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Loose Lead Walking (Part 1)

Loose-lead walking is one of the most important things you can teach your dog. There’s no magic cure I’m afraid, it’s all a matter of training. In this blog we’ll look at why dogs have a tendency to drag their owners along behind them, and in part two we’ll see what can be done to stop it. 

Firstly we need to understand why pulling happens. You see, your dog is just doing what comes naturally. Forget about the myths, it has nothing to do with your dog wanting to exert their dominance or become pack leader. They’re not secretly scheming up ways to take over and make your life difficult.

It’s just that walking as slow as a person doesn’t come naturally to a dog. Ever noticed how fast they walk when they’re not on a lead? They’re much faster on four legs than we are on two.

So when we put a dog on a lead and expect them not to pull, we’re asking them to behave in an unnatural way. They aren’t born knowing how to do it and it can be incredibly frustrating for them. Being tied to us limits their choices, and that’s not a good thing for a dog.

What comes naturally

Dogs are usually full of energy when they go for a walk and pulling gets them where they want to go faster. What do you do when you want to get something? You walk towards it. Dogs are no different, just faster, so when they want to get to something they pull you towards it.

And it works for them. Most dogs love going for walks. It’s outdoors, it’s exciting. There are new smells, and when they pull towards them we usually let them. The dog’s then thinking ‘ahh, so that’s how it works.’

What not to do

Some trainers have taught people to 'act like a tree' and stop the moment their dog begins to pull.  I find most of the time this doesn't work because the dog has such a strong reinforcement history of the pulling working for them. They’ll just keep at it.

Don’t use choker chains, prong or shock collars, leash pops or anything else designed to stop your dog by force. These can all harm your dog. Don’t yank or choke your dog while walking either. Dogs have some very delicate muscles and bones in their necks, and just one yank can lead to severe injury.

It’s also not teaching them what you want them to do.

How do I teach my dog not to pull on lead?

My next blog will show you exactly that! But there are some things to keep in mind.

The first rule is to never let your dog pull on their leash. Not even once if you can help it. It’s easy to let it slide once in a while, when you don’t feel like training on a particular day. But when you allow it you reinforce that behaviour, and the payoff is big. They get to a tree with new smells, get to play with another dog or get to check out another human.  Remember, every single walk is a training session.

Next we’ll look at the different techniques you can use to train your dog not to pull on the leash. It takes time, patience and there are no short cuts. The good news is that dogs can learn to walk on a loose lead!

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(Dogaholics is a dog training and behaviour service located in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area of NSW.)

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