Monday, October 17, 2016

How to Stop Leash Pulling in Canines

Leash pulling can be one of the most frustrating and difficult behaviors in your furry friend, because dogs naturally want to explore and are reflexively opposed to restraint. Basically, trying to train your dog to walk politely on a leash means you are working against your dog's natural instincts. But, it can be done and it should be done. You just need A LOT of patience and commitment.

Before I begin, I think I should clarify the difference between "polite leash walking" and "heeling". Heeling is a competitive exercise in which you are training your dog to walk close to your left leg. In this post, this is not what we are aiming at, but rather we want a polite leash walk (aka loose leash walk): The leash is slack. Your dog is not yanking and coughing around the block. Rather, you and the dog are casually walking from A to B. You are both interacting with each other and your dog is able to sniff and explore. It's a happy experience for both of you!

I would like you to notice three details in the above paragraph: Walking from A to B, Exploring and Interacting. It's not natural for a dog to want to walk in a straight line from A to B. They want to explore and SNIFF. Allowing your dog to do so, will help them with any pent up mental and physical stimulation that is built up in their body. Thus, equaling a better behaved dog. BUT, your ultimate goal is to get from A to B.... or rather start at A (home) and get around the block back to A (home). However you want to read it. Interacting is the last element. Most people, when they take their dog on a walk, don't really interact with their dog. It is a chore to them and they do it to get it done. A dog owner needs to change that mentality and interact with their furry family member during the walk. It is a time to train and build a positive relationship.

So let's begin:

  • The first step to walking your dog is to mentally prepare yourself. Before you leave the house, be aware of your body language and mental energy. Dogs are amazing and can pick up on any stress, negativity and frustration in your body. Make sure you keep this a positive experience. You need to be confident in your body language and energy. 
  • The collar should be placed at the top of the neck, instead of at the bottom near the shoulders. Dogs are built to pull with the chest and shoulders. Placing the collar near the shoulders, just reinforces the instinct to pull.
  • The leash should be short and loose. No retractable leashes. The farther you have your dog away from you, the harder it is to communicate. This ultimately leads to a lack of control.
Two Training Methods:

1. REWARD. It is best to train your dog when they are hungry. So opt for right before breakfast or dinner. Start with your furry friend right next to you on the leash and take a step. When your dog steps with you, give them a treat. With each step, reward your dog. Gradually, through subsequent walks, build up the steps between treats.

2. PENALTY YARDS. Let's say you are out in the yard and you have set up a point "A" and "B". At point B there is a really good treat. Start at point A and take a step. If they do not pull on the leash, take another step. Continue on this way. When they pull on the leash, immediately go back to point A and start over. This communicates to the dog that when they pull on their leash, it takes them farther away from their goal.

They key to training is to be consistent. Allowing your dog to pull you to a specific spot every once in awhile will backfire on you. Each time you allow, you are using variable reinforcement, which will build more staying power into the pulling behavior. Before you know it, you will have your dog pulling you every which way and you will be frustrated, because you will have to start training at square one again.

Last, your training sessions should be no longer than 45 minutes. Puppies should have shorter sessions. If your dog seems bored, losing attention or making mistakes, it's probably time to take a break. Training should be fun and rewarding in order to build a positive relationship with your dog.

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