Loving the Leash
By Erika Lessa, CDBC, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator,
Founder of Cooperation Canine Behavior Consulting
and UnShelter Me Behavior Support Program
Many of us love the fair weather and a nice leisurely walk in the warm summer breeze. There are birds, butterflies, and neighbors to chat with. It’s all lovely, unless your dog is yanking your arm around like a marlin at the end of as fishing pole. Gone are those lovely, relaxing morning walks. They are replaced with, well, let’s face it, some choice expletives, ibuprofen, and a vow to get some training. Or the walks may just stop.
I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that bad. Actually, it can be down right good. There are a lot of things humans can do to help their best friends see the magic of leash walking. Because, honestly, dogs were not born to be tethered to things, even if it is to the ones they love. By choosing the correct equipment, and adding a straightforward reward system, they can learn to love the leash.
There are so many harnesses on the market it becomes paralyzing to choose one. You are looking for one designed specifically to limit the dog’s ability to pull. That sounds obvious but many make promises they can’t keep. My favorite by far is the Freedom No-Pull Harness. With clips on both front and back and an available double-ended training lead, this harness provides a lot of control. (Please note, I am an advocate for pain-free training. I do not practice or recommend the use of prong collars, choke chains, or e-collars.)
Head halters are valuable for owners who may lack the physical strength to work with their pulling pooch. These are designed similarly to a horse’s bridle. Your dog will need to go through a bit of training to get comfortable wearing one. Most dogs do. There are 3 that are widely available. One is the Gentle Leader, another is the Halti, and last but absolutely not least is the Newtrix. All provide much needed improvement for dogs that pull like draft horses.
Training is probably the most obvious but underutilized weapon in the war against pulling. Most dogs are incredibly motivated by food rewards. But you can leave the fancy, store-bought, grain-based crunchies at home. Using real food! Small bits of hot dog, cheese, chicken, or Grandma’s (ok, pre-cooked, frozen) meatballs should do the trick as a motivator for your walking buddy.
There are some very simple things we can use food to reward. Even the most hellacious pullers will give a glance back once in awhile. That is called “The Check In.” You can reinforce this behavior by telling your dog, “Yes!” as soon as he looks at you (or marking it with a clicker) and rewarding with a really yummy bit of food.
The Magic Circle is an imaginary area about 5’ around that exists on either side of you – please do pick one side for consistency. When the dog walks within its magical borders, it triggers the treat delivery. You will know your dog is in the circle because there will be slack on your leash and a smile on your face. Remember to reward generously in the beginning - every few steps they stay within the circle is an excellent place to start.
What happens if your dog pulls? Pulling stops forward progress. You have now become a Sequoia, an immovable object that will not yield until the dog chooses to give you some slack. Slack is the green light to continue the walk. Helpful hint: The more you reward the Magic Circle, the less you will need to be a tree.
“Oh, no, nope… He is a monster on walks! He just pulls and pulls and doesn’t do anything you are talking about!”
I hear you. Sometimes there is additional work to be done with our four-legged partners in crime but I only have 600 words to share. So, hopefully these simple tips will help you make a bit more progress. Happy Walking!