How to Prevent Leash Pulling With Your Dog
Why Dogs Pull on Lead
For most dogs, no matter what breed, being on a leash means being restricted. If we think about it rationally, dogs who are allowed to run around our backyard and our homes, when suddenly faced with the restriction of having to walk calmly beside us, might find that a little restricting.
Looking at it from their perspective can give us a better understanding of why they do it. It doesn't make it any less frustrating though as, depending upon the size of the dog, it can be downright aggravating to have someone trying to pull you down the street.
Case in point, this author has a "smaller" malamute (only 75 pounds) who literally could probably pull a wagon with people on it if you let her.
This behavior did not start until she hit the 1-1/2 year mark and suddenly she became adept at yanking adults right off their feet who weren't paying attention.
While Gabby's behaviors are probably at the extreme for pulling on leash, even people with small dogs sometimes have a horrible time walking their dogs because of their incessant pulling.
No matter what size your dog is, there are techniques that can be used to prevent leash pulling.
The key is finding which technique works best for you and which technique works best for your dog. Each situation is different and things like breed, age of the dog, temperament of the dog, etc., have to be factored in as well.
Pulling on Leash Can Be Dangerous
While most people seem to accept leash pulling as an annoyance factor, this author can also attest to the fact that it can be a dangerous behavior. My husband, who is not a weak man by any means, was completely thrown off balance by our malamute Griffin (who weighs about 90 pounds) and ended up falling down on the ground and almost hitting his head on a very huge rock. This illustrates the fact that a dog pulling to get "at" something (as in this case) can be a serious risk to the dog owner.
Pulling dogs are also hard on your back, your neck, and your arms. As the story above shows, it can also be very dangerous if you happen to be pulled down to the ground where you can be road rash or you can break a hip or a wrist clanking onto the pavement.
It can also turn into a nasty situation should your dog be pulling because he or she wants to go after a cat, a squirrel, or another dog or even worse, a person. If you cannot control your dog when he or she is on a leash, you have a gigantic problem that needs fixing.
We know that dogs like to pull and that they feel restricted on leash, so what's the solution to getting your dog to stop pulling while on leash?
Stop and Go Technique for Walking Your Dog
When you have a problem arise such as I did with Gabby or Griffin, I tried several different methods. See below for more suggestions on collars. After trying the collars, however, it did give me pause that I was not really curing the problem—just finding a way around it.
I did a lot of research and this technique really does work. However, it takes a lot of time and even more patience to perfect it. I will honestly say that we are still working with Gabby on this problem behavior and while she is better, she is not "cured" when we do not employ one of the collars.
You will need:
- Collar and leash (regular)
- Kibble and/or a few mini dog treats
Technique to Stop Leash Pulling:
- Go to a somewhat non-busy place where there are no distractions with your dog on a regular (not retractable) sturdy leash.
- Start off normally with the dog on your left side or side you want to walk her on.
- Stop the moment the leash becomes taut and the dog is pulling—do not move, as in at all. Merely stand still as a statue.
- If and when the dog comes back to you, go crazy with praise and offer a treat.
- Do it all over again until you can't stand it anymore—repeat several times per day.
I have done this technique with Gabby and I kid you not that I had to stand stock still for 10 minutes the first time before she would return to me to figure out what was up. The second time it was 5 minutes and so on. She is very clever (as are most malamutes) and she has figured out this game unfortunately and most of the time decides not to remember what she learned in real-life situations on leash. So we employ both this technique and the collar.
Zigzag Technique for Walking Your Dog
This is another technique I have used with Gabby though I confess it is not my favorite simply because I tend to go around in circles and eventually get a little dizzy. Not to mention it is rather embarrassing as I have had people ask me what in the heck I'm doing, to which I respond innocently, "I'm walking my dog, of course!"
What You Need:
- Leash and collar (not retractable)
- Patience and then some—don't be in any hurry to get somewhere
- Kibble or small treats
Technique for Walking Your Dog:
- Start off as if you are going to walk a straight line from point A to point B.
- At the very first tug on the leash, and if it goes taut, immediately stop.
- Cut in a different direction while giving a sharp tug on the leash and say, "Let's go THIS way."
