How to stop your dog pulling on the leash

August 1st, 2014
Does your dog pull at the leash?

Kylie Baracz discovers top tips on how to stop your dog pulling on the leash and get your unruly pooch walking side-by-side with you

Walking a puppy can be a nightmare – they tend to roam from one side of the footpath to the other and grab the lead for an impromptu game of tug-of-war. So how do you stop this behaviour and get them back on the straight and narrow?

Laura Vissaritis, dog behaviourist from Dognitive Therapy, says owners need to think from the dog’s perspective. “It seems that everywhere we look, there is someone being taken for a walk by their dog. From our perspective, it is frustrating, tiring and de-motivating; however, owners need to think from their dog’s perspective. Dogs pull because they get rewarded for it. The owner has essentially taught their dog to pull!”

According to Vissaritis, these behaviours only occur when they get reinforced, so if a dog pulls, they must be getting something out of it. By being attentive to them, they are able to move faster, sniff more, wee on that tree and experience what they want on their terms. If they didn’t get what they wanted from pulling, they wouldn’t pull.

How should your dog walk with you?

A walk should be enjoyed by all, including our dogs, says Vissaritis. “I don’t believe a dog should always be expected to heel, but I do always expect a dog to walk on a loose lead, acknowledging that I am the leader. Some trainers call this the ‘social walk’, and that’s what a walk should be about — you and your dog engaging in exercise that builds a bond based on mutual trust and respect.

“A dog should be receptive to their leader by maintaining the pace that their leader maintains. If I stop, the dog is expected to stop. If I walk ahead, the dog walks with me.

“It is so important that the dog respects the human as the one in control. The world we live in is a human world, full of unpredictable and uncontrollable environments for a dog. As soon as we allow our dog to pull and take control, we immediately put pressure on them to be the leader. This is a stressful and disempowering expectation of a dog, invariably setting them up to fail. Dogs cannot successfully control a human environment.”

To gain control of your pooch, Vissaritis suggests empowering them to choose to follow us, through consistently rewarding them for the behaviours you want and removing the rewards for behaviours you don’t want. This way, the dog still gets everything they want on the walk, but through cooperating rather than controlling.

What if you don’t teach your dog to walk properly on a leash?

Dogs who do not respect their human as the leader can be more likely to show other unwanted behaviours on their walk. This is because a dog that controls the walk is also in control of his surroundings, says Vissaritis.

“Unfair expectations can result in a breakdown in your relationship together, leading to anxiety, frustration and even aggression issues in your dog,” she says.

“Again, think from the dog’s perspective. He lives in a human world, which he will never completely understand. He speaks a different language and he is a different species. If we do not provide leadership, we are putting pressure on our dogs to do our job. What would happen if we expected a three-year-old child to take control in this world? A dog is very much like a three-year-old child. They both depend on us to guide and protect them. The major difference between a child and a dog is that a dog depends on us throughout their entire lives.”

Nine steps to a great walk!

The golden rule to any training is to recognise what your dog wants at that moment, says Vissaritis. In this situation, your dog wants to walk, sniff and have fun. Keep the following equations in mind:

  • Dog on loose lead = reward (such as walk, sniff and fun)
  • Dog on tense lead = removal of reward (eg immediately stop walking)

Before you leave the house

  1. Have items with you that you know your dog really likes. Your dog may love treats or she may prefer squeaky toys or a tug toy. She may just love your praise and touch. Whatever it is, have it ready for your walk and have plenty of it!
  2. Don’t leave the house until your dog is in a calm and receptive state of mind, with you clearly as the trusted and respected leader. If you are not 100 per cent sure this is the state of mind you and your dog are in, you are not ready to leave the house.
  3. I like to clip the lead around my waist, which frees up my hands and allows me to focus on the dog’s behaviour a little more. If you don’t have one of these leads, it doesn’t matter, use a regular lead.
  4. With your dog on your left-hand side, place your right thumb through the loop at the end of the lead and close your hand so that you have a firm grip around the lead. This leaves your other hand free to use if you need extra strength for control.

Leaving the house

  1. Begin your walk. The lead must be loose in order to move ahead.
  2. When there is tension on the lead, stop immediately. If your dog doesn’t return to you, encourage them back to you without using their name. When your dog is back by your side, wait briefly, and then continue.
  3. What you are doing is removing the reward when the dog doesn’t do what you want. If you are consistent, they soon learn that the only way to get what they want is to walk on a loose lead.
  4. When your dog walks on a loose lead, give them what they want — to walk and sniff and enjoy. Use the motivating items you brought on your walk to reward their wanted behaviour too.
  5. Use Dog “CPR” on your walk “Consistent, Patient and Repeat” one or two times per day. Without “CPR”, successful training won’t survive. This rule applies to all training.

Why is it important for dogs to be on a leash?

As a dog owner, it is your job to be a responsible dog leader.

“It is unfair to put pressure on a dog to take control of a human environment,” says Vissaritis. “Because life can be unpredictable, it is so important to be able to keep your dog safe. A lead allows you to keep yourself, your dog and others safe on a walk. I often tell my clients that it may not be your dog that you need to worry about, but rather another dog, person or other stimulus that is not so dog-friendly. Having your dog on lead allows you to remove your dog from any potential danger immediately, protecting your dog and yourself from situations you are unable to predict. Set your dog up to win, take the pressure off him and make the walk as safe and enjoyable as possible.”


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