Dog walking can be fun – and without leash pulling. Yes, both you and your dog can enjoy a fun and relaxing walk without all the hassles of pulling. Someone had asked – actually chatted with me on FaceBook, complaining about their dog pulling on leash. So, I thought I’d expand a little more about walking your dog and how to actually enjoy it at the same time. Can you imagine wanting to stay out to continue walking with your dog instead of thinking, “I can’t wait to get home because my arm is getting yanked out of its socket?”
Let’s face it – Houston is a great place to be with dogs. Subdivisions are being planned with greenbelts which include walking and running pathways. There are places to go even if you live in a high rise or apartment: Memorial Park, Herman Park, The Arboretum and I recently found a paperback book at Barnes and Noble Book Shop that lists all the hiking and biking trails and marks the ones best suited for you and your dog. There’s no better way to get out and enjoy the companionship of your best friend – with the emphasis on enjoy.
There are a lot of schools of thought out there about the “proper way” to walk your dog. Some would have you always walk you dog at heel by your side with no flex time for dog fun. I think even with that there can be some room for compromise so that your best friend gets to enjoy at least part of the walk. After all, dogs love to sniff and explore with their noses and can’t do that if they are require to always walk by your side.
Then there’s all the concern about – if your dog is out in front, you’re not the leader. Some even think that if your dog is out in front all the time, you have no relevance and your dog won’t listen to you. How do you walk your dog? What should the rules be for your dog? Well, let’s take a look at it bit by bit: Why dogs pull, humane equipment that makes walking your dog easier and styles of walking.
Why dogs pull
Dogs naturally walk faster than we do and attaching them to a short leash (even 6 feet can be short for some dogs) can cause leash pulling problems almost immediately. Dogs naturally pull against any pressure they feel on the leash. This natural instinct is called “opposite reflex action” (there’s a fancier word for it but I forget) which simply means that if a dog feels leash pressure (pulling back on leash) he will pull in the opposite direction. Most have experienced this with their dogs. The same sensation may be experienced when you try to push a dog down into a sit and he locks his legs and doesn’t want to go down.
Leash pressure causes pulling. How can you relax the pressure on the leash and prevent pulling? You can train your dog to walk on a slack leash. This can take a while – to get your dog to pay attention to you and walk slower than he naturally walks to accommodate you. Let’s look at options that will help you to better control your dog on leash.
Humane equipment that makes walking your dog easier
There are a few options out on the market that work great to prevent most pulling. Some of these are the Gentle Leader, Head Halti, Easy Walk Harness and Sensation Harness. The good thing about the harnesses is that the leash connection is on the breast plate of the dog – right in front – which really gives you much better control. The use of food treats “initially” to shape the behavior you want on a walk is also recommended. Most doggie owners don’t think about taking treats on walks but it really helps in maintaining attention at critical times.
Styles of walking
Here’s where many trainers take exception to how people walk their dogs. Aside from doing some kind of “leash pulling dog training,” here’s how I walk my dogs. My wife and I walk our dogs on Flexi-Leads – that’s the retractable leash. Now this is a personal decision that everyone gets to make. Why do we walk our dogs on Flexi-Leads? We do it because they are good dogs that obey our commands. We don’t have behavior problems with our dogs. So they get to “have fun” on walks. To balance our walks we do frequent recalls (come command) get a sit and then release them to run sniff and play.
I have a lady client that was having an extremely difficult time walking her 9 month old Labradoodle that was not making her walks fun. She struggled with constant pulling on leash because she thought she had to keep her dog by her side. I introduced her and her puppy to the Flexi-Lead and the difference was night and day. Once her dog got out beyond the 6’ leash distance she didn’t continue to pull. We worked on doing frequent comes and sit to be released again.
For the longest I would walk my dogs on 20-25’ long lines and do frequent recalls. The long lines were not retractable but the dogs did well, always came when called – distracted at first but then would finally ignore distractions and always come. They thoroughly enjoyed their free walks with the come command sprinkled in here and there – always a surprise. They learned to turn on a dime and come immediately.
This style of walking may not suit everyone but I recommend you give it a try. Balance free time away from you (on the end of the Flexi-Lead or long line) with frequent recalls back to you, get a sit then release your dog again for more fun.
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Jim Burwell is a “thanks for making the impossible, possible” professional dog trainer having trained 20,000+ dogs and counting and serving more than 7,000 clients. Jim’s easy to follow, common sense, and positive methods have made him the “dog trainer of choice” for 30 years. One of his clients says it best:
There are people who are so good at, and passionate about, what they do, that in their presence, one can’t help thinking that they have found their true calling and are doing exactly what
they should be doing on this earth. Jim is one of these rare people. His quiet and understated manner, his effective technique for training dogs (and their families) is something which I feel fortunate to have witnessed and in which to have been an active participant. Jane Wagner
(c)Jim Burwell Inc.