Dogs pulling on leads is one of the most common and undesirable behaviours I see. It is also one of the hardest things to get right. It requires time and patience, and this is why some owners decide to use gadgets such as Halti’s, prong collars, gentle leaders as they look like they work quickly. However, these gadgets do not change the dog’s mindset about pulling, and the pulling is only being masked by forcing the dog to heel. The problem is a breakdown in communication, the dog doesn’t understand what is being ask of it and doesn’t understand what a lead is or why they need it. It is our job to teach them what to do so that the dog will choose to heel of their own free-will rather than being forced.
Walking nicely on a lead is just one element of the holistic approach of Jan Fennell Dog Listening. Learning how to communicate with your dog will get to the root cause of any undesirable behaviour and shows you how you can get your dog to follow you of its own free will and live a stress-free life with you. When you follow the method as a whole: Communicating with your dog in a consistent and calm way that they understand, you will start to see a more relaxed, calm and stress-free dog around the home. FIND OUT MORE Then you can gradually build up to going out on walks. (Dogs don’t need a walk everyday, but that’s a whole other story!)
Why does your dog pull?
A dog would never decide to go for a nice walk! The only reason they would decide to leave the safety of the house (den) would be to find food. As this could be dangerous, they look for a member of the pack that has the ability to lead them - the most intelligent and calm. If we don’t show WE have these qualities, the dog will take on this role, as there must be leader (just like in our world teacher, queen, parent, prime minister). This will cause the dog to make the decisions on the time, pace and direction of the walk. Therefore, we must convince the dog that you have got what it takes to be in charge before even leaving the house. Otherwise, we are just setting up the dog to fail. If you haven’t got this at home and would like to know more then you can call me for a free phone consultation.
Below is a step by step guide to teaching your dog to walk nicely. This is just one element of the Dog Listening approach and is advised that you follow the whole approach.
Once you have a dog that is calm and looking to you in the house then you can start the first step to heeling. This starts without a lead and simply teaching your dog where they need to be to heel. Get a yummy food reward, turn your back to your dog and place the food on the side you would like them to heel and say ‘heel’. Once they are stood at your side, praise them and give the food reward. Keep repeating this until they have understood what heel means.
Now start to move forward with the food reward saying “heel”, stopping and starting again whilst giving food rewards and praise. They will be guided by the food. You can then start to change direction around the house. Continue to practice Stop Start Change Direction (SSCD)
Once you have mastered SSCD without the lead, you can now add the lead. Depending on your dog, just the picking up of the lead can cause your dog to become what seems to be overexcited. This is in fact adrenaline getting ready for the walk (hunt). This is also them taking on the responsibility and making decisions. So, if when you pick up the lead and they react, simply put the lead down and wait for them to be calm and relaxed. Then pick up the lead again and repeat, until they are calm. Once calm then call them over to you to put on the lead, again if they react stop, wait and then try again. This can take some time at first but will ensure you start the walk in the right way with you making the decisions and having the responsibility. Once you manage to get the lead on in a calm way practice SSCD around the house and garden.
Going out of the door can be a big trigger for a lot of dogs. They will barge out and immediately pull, therefore getting this bit right is important. Walk calmly to the door and open it slightly, if your dog goes forward to put their nose through, close it, open again slightly and repeat until they don’t move forward. Then gradually open the door wider and wider and if they move forward do a fanning action with the door, we call this “fanning the door”, it is important not to speak to your dog during this, you are letting them figure out for themselves what they have to do to go through. Repeat until your dog is standing waiting by your side whilst the door is open. Then take a step out if they go to pull turn around come back inside and try again. If you allow them to pull at this point you are allowing them to make the decisions and teaching them that the feeling of pulling is what makes them go forward.
Once you have managed to get out of your front door now start to walk around quiet local streets near your house using SSCD you have been doing in the house and garden. If you have 30 minutes then try not to think about getting around a certain route in that time. Spend the 30 minutes making sure they get it right even if that means you only go up and down the road outside your house. If your dog pulls forward then you can do one of three things:
1. Stop and hold the lead still until the dog releases the tension by moving back, praise and continue.
2. Stop and take a few steps backwards and wait until the dog is calm by your side then continue.
3. Completely change direction.
You can use a combination of all three depending on what works for your dog. The really important thing here is to keep calm and give yourself plenty of time. This is not something to do if you are in a rush.
Once your dog is heeling in the quieter locations you can then build up to busier environments and then, work on getting out of the car at new locations like you did in step 4.
If you have more than one dog then do this with them individually and then join them together once they have both mastered it 100%.
If you would like to know more about Dog Listening you can join Learning to Listen - Canine Communication | Facebook group.
Happy stress free walking :)