Put an End Leash Pulling (part 1)
by Katie Genier KPA-CTP
Dogs spend a lot of their time waiting around for something exciting to happen while we are at work, making dinner, watching tv, and many other human activities that don’t make a ton of sense to the dog mind. After hours of waiting around, it’s easy to understand why they may become a bull in a china shop whenever they finally leave the house.
This takes me back to my childhood summers. My mom was a single parent, with very little expendable income, and was also a full-time student. She worked all day and spent her nights studying. During this time, my brother and I struggled to entertain ourselves. We couldn’t afford cable, video games, books, and weren’t allowed to leave the house while she was at work. When Mom was home, we were expected to stay quiet while she studied. You can imagine how unruly my brother and I quickly became every time we went out. Even going to the grocery store was exciting because it meant breaking away from house.
So, it’s easy to understand why our dogs get so overly excited on walks! Especially when you how powerful their sense of smell is. Dogs use their noses to map their environment in the same way we map our environment with our eyes. The opportunity to go out and smell is not only important for their mental health, but for their ability to adapt to their environment as well.
Unfortunately leash pullers get walked less, often because they are not enjoyable to take on walks. They get less activity and become more unruly in and out of the home. The bad news is that there are no quick and easy solutions to this issue. The good news is there are things you can do to help the training move quicker. Here are a few of those things to help you get started on the right track.
Let them sniff. Dogs primarily use their nose to navigate through the world. Again, their nose is just as important to them, as our eyes are to us. So why would we deny them the opportunity to smell things on a walk? Can you imagine taking a kid into a toy store and making them stare at the floor the whole time? That sounds like a recipe for a temper tantrum. If you are walking your dog to give them a better quality of life, let them smell. Not to mention that smelling things and processing the environment requires a lot of brain power, and will wear them out quicker.
Go for decompression walks. If your normal walk around the neighborhood tends to be frustrating, decompression walks are a great way to take a break from training and give your dog time to just be a dog. Take him to an open area like a park, a cemetery, or an empty lot by your house, put them on a long leash and let them explore. This will not only be enriching for your dog, but their training sessions will be better, more focused, and your dog will be less distractible since they will of already had an outlet.
Find the right equipment. Walking equipment can make a tremendous difference not only in terms of training success, but safety as well. If your dog is a puller, flat collars and prong collars can damage to their esophagus or trachea. Harnesses that clip in the front like the Balance Harness, Ruff wear, Perfect Fit Modular Fleece Harness, or the Easy Walk won’t fix pulling, but they will help give you more control, make pulling slightly more mild, and provide a safer walking experience for you and your dog.
Get multiple harnesses for different types of adventures. Having multiple harnesses can help your dog understand the difference between training walks, where you actively reinforce your dog for being close to you, and the less structured walks where you won’t be doing as much training. I use a front clip harness with my dogs when we are training and a back-clip harness when we are on decompression walks or hikes. I realize dogs still need exercise, even when you can hardly make it down the block without your dog pulling.
Stimulate your dog in other ways. If your dog isn’t experiencing a lot of fun outside of his daily walk, it only makes loose-leash walking more difficult to train. Dogs are naturally athletic hunters and gatherers. Giving them different enrichment activities can make all the difference in their behavior and most of it requires hardly any effort! Treat puzzles, food dispensing balls, throwing their kibble into the back yard for them to find, leaving different scents hidden around the house or yard, rotating their normal toys, or teaching them to find a toy on cue are just a few of the enrichment items I use with my dogs at home. I recommend finding things that fit your individual dogs’ personality, and give them opportunities to engage in those fun activities.
Train more than loose-leash walking. The more you interact with your dog in a fun way, whether that’s treat training or playing fetch, the more you’re going to bond and teach your dog to focus on you. This doesn’t require to change your routine either. I suggest keeping some treats on you, or in mason jars around the house, and treat your dog when you see him do something that you like. This is also a great way to promote good behavior around the house. It’s a win-win-win.
These things won’t make your dog the perfect loose-leash walker, but can help you have a happier, calmer, and more responsive best friend. If you have questions or would like more information about how to build a healthy bond with your dog through positive reinforcement, please feel free to contact us firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Instagram @uptownpupindy, or subscribe to this blog!