For many dogs, walkies time is the best part of the day. Dogs need regular exercise, and going for walks allows them to be mentally and physically stimulated, as well as experience new sights and smells.
Depending on your dog, you’ll likely have to go for walkies at least once a day, possibly up to three times, and the walking time should last for anywhere between half an hour (for a small or older dog) to one or two hours (for larger or younger dogs).
However, many dogs have a habit of pulling on the lead when they walk. This can be dangerous and even painful for them, and annoying and uncomfortable for you. It can turn walkies time - which should be a fun, relaxing way for dog and owner to bond - into a battle of wills.
If you find yourself coming home feeling frustrated, with a sore hand and possibly a wrenched shoulder, you may need to learn how to stop your dog from pulling on the lead.
Why Does My Dog Pull On The Lead?
Most dogs pull on the lead because they are excited. They are keen to get to the next intriguing scent or get to the dog park, or simply because they’re just excited to be out and about. Dogs may pull on the lead because they want to run, or walk faster. They think that pulling will get them to where they’re going more quickly.
Most importantly, dogs pull because they’ve learned that it works. If you allow your dog to pull forward, even while you try to haul them back, your dog’s mind has created a link between pulling on the lead and getting to move forward.
Why Can Lead-Pulling Be Dangerous?
If your dog wears a lead attached to its collar, the collar can dig into its throat while they pull. You may hear your dog panting and gasping as they pull, putting pressure on their own windpipe.
Your dog won’t realize that they’re doing damage to themselves. They’ll continue pulling and may even end up seriously damaging their throat.
Dog owners may resort to pinch collars or choke collars, which are metal leads that go around a dog’s neck, tightening if the dog pulls forward. These collars are exceptionally cruel and are only ever designed to be used for dogs with very thick, strong necks, like bulldogs and boxers.
These choke collars can harm and even kill dogs.
Of course, when a dog pulls, there’s always a chance it might pull over its owner, or cause other injuries, especially if you have a large, strong dog. Dealing with a dog that pulls - even a reasonably small or medium-sized dog - takes a lot of strength. If your dog pulls suddenly without you being braced for it, you might find your shoulder wrenched, or you may even be pulled over.
How To Stop Your Dog Pulling
So, what can you do to stop your dog from pulling? There are lots of preventative measures you can take, as well as training both young dogs and dogs with the habit already ingrained.
The Proper Equipment
We’ve already mentioned that choke or pinch collars are a bad idea. If your dog is very large and strong, you might consult with a vet to see if a choke collar could actually be helpful, but never use a choke collar without a vet’s approval.
For most dogs, choke collars shouldn’t be used. If your dog was previously using a lead clipped onto the harness, this can cause damage when they pull forward, too. Flat harnesses can be a better choice. Even if your dog pulls with a flat harness, they aren’t likely to hurt themselves, and you won’t hurt them if you pull your dog back to your side.
You will need to retrain your dog if the habit of pulling has already set in. This might take time, so be patient - and consistent!
The first thing to work on is making sure your dog knows that pulling does not work. Taking even a few steps forward when your dog pulls is a victory for your dog. As soon as your dog pulls on the lead, stop dead. Only start walking forward when your dog stops pulling.
This will teach your dog that if they want to move forward, they have to walk nicely by your side.
When it comes to training, positive reinforcement is much more effective than anything else. You need to teach your dog that staying by your side and keeping the lead slack is something that will be rewarded.
You might choose to take treats with you on a walk, and occasionally give your dog a treat so long as they walk nicely by your side.
You can practice this at home, by giving your dog treats as a reward for standing or sitting by your side. If your dog is food-motivated, treats are a great way to distract them from the excitement of pulling.
This process can take a while. You might not enjoy having to stop dead in the middle of the pavement when your dog is pulling, and walks will naturally take a bit longer. Don’t scold your dog or yank them back to your side. Simply stand still and say nothing - your dog will eventually figure out on their own that if they want to keep moving forward, it’ll need to keep a slack lead.
Consistency is also important. Be sure to stick to your chosen method of training every time you go. If you walk in an area where you can safely let your dog off the lead, teach them that behaving and not pulling on the lead will result in a big treat - i.e. being allowed to run around freely.
Of course, this will take time. Until your dog learns not to pull, walkies might be a frustrating time for you both. Your dog may even seem to go back over at some point. However, stick with it. If the pulling problem seems very bad, consult with a vet about the best way to tackle it, or consider doggie obedience classes.