- Keep doing this until you feel that the dog is coming with you—treating occasionally as you go and praising for him or her staying by your side.
- Hopefully it will not take you 10 minutes to get from one place to the other.
The drawback to this technique is that it can become a game with a clever dog such as a malamute. However, eventually most dogs do realize that if they want to get to "there" they are going to have to behave and walk by your side—or continue going in circles.
Collars and Harnesses for Leash Training
If you have a dog who is not responding to either of the above techniques and the dog continues to pull, you may have to resort to several different types of collars and behavioral techniques. Griffin is a model walker but it was not without a lot of effort on this owner's part. I get a lot of comments as to why I'm walking the biggest dog but it is because we came to an understanding about pulling.
I used the techniques above for Griffin and he did pretty well and was not the handful that Gabby is in many respects. However, Griffin does have a propensity to go after aggressive dogs. If a dog approaches that is growling or barking at him, he tends to get a little freaked out and starts trying to "finish things." Since that is not acceptable, I had to learn to control him. Easier said than done.
I tried a plain choke collar which I quickly discovered on a malamute is a joke. As much as I have never "approved" of pinch collars, I decided it would be in all of our best interests to get my dog's attention. I can say without a doubt that I do not have to so much as exert but a tiny tug and Griffin responds immediately to my directions. The pinch collar is a tool that I have learned to use to good advantage with him and it works to keep control of him when a mere regular collar does nothing to get him to stop pulling when he becomes overexcited. This same exact collar has no effect whatsoever on Gabby and she would probably crush her larynx before she would stop pulling.
The E-collar or electronic collar was also a tool that I used for the same reasons above. However, again, on both the dogs, it has had varying success. Griffin responded to it immediately whereas Gabby has mixed results. She responded very well to it training her to sit when you stop or when asked to do it—but it has not worked (yet) on her pulling. I do not even have to use it for Griffin after only using it a couple of times and training him to it. Remember that it is not a weapon to be used to subdue a dog but rather a training tool and if used properly, especially with big dogs, it gets their attention. That's all training is about really and getting them to do what you ask.
We tried the Gentle Leader or Easy Walk as some are called with Gabby and again, had mixed results. After weeks of training her with it, she still pranced about like My Little Pony and fought it to the point where she had marks on her muzzle when we got home. We felt that it was more of a challenge than walking her on a leash without it because we were afraid she would permanently damage her face.
The Halti no-pull harness has been the best thing we have found to stop this particular malamute from pulling on leash. The Halti hooks at their chest and by virtue of the fact that it goes under them and around their front legs, they cannot exert enough torque to pull you. Peace in the land at last.
Dogs Pulling Is a Natural Behavior
When all is said and done, it should be remembered that pulling is a very natural dog behavior. For instance, my dogs are absolutely born to pull. However, when forced into the situation of obedience and acknowledging that there are times for "appropriate" pulling and times for not appropriate pulling, they either rise to the occasion or they test the limits. Let me illustrate.
We train our dogs to pull a sled or pull on a scooter or a bike, to literally pull in harness. We give them commands like "let's go," "pull," etc. It is quite another thing though when we just put on tennis shoes and say "let's go for a walk" and need to have them behave for 2 or 3 miles walking on a leash--with the expectation that there will be NO pulling. It definitely is a training moment.
It can be done of course but the owner (the alpha) must have patience and a pretty good sense of humor if you're working with breeds such as malamutes. Dogs are clever anyway but some breeds can try to beat you at your own game if you're not careful. The important thing to remember is that you're in charge and they should be expected to do what you tell them to do. No matter how long it takes to get the point across!
Depending on the severity of the problem or the size of your dog, you'll find that different techniques work better for you. There is no one perfect technique. Every breed is different as well and approaches leash walking uniquely. The only underlying component that must be present in all styles of dog training (in whatever arena) is patience. That plus consistency will pay off in the end.
As evidenced by my own experiences, it is possible that a dog will try and test you again and again in a certain behavior and see if they can get away with it. Change is good and lifetime learning is something I believe in heartily. So if one technique seems to no longer be working, switch to another that does work. The most important thing is to not let a dog become used to getting away with bad or unwanted behaviors. They can prove dangerous for both the dog and the human attached to the leash.