What to do about a ‘pulling’ dog
What to do about a ‘pulling’ dog
Does it feel like your dog is pulling you off your feet on your daily walks?
If so, you’ve probably felt annoyance, frustration, resentment …. all the emotions you don’t want to feel when walking your dog. Also, being constantly pulled is dangerous, especially in winter when ice is underfoot and falls and injuries can happen. A dog can also suffer injuries to its neck, not mention gagging and coughing. And there’s a real danger a dog will break free of its leash if it pulls hard enough.
So, what can be done to curb this undesirable and dangerous behaviour? Fortunately, there are tools and techniques that can help.
A dog that pulls excessively is “the most common problem” dog trainer Jason Shute of Shute Balanced Dog Training in Guelph gets called about. Any method used to reduce pulling in dogs “has to be reinforced with consistency and clarity of communication, and rewards (food),” Shute says, adding “there’s so much that goes into it.”
Dogs pull on the leash because it works: it gets them where they want to go. When you pull back, it only increases their pulling; this is called “oppositional reflex” and it’s a dog’s subconscious way of maintaining balancing. Some experts advise stopping each time a dog pulls and then continuing to walk once the dog allows the leash to become slack. It works but it is “the slow boat to China” way of training a dog not to pull, Shute says.
When training a dog not to pull, Shute recommends using “food rewards and lots of turns.” The idea is to reinforce a dog’s behaviour by rewarding it with treats and making a lot of turns. “Keep dogs focusing and paying attention to what you’re doing.” he advises.
When Shute trains a dog that pulls, he starts conditioning it to heel by using food rewards and vocal commands. Once the dog realizes that “the good stuff is happening right beside me” it is easier to maintain a “loose leash” with the dog, he finds. If a dog drifts off and starts pulling, Shute will call its name and take a step backwards to reinforce the idea the dog’s position is by his side.
Training a dog not to pull requires a lot of patience and consistency and it can be augmented by using collars and harnesses specifically designed to prevent pulling, Shute says. He adds that a big no-no is using a retractable leash. That’s because retractable leashes will actually encourage and increase pulling and won’t curb the problem.
Collars and harnesses that help reduce excessive pulling include a martingale collar, a gentle leader, a front closing harness and a prong collar. Both the gentle leader and prong collar require a habituation process before they are used routinely, Shute recommends.
Here are basic descriptions of these collars, harnesses and leaders:
1.) A martingale collar is made with two loops. The larger loop is slipped onto the dog's neck and a lead is then clipped to the smaller loop. If the dog pulls on the lead, the one around their neck tightens.
2.) The gentle leader head collar fits securely over your dog’s nose. When the dog pulls forward, the nose loop redirects his head towards you, preventing pulling.
3.) A front-clip harness can help manage a strong pulling dog while you work on improving its on-leash behaviour.
4.) A prong collar contains metal spikes on the inside that dig into and ‘pinch’ a dog’s neck if it pulls on the leash. The idea is the ‘pinch’ action of the collar mimics the sensation of a mother dog grabbing a puppy’s neck during a correction.
In addition, placement and sizing of a dog collar is important. The lower neck of a dog is its heavy muscle zone “so the higher the collar is placed behind the ears the better,” Shute notes. If a collar is too low it gives a strong dog more power to pull on a leash.
Even with all these techniques and tools, training a dog not to pull is a long-term commitment and will require ongoing reinforcement, and in some cases professional help.
“It’s a building process,” Shute says.
The good news is that it is possible to overcome excessive pulling in dogs at any age. And the benefits are worth the hard work required - you and your dog will both be safer and happier as a result.
Further reading and resources: