One of the key aspects of owning a dog is maintaining a positive relationship with them, and a key sign of this is how they behave when they are on a lead. If they are misbehaving or worse still, hurting themselves then you’ve got some work to do.
Many dog owners simply accept that their canine friend is “energetic” or “a bit mad” and altering those behaviours isn’t possible. But in most cases, dogs have adopted those behaviours from their owners and environment. Perhaps unintentionally, but they are still learned behaviours and as such can be altered.
As with most training situations, understanding why certain behaviours manifest themselves is the first step in being able to change them, so let’s talk about why dogs pull when on a lead.
Dogs are naturally quicker animals
A dog’s natural pace is quicker than our own – in fact it can be twice as fast that a human’s normal walking pace. This is really important to understand because it tells us that it’s not natural behaviour for a dog to walk alongside their human. Instead they have to be taught this behaviour, which is a difficult thing to do and something that many dog owners have trouble with. Dogs are excited to be outdoors after all!
For a dog to walk alongside a human, it requires a degree of impulse control that’s not necessarily natural to the dog. Expecting your dog to change overnight is unreasonable, but over time they can be encouraged to better control their impulse to rush ahead.
You’ve taught them that they should pull on the lead
You might wonder about this – you’ve certainly not intentionally trained this behaviour in them, so how have they developed it?
It’s simple. Your response every time they have pulled on the lead has created an expectation that you will continue to do the same. So, if they’ve pulled and you’ve walked quicker to keep up, then they’re learning that’s what they should be doing. You need to reverse this role – you’re taking them for a walk, not the other way around!
Dogs can pull on leads out of fear
It could be that you are on a busy street – perhaps it has other people, dogs and noisy traffic?
If your dog is accustomed to relatively quite and peaceful surroundings at home, going into a noisy, urban environment can be intimidating (and that’s before we consider that younger or rescue dogs may already have other fears, and nature may be calling and adding more pressure…). So, their natural behaviour is to get out of the uncomfortable situation as quickly as possible – at least more quickly than their cumbersome human is allowing them to!
Understanding these three aspects – nature, learned behaviour and environment – means we can think about ways to train our dogs to act differently. On the whole, we’re going to be looking at altering their preexisting behaviour (we can’t change their nature, and not everyone has the option to change the outdoor environment they expose their dog to).
Consider using a no pull dog harness
A lead and regular collar can force your dog off-balance if they pull, which in turn causes them to pull more.
A dog harness puts pressure on different areas of the dog (across the chest rather than the neck), which means if they pull too much, they’re centre of gravity forces them to turn slightly, which means they don’t get far. You should look at chest harness to help with this – a back clip harness is better for dogs that don’t pull (as it doesn’t apply as much pressure on the dog).
Change your own expected behaviour
Your dog has picked up its bad habits from you, so it’s time to change your own habits.
If your dog is pulling on the lead, then don’t pull back. Just stop or even change direction until your dog follows you. You need to teach your dog that pulling on the lead doesn’t result in dragging you in the same direction.
You can also reward good behaviour with dog treats, but use this method selectively. Your dog should be walking alongside you, with some slack in the lead. You don’t want them thinking that they’ll get treats on every walk!
Have you had success in training your dog to not pull on the lead? Let us know in the comments what approach you took.