I can’t tell you how often I see a dog – no matter how big or small – walking his owner down the block. Just the other day one of my good friends commented about the difference between my dogs and her dog. She looked after my guys for a couple of days last weekend, after which she drove home to visit her parents and their 9-year-old Golden Retriever. She said, “Your dogs spoiled me for walks! My parents’ dog is the sweetest, but boy does she pull me all over the neighborhood when I visit home!” That is almost a disastrous vision in my head since my friend is a very petite young woman. Probably what frustrates me the most about this scenario (among MANY things), is that it just doesn’t have to be this way!
If your dog is determined to pull you all over town every time you go out, ask yourself the following questions that might be the cause of your troubles.
- Does my dog wear a harness?
I have to say this is hands down the most obvious and widespread reason why dogs pull. The origin of the harness is not a secret. Harnesses were made for pulling! Sleds, carts, and other working tools that originally aided humans in doing every day chores. Any dog (not just working dogs) with a harness strapped on automatically goes into pull mode. Literally, every time I see a dog in a harness, I imagine his internal dialogue going something like this: “pull, pull pull!!! Gotta pull, pull, pull! ”
If your dog is not an actively working dog that you are training to pull with a harness, there is NO reason they should be used. Some might argue that toy-sized dogs will damage their tracheas if walked on a leash. I have three toy sized dogs, and have never used a harness on any of them (except my senior dog, but she’s not going anywhere anytime soon). They all know good leash manners, and are virtually NEVER at the very end of the leash. This is because I have trained them proper commands and rules of good leash behavior.
If you insist on using a harness for your dog, it is worthwhile to invest in an Easy Walk harness, actually made to deter pulling in dogs. They are not even that expensive, and I have seen a night and day change in dogs with naughty pulling behavior.
- Does my dog wear a flexi-leash?
Similar to the harness, flexi-leads were not originally designed for walks, and actually encourage pulling. Most of the better-quality ones even say on the packaging they are not intended for use in cities because your dog can accidentally walk into the street and get hit by a car, or tangle you or other pedestrians on the sidewalk. I have spoken endlessly about flexi-leads and refuse to use them myself. They encourage many bad behaviors, but especially pulling since that is how your dog learns to get to the end of the leash. “Ooh, ooh, pull, pull, pull!!” says your dog.
- Do I set rules for my dog?
This may sound silly, but many dog owners don’t even think about this concept, and consequently feel helpless and ill equipped to handle a dog that pulls. Here are some basic rules that you should always have your dog follow:
- Your dog should walk to the side of you, not in front of you. Along the lines of the basic “heel” many trainers endorse, your dog should be on the same level as you. He should be looking to you to determine which direction to go, and how fast a pace you will set. After all, you are the boss, not Fluffy.
- Pick a side! Before I enforced this rule with my first dog, Spike, he would literally walk wherever he wanted, often tripping me when he would cause the leash to cross the path. Not only is this dangerous, but it is bad manners! It’s also very helpful when you are approaching a strange dog and you want to block your guy from potential danger.
- You decide where it is ok to go potty. If it were up to Spike, our walks would last hours just so he could pee on anything he wants. Now that I only allow him to go pee when I say it’s ok to do so, he has not only learned good leash manners, but he has learned patience as well as more restraint in other areas of his life.
- Am I consistent?
The rules above will go into the garbage if you are not consistently practicing them on every walk. Too many dog owners complain that they do not have time or patience to practice consistency with their dog. Well, why do you have a dog? Being inconsistent with your dog is the same thing as telling your child he can’t have chocolate, then fail to discipline him when you see him eating a chocolate bar. It is poor parenting.
- Am I being realistic?
You could probably pick up on the passion in my words on the last one, but let’s face it. Some people just aren’t as committed as I would like all dog owners to be. That doesn’t mean dogs should be denied a loving home simply because its people lack discipline on a walk. However, you then need to be realistic about what methods are going to make your dog happiest on a leash. Some good solutions are to hire a professional who can properly and safely handle your dog on walks, rearrange your schedule so you do have the time to be consistent on walks, or purchase an Easy Walk harness. You can make anything work if you put your mind to it!
There are not many things that I agree with Cesar Millan on. But, I did read one of his books a while ago (I think it was Be the Pack Leader) and absolutely agreed with something he said in his section about the importance of walks with your dog. He pointed out many of the things I did above, and said that many of his clients complained that this would limit the dog, and be too restrictive when in reality they felt bad about leaving their dog inside all day. His response was well-said, something along the lines of: “Your dog is going to be happy outside, whether or not he is at the end of the leash, or by your side.” Actually, dogs do SO MUCH BETTER with structure and rules than without, and I wholeheartedly believe they will have a better quality walk once they know the rules, and what to expect. You may find that your once-anxious dog becomes calm and patient if you address all of the questions above! Message me or leave a comment if you have any questions or comments!