Are you tired of your wonderful dog trying (perhaps successfully) to drag you down the street on walks? Or if your dog is too small to actually pull you, perhaps you are tired of listening to your dog wheeze as he nearly chokes himself silly from the strain of the collar around his neck as he pulls? Either way, it is time for you to take charge of the situation. Regardless of whether your dog is a wide-eyed puppy, an exuberant adolescent, or an older pooch still searching for a particular scent, your dog can learn to walk down the street respectfully at your side.
1. Start with how you and your dog interact from the moment you move towards the leash (as well as harness, walking collar or head collar, if you use those tools). If your dog immediately begins bouncing up and down as if only he is experiencing a reduction in the earth’s gravitational field, stop heading for the leash. Turn around, walk away. Wait for your dog to calm down, and repeat. You may need to walk towards the leash thirty or forty times before your dog finally just watches you without bouncing his head off the ceiling of the room, but it will happen. The goal here is that your movement towards the leash should not cause your dog to become overly excited. Curiosity and patient watchfulness are perfectly acceptable.
2. Pick up the leash and calmly call your dog to you (if he hasn’t already dashed to your side, that is). While it might be okay for your dog to come to you before being called over, he shouldn’t barrel over to you like a bowling ball heading down the bowling lane in the strike zone. If he does run to you with so much excitement that he crashes into you (or simply with more excitement than you would like), then it’s time to put the leash back and go do something else for a few minutes. Again, you may need to repeat this step over quite a few times before you are able to pick up the leash, have a calm dog arrive at your side, and attach the leash. If you like to reward your dog with treats, you may want to give your dog a small treat once he is sitting calmly enough for you to attach the leash, along with a brief verbal praise, such as “good job!”.
3. With the dog’s leash attached, it’s time to prepare to open the door to the great outdoors. Ensure you have a firm hold on your dog’s leash. Before opening the door, you should decide whether or not it is important to you if you precede your dog through the doorway, if he precedes you, or if it really does not matter to you. Some trainers believe that whoever goes through the door first is the leader; others denounce that theory. If you want to be the first through the door, command your dog to sit, position yourself to go through the door first and then open the door. If your dog breaks from his sit – particularly in an attempt to imitate Superman’s ability to fly like a plane right out the door – shut the door before your dog’s nose gets to the doorway and have the dog sit again. As with the previous steps, you may need to repeat this step quite a few times before your dog “gets it”.
4. If you prefer for your dog to be the first out the door, ask your dog to sit, open the door, and then give your dog a command to move forward. The command should be used solely for communicating your desire for the dog to precede you through the door, such as “Go Through” or “Forward” or “Step Out”. As soon as your dog has moved safely past the door’s threshold so that there is sufficient space for you to follow, ask your dog to sit. Then step through, turn back to close the door behind you, and then, while your dog stays in the Sit position, step forward to position yourself where you want to be during the walk. Again, it is up to you whether you want to offer a treat reward during this phase of training.
5. Begin your walk; if you desire that your dog walks in a heel position, give the dog the “Heel” command. The instant your dog moves out of the heel position, stop walking and do not move. Become an immovable object. If your dog’s strength or weight is such that he can and will drag you, consider sitting yourself down on the ground – most dogs find it much harder to pull a sitting human rather than one already on their feet. Whether you are sitting or standing, wait for your dog to come back, look at you and Sit. The goal here is for him to realize that no movement occurs unless it is at your choosing, not his. If you were sitting, stand; if he immediately starts to charge down the street, sit again before he gets any serious momentum going.
6. An alternative to constantly stopping every time your dog moves forward to pull is to change directions instead. This technique is better when the dog does not have the strength or weight to overtly overpower you. A great place to practice this technique is in an empty parking lot, where there may be fewer distractions for your dog, or your backyard, if it is large enough. Changing directions does not mean just doing an “about face” or turning 180 degrees; to be truly effective, practice turning in all sorts of odd directions and at variable speeds. You may wish to verbalize a command as you are changing directions; some dogs learn “left turn” and “right turn” in this way. Also intersperse Stop and Sit randomly. The goal is that your dog will learn that you are leading the walk, not him; and that if he wants to go anywhere, it is at your discretion.
7. Practice leading your dog through directional changes inside your house. As odd as it sounds, walking your dog on leash inside your house can be used to help teach your dog to follow. Consider this: you (at least in theory) control the environment in your house. You can decide how many distractions to have, if any. Walk your dog as if you were outside; require him to be at your side, to Sit on command and to turn with you.
8. Another method to teaching your dog to walk at your side is to keep your hand at your side with some treats in your fist, giving your dog a treat every few steps. The goal is to encourage the leash to feel “loose” to the dog. As your dog realizes that he can get rewards for staying by your side and he improves his predictability of being at your side, you can stretch out the number of steps between rewards. This technique is best practiced initially in short durations in a distraction-free environment, before your dog has eaten a large meal. In other words, your dog is more likely to work for the treats if he is reasonably hungry. As his ability to stay at your side while walking improves, gradually increase the number of distractions by moving to new environments with more distractions.
If your dog is physically overpowering you, a simple buckle-collar and leash is not your best choice of training tools for the walk. There are other tools you can choose from; each tool has advantages, disadvantages and potential risks. Tools you may need to consider for a strong puller include a Martingale collar, a chest harness with a frontal leash attachment ring, a head halter such as the Halti brand, a british-style slip lead, a choke chain collar or a prong collar. You may also wish to consult with a trainer; sometimes the problem is the timing of the corrections by the human, so that the incorrect signal is sent to the dog.