands in the same place, I usually recommend clients to keep their hand either at their thigh, or right in front of their tummy. This matters because often when a dog starts pulling and the handler stops, they sometimes let their arm move forward until the arm is completely outstretched. And this just gives the dog a few extra feet of pulling.
We need to stop moving as soon as there is tension to teach the dog that pulling will not get him to where he wants to go. And many of our dogs have a long history of being reinforced for pulling on the leash.
Once you stop, it’s up to the dog to release the tension on the leash. Don’t ask your dog to do anything. He can remove the tension any way he wants to. Some dogs do it by moving a leg, looking in a new direction, looking back at you or even exhaling. If you find that it’s taking your dog some time to do so, then either gently say his name or make a soft sound so that he looks back at you. In doing so, he will release the tension on the leash.
Once he has released the tension, mark the good behavior with a one syllable word such as Good or Yes and then move forward. You don’t need to use treats with this protocol, as the moving forward is the reward for the dog. What he wants in that moment is forward motion. If you want to use treats you can, but I don’t find it necessary. I prefer using a real life reward in this instance.
Be forewarned though that most dogs will move forward quickly which will just put tension on the leash again quite quickly. When that happens, you’ll need to stop again as soon as there is the slightest bit of tension. At this point it’s just Rinse and Repeat. You will need to rinse and repeat quite often though. Keep in mind that your dog has a long history of pulling, so it will take some time for your dog to learn that pulling just doesn’t work, and will not get him to where he wants to go. Pulling will actually get him the opposite of what he wants, which is to get forward faster.
When you start using this method, keep in mind that it might take you 10 minutes to make it all the way down to the corner, as you’ll need to stop every single time the dog puts tension on the leash. Consistency is key here. If you never let your dog move forward when he pulls, he learn to stop pulling. And once he learns this, he will walk on leash nicely.
I hope this helps you and your dog Lady!
Good luck and happy training!
Meira Frankl (ABCDT)
Perfect Pet Training