Talk about ironic. Just before I wrote this chapter, I went to the pool store to purchase some cleaning supplies. And on my way there, I noticed a young girl walking her dog. They looked like the perfect fit for each other, but there was one problem: her dog was completely dragging her around.
Her retractable leash was fully extended and her dog was a good 10–15 feet ahead of her. It was almost like a scene out of a movie, the girl almost having to run to keep up with her dog. I wished that I could have helped her. Hopefully she will read this eBook.
Although this story may seem “extreme,” is it unfortunately a big problem for many dog owners. Their dog learns early on that pulling on the leash is an acceptable behavior, and when it’s left unchecked, it turns into a really nasty habit.
The solution is simple. But first, let’s analyze why your dog wants to pull on the leash.
The “traditional” dog trainer will tell you that your dog is pulling on the leash because your dog doesn’t respect you as a pack leader, or that your dog is trying to dominate you. And that the solution is to correct him with pops on the leash… But that is all nonsense!
The truth is … your dog is getting reinforced for pulling on the leash! That’s right—your dog wants to explore the world, smell new things, meet strangers and meet other dogs. But if your dog is allowed to pull on the leash to get to those things, then the behavior of pulling is reinforced by getting to those things.
Remember, a positive reinforcement can be anything that your dog values. So, for example, if your dog values meeting another dog, then getting to meet that dog can be deemed a positive reinforcement.
Thus, if your dog pulls on the leash to get to another dog, then the behavior of pulling is rewarded by meeting that dog.
So, what can be done about it?
There are two things that you can do to prevent your dog from pulling on the leash. First, you must limit access to anything that might reinforce your dog in the behavior of pulling. This means that you will have to stop walking whenever your dog pulls, or that you go in the opposite direction.
Second, you must reward your dog for the behavior that you want—which is walking nicely with you on the leash without pulling. You can easily tell your dog, “Good dog!” or give him a treat while he’s walking nicely with you.
The following exercise is designed to teach your dog not to pull on the leash. It will work with any type of dog, regardless of size or breed. However, if your dog has developed a habit of pulling on the leash, then it will take longer to get your dog to stop pulling.
Loose Leash Exercise: The U-Turn
Description: The purpose of this exercise is to teach your dog to become aware of the pressure on his collar and to determine whether the leash is tight or loose. This will also teach him that pulling does not get him closer to where he wants to go.
Set-Up: You will need to practice this exercise in a very large outdoor area like a park, a parking lot or a large yard—somewhere you have lots of room to walk around and won’t be bothered by anyone.
Tip: Once you are able to easily walk your dog in a large park area, practice this same exercise on the sidewalk and where there are distractions nearby.
A more advanced technique:
If you want to challenge your training skills, only reward your dog when he is in the reinforcement zone (see attached diagram).
Try to visualize a straight line going from your left all the way to your right. Anything that is behind this line is what is called the reinforcement zone. This means that your dog is only given a positive reinforcement when he is behind this line.
Tip: To keep your dog in the reinforcement zone, hold your positive reinforcement near to or on your hip before giving it to your dog. This way, he won’t go in front of you.
Summary: Although this is an advanced training technique, it is highly beneficial if you plan to do agility or obedience trials in the future, as your dog can clearly see your body language and hand signals.