Emma and I have a confession to make: We’ve been pulling on her leash.
I know! I know! The Beagle and I are such hypocrites. We preach force-free training, but then we do this. I have felt horribly guilty about it, but I didn’t know what else to do. When a deer ran by, she would bolt. When poop was near, she’d try to eat it. When her little beagle nose picked up a bunny scent, she’d head after it straight into the woods.
So I held on tight to that leash while she barreled ahead like a torpedo.
Part of my motivation for entering the Academy for Dog Trainers was to learn how to help both of us stop pulling. I’ve seen dogz grab beers out of the fridge and bring them to their peoplez; certainly I can train Emma to walk politely by my side, can’t I?
But all of my attempts to do so before had failed, despite enlisting the help of multiple trainers. (Including one who looped the leash around Emma’s neck, placed it high and tight up under her chin, and dragged Emma for about 30 seconds until I came to my senses.)
Today, I can proudly state that I am no longer pulling on Emma’s leash. By using Jean Donaldson’s training plans as well as understanding how dogs learn and what motivates them, I now have a cute little beagle trotting politely next to me when we walk.
So I turn to you. Do you and/or your dog pull on the leash? Are you using a prong collar or a choke collar to inflict discomfort onto your dog so that he walks politely with you?
If you have answered yes to either question, please join Emma and me in our PLEDGE TO PULL NO MORE!
To those who just shouted, “I’M IN!” here are a couple of ways to make it happen:
Use a Front-Clip Harness
Put your dog on a front-clip harness like this one. It’s the easiest and fastest solution. By doing so, every time your dog pulls, the force will turn him around to face you. Pretty soon he’ll figure out that if he keeps the leash loose, he gets to keep moving forward. Voila! No pulling.
Train Your Dog to Walk with a Loose Leash
Figure out what motivates your dog to pull. Would he do it for chicken and cheese or to go inside the dog park or to play? Let’s assume it’s food. Here’s what ya do:
- Find a quiet place inside or outside of your home where there aren’t distractions such as other dogs or squirrels or scary things. Place the food on the ground and let your dog get a good sniff (but not eat!). Then go back 15-20 feet.
- Now go into Zen mode: Wait as long as it takes for Pup to relax and let the leash slacken, and once he does, calmly start walking. As long as that leash is loose, keep moving forward. But as soon as he pulls and tightens it, say in a friendly voice something like “Too bad,” “Uh oh,” or “Oopsy,” and then retreat back to the start. Then go again.
- The leash needs to stay loose even up to the food at the end, so be sure to catch him at that point too, and go back to the start if he lunges for it. If you’d like, when he gets to the food, you can ask him to sit and then give him the food. Eventually he’ll automatically sit when he gets there without you having to prompt him.
- Do this a bunch of times until he’s really good at it, and then move into an area with some distractions (outside, dogs near by, people walking, etc.). It might take a number of sessions to get good at each level. That’s ok. Dogz do their best when they can sleep on it a bit. (Think: “learn a little at a time.” Not: “cram the night before an exam.”)
I recently trained a dog who wanted to play with her brother so much that she was all over the place with her leash walking. So we scrapped the food and made playing with her brother the goal. If she walked politely with me up to him, the two could roughhouse for a few minutes. It worked! She was able to burn her energy when she played with him, and she learned that the only way she got to play was if she calmly walked by my side first.
You can also use the dog park as the goal. If your dog practically drags you up to that gate, pick a starting point 15-20 feet away, wait for the leash to slacken, start walking, and go back to the beginning every time he pulls. Don’t forget to put on a happy voice and say, “Too bad,” or something similar, to point out to your dog the exact moment when the leash tightened.
I should note: We’re talking about dogs who like to walk faster than you or who barrel towards something awesome up ahead. This plan won’t work for, say, a dog who pulls because she’s super scared. Sometimes Emma pulls to NOT move. When something frightens her, she freezes, or in the case of gutter drains, she wants to take a wide berth around them. I carry bits of roasted chicken breast to help her get through these scary spots.
So there you have it. Ems and I continue to work on her loose-leash walking every day. Nature helps us by providing all kinds of wonderful things that Emma wants to chase. When she tries to sprint ahead after the deer, I sing, “Too bad!” and we stop moving. We only start walking again when the leash is loose.
It’s really cool to see Emma catching herself now. I’ll feel the leash start to tighten, and just before I can say “Too bad,” she slows down a hair. My girl haz mad smartz!
We’re thrilled to report that we are finally walking the talk. Will you join us? Take the PLEDGE TO PULL NO MORE!