How to Stop Leash Pulling, and Start Enjoying Walks.

Baxter Ridgeback/22 weeks old/ IG:

Why Can’t My Pup Figure This Out?

Why can’t your pup figure out something as simple as walking while on leash? It’s simple, you haven’t taught them. One of the hardest things to do, as humans, is to stop thinking like a human. Our species has two unique qualities. We have the ability to imagine the future, and we can make inferences based on the past. Dogs are very different, they think and live in the present.

Positive reinforcement training is becoming increasingly popular, but this training style does have its limitations. Solely using positive reinforcement is only successful for a dog that has the temperament and reserve needed for that style of training. During the first few training sessions it’s highly unlikely that you will be enough of a distraction for a dog that has a high drive and strong temperament. Especially, while they are actively engaged in that drive. Here’s an extreme example. A new police dog is training. They chase a person, and finally catch them. We can agree that now the dog has engaged it’s play and prey drive. Those drives are elevated because of the dogs temperament to dominate. A dominant temperament demands some form of submission from their target. It is highly unlikely that a handful of hotdogs will be enough of a distraction to get the dogs attention. These high drive working dogs are taught to actively be aware of their handler’s commands in any situation. How are they taught? They are corrected and rewarded. Dispite being corrected, they don’t worry or fear punishment. Instead, they learn to pay attention while their drive is engaged, which leads to being rewarded. The same goes for your pup. It doesn’t matter if they want to chase a squirrel or tear the head off another dog. You are responsible for teaching your pup how to manage their drive or reactive behavior. How is this done? By teaching them to focus on you in lieu of a distraction or trigger.

Leash training isn’t about punishing your pup for pulling or being reactive. It is about conditioning them to understand what behavior is acceptable/rewarding prior to distractions. Then fine tuning their training in the presence of a distraction. When they consistently ignore your warning or direction queue, the correction is given because they (a) aren’t paying attention to you, or (b) chose to ignore you. Corrections should be few and far between each other. If you find yourself constantly correcting your pups behavior during a training session, the distraction/stimulus is too intense. If you don’t adjust or remove the stimulus and continue to correct your pup, behavioral problems will develop.

Baxter Ridgeback/22 weeks old/ IG:

Start with The Basics, Even with Older Dogs.

If you have only walked your pup on leash and have not trained leash etiquette, you need to start training basic leash etiquette. It’s simple, choose an area with no or limited distractions, and then walk your pup on leash. Remember, the session should be extremely reward oriented. While walking your pup, change directions. If they follow you, give them praise and treats. I’d suggest tossing the treats slightly in front of you, so you don’t break your pups stride. If they don’t react to your change in direction, give a warning or direction queue. A warning or direction queue can be a whistle, calling their name, saying here, come, or “ah ah”. Whatever you decide, it doesn’t have to be complicated. If they do not respond to your warning queue, correct the behavior. Corrections are a quick but firm tug of the leash. Then immediately reward and/or praise your pup when they stop walking in the wrong direction. After a few repetitions, your pup will actively pay attention and change direction with you, or at least react to your queue. They may try to shake the collar off, this is normal. It only last a few seconds. The leash might be tight because they will pull in the opposite direction. Dont pull the leash, reassure them and reward once they walk in the right direction.

Corrections can be tricky. Don’t start with a hard correction, but still be firm and authoritative. You need to find out how much pressure is needed to get your pups attention. You wouldn’t use the same amount of pressure for a Yorkie that you would a Great Dane, or vise versa. Also, do not assume just because you have a certain breed, that they can handle a tough correction. It is very possible to simultaneously have a “tough breed” and “soft dog”. If your pup is displaying calming signals minutes after being corrected, despite being given rewards and praise, you have a soft dog. A soft dog means that they are hyper sensitive to being corrected, and have a higher submissive temperament. Soft dogs can still be corrected, but those corrections need to be more gentle. You can change your voice to a more authoritative tone. You can still tug their collar, but they NEED to be reinforced once they stop the negative behavior.

Any correction given to any dog needs to be fair and emotionless. If you are frustrated or angry, stop training. Understand not all training sessions are successful, and that’s ok. Your pup will pull or get distracted, even after they are leash trained. That’s ok too, because mistakes happen. Remember, corrections are used to get your pups attention. Don’t forget to praise or reward your pup when they stop pulling or reacting.

Pay Attention to The Small Details.

Baxter Ridgeback/20 weeks old/ IG:

You want the collar to be high and snug on the neck. If the collar is on their throat, they will cough ang gag. This can really hurt you pup if you dont adjust the collar position. Of they are able to really dig into the ground, the collar is too low. When the collar is low on the neck, the pressure is distributed across the chest and shoulders. You have created “sled conditions”, and your pup will pull you until end of time if the collar is low.

Note, if you are using a flat collar , it may slide down your pups neck. The only way to limit this is to take some slack out of the leash (example is the first picture on this blog post). I would not recommend doing this for a 30 minute walk, only for short training sessions. Over time you will be able to use only a flat collar when walking, but take baby steps. Also, use no longer than a 4′ leash to train leash etiquette. I would also recommend using a prong collar or martingale collar when addressing reactive leash pulling issues. I’d recommended a slip lead collar when addressing basic leash etiquette. Not only do they stay in position, they require fewer corrections. The best manufacturer of prong collars is Herm Springer.

If you feel leash training is overwhelming, call a personal dog trainer to help. The sign of a good dog trainer is one that can tell you multiple solutions. Because a good dog trainer expects to fail multiple times before your pup is trained. Finally, good dog trainers ask lots of questions and listen to their clients. They know meeting their clients expectations is necessary for their companies survival.

Key Points:

  • Have fun
  • Corrections should be minimal
  • Reward Reward Reward
  • Timing is everything
  • Use the right equipment
  • Collar placement will make or break your training
  • Adjust your distance around triggers and distractions if your pup isn’t focused on you
  • Consistent training is the best training
  • Don’t be afraid to get help

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