Updated 08 January 2014

How to walk your dog

Lead pulling is a common problem for dog owners, but follow these steps and you and your best friend will soon be enjoying stress-free strolls.

Lead pulling is a common problem for dog owners, but follow these steps and you and your best friend will soon be enjoying stress-free strolls.

Some dogs go mad the minute they see the leash, drag their owner out the door and once outside start spinning, leaping about and pulling their humans off their feet.

Even worse, the dog may also react to others it meets, or chew continually on the lead.

What should be a pleasurable experience for both of you becomes frustrating – not to mention dangerous if he darts into the road, with you in tow.

Why do dogs pull on the lead?

Simple: because we let it happen! It’s not related to the dog being dominant as many people think.

He’s being rewarded by going in the direction he wants, so the behaviour is reinforced and the dog will continue to pull.

Also, dogs walk faster than we do and it’s hard for them to walk slowly without pulling when learning to walk on a lead.

Dogs’ sense of smell contributes to lead-pulling becoming a learned behavior. When they get a whiff of exciting scents awaiting them across the road, I think they often forget the handler even exists.

I believe another reason dogs pull is that we activate their opposition reflex or pulling reflex. All animals, including humans, have this reflex: if somebody grabs your hand and pulls, before you realize it you’re pulling back; dogs do the same.

As dogs carry most of their weight over the front limbs, there’s a tendency for them to pull as they are already moving forward. If a dog puts all his weight on his front legs and we pull him to stop, we put his body out of balance.

Handler’s position

If our own bodies are unbalanced, how can our dog’s body be in balance?

The further forward we are in relation to the dog, the harder it is for him to pull and the easier it is to control him. The ideal position is in line with the dog’s shoulder. The dog then reacts to your our cue, and the movement of our shoulders, hips, arms, hands and feet.

Training a dog to settle when putting on collar and leash

Get your dog under control in the home environment first. If your dog is pulling you indoors, I can pretty much guarantee outside won’t be any better.

  1. Change the location where you normally keep the leash.
  2. Go to the new location, pick up the leash, ask the dog to sit and put on the leash. If he gets over-excited, put the lead back in the new location, walk away and sit down without interacting. Repeat until the dog sits. This is a form of negative punishment, taking away what he wants most. Persevere; he will settle and sit.
  3. If, when the dog is sitting he starts jumping around as you clip the leash on, unclip and put it on a nearby table. If you can’t reach the clip because he’s jumping around so much, drop your end of the leash, walk away and sit down. If your dog tends to bite the leash, smear citronella oil or Vaseline on it first, or use a chain leash.
  4. Insist your dog sits while you put the lead on. If he stands at any point, unclip the lead or drop it and walk away.
  5. Repeat several times daily. If you start feeling annoyed, put the lead away, have a break and try again later.
  6. Once the dog is sitting quietly, start walking him slowly towards the door. Stop every time he pulls. Take one step at a time if the dog is pulling, then two steps etc., until you have perfected the exercise.
  7. Repeat the above going through the door and gate.

Loose lead walking

Once you’ve trained your dog to settle when putting on his collar, you’re ready to venture outside.

Remember: never allow your dog to get away with pulling, and the behaviour will become extinguished.

If you reach your gate and he pulls, practise walking to the gate and back towards the house until the dog learns to settle. Employ the same tactic beyond the gate if he keeps pulling.

When I take my dogs for a walk, as we arrive at the walking venue, my male collie Brady immediately pulls with excitement. I simply stand still and wait for the lead to loosen. After two pulling attempts, he settles, realizing he won’t be allowed to pull.

Loose lead walking is NOT heel work and your dog can do pretty much what he wants as long as he doesn’t pull.

  1. Hold the end of the lead, with both hands on your stomach. This maintains a constant distance between you and your dog, teaching him where the limit of the lead is. At a later stage when he’s no longer pulling, you can change the position to the standard one: dog on left-hand side and lead in right hand.
  2. The second he pulls, stop, stand still and appear to ignore him. The second there’s loosening on the lead, walk forward, again stopping the second he pulls.
  3. If the dog doesn’t stop pulling after about a minute, turn around (without talking) and walk in the opposite direction. Again, this is negative punishment, taking him away from what he wants most. When pulling eases, turn back and walk in the original direction.

This is one of the few exercises where the dog isn’t rewarded with food; the reward is forward motion. Consistency is key: if you do it sometimes and not others, the dog will never learn to walk on a loose leash.

(Scotty Valadao, Dog Behaviour Expert, Health24, June 2012) 

(Picture: Puppy pulling on leash from Shutterstock)


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