Pulling on the Leash

If you have gone to a group obedience class where they tell you to gruffly shout "Heel!" at your dog, march off and give a mighty yank on the choke chain, you may recall that it wasn't particularly helpful. Even dogs that eventually become subdued enough after several weeks at class rarely carry the docility over to the street, and still pull when they are out and about.

The other side effect of this method is that you end up with a very sore arm, especially if you have a big, strong dog, and the more you yank, the more he pulls until you both hate the thought of "walkies."

The dog wants to get wherever you are going, so you need to show him that the way to get there is by slowing down. The method I will explain takes a little while to master at first, but really works, and if you will invest a little time teaching him, you can both enjoy your walks.

Make sure your dog is wearing a snug-fitting sturdy collar. I like heavy cloth or leather buckle collars, and don't recommend the ones with easy-snap "Fastex" clasps for this exercise, since they can pull apart.

For a very large strong dog with a small person, a prong collar is very helpful. It is much more humane than a choke collar, but must be properly fitted to work right. For a young puppy, the flat collar works just fine.

The best leash to use is a medium width ( about 5/8 inch) strong leather or double stitched nylon lead about 6 feet long. Chain leashes are dangerous and can injure you and your dog.

Technique and position are the key here, not pure strength. If you hold the leash so that your arm is outstretched from your body, you will be off balance, and the dog will find it easier to pull. Flex your arm, holding it close to your body, and make sure you lower your center of gravity, flexing your knees to accept weight more over your heels.

Carry a pocket full of small treats, and start out on your walk. The dog will pull at first, because that is his habit, but this time, when he does, it won't get him anywhere.

Just stop in your tracks. Don't yell or yank, just stop. He may keep pulling, but odds are you outweigh him, so just shift your weight back over your heels with knees slightly bent, hold the leash in exactly the same place he pulled it and wait. Soon, Fido will wonder what happened, and shift his weight too - either to one side or back toward you. When he does, say "good!" and start walking. He will probably pull again, and as soon as he does, just stop. As soon as he shifts his weight to make slack in the leash, you say "good!" and start walking.

You may entice him to come back to you and give him a small treat before starting again. If your timing is good' don't be surprised if he decides hanging out by your side is more appealing than playing "sled dog" down the street.

The key to this method is letting him see that it is his responsibility to put slack in the leash: He took the slack out by pulling, and he has to put it back in before he gets to go forward.

You must be patient. He will not stand there indefinitely with a tight leash. He will do something to change it, and when he does, go forward, because that is what he really wants to do. There is no point in giving him a command or yelling at him. Actions speak much louder than words, especially when it comes to animals. Later, when he has gotten the idea, you can put words to it like "walkies" or "let's go" to the behavior.

This is foundation work. Like the foundation of a house, if you take the time to do it right, it will last, and you won't have to do it again.

Copyright 2003 Julia Priest

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