Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pulling/Walking... Some Tips and Tricks - Share What Works for You!

I would love for you to let me know things you have done that WORKED to stop pulling on walks. Please post your comments! This post is to educate you about what tools and methods are out there, but in no way endorses one over another. The importance of this post is to share with you things that may enable you to SAFELY walk your dog, because I would rather see people walking a dog SAFELY and using artificial aids, than being dragged down the street and endangering themselves, their dog, and other walkers.

I know when I adopted Milly she was a saint at the SPCA off leash, but as soon as I walked out of the building and towards my car she was pulling so hard on the leash I wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?” Milly came with free obedience classes, but the evening the classes were held on conflicted with a class I needed in order to graduate college, and I never was able to use that valuable perk of adopting locally vs. buying from a breeder (in case you are wondering, many rescues and shelters will have some sort of perks – whether it is free pet insurance for a few months or free obedience school - to encourage you to adopt). I had never adopted an adult dog before, and none of the dogs I had growing up ever pulled on their leashes, because I dedicated most of my free time during childhood to training them – I never had formal training in dog whispering, but I did manage to figure it out as I went along, and the results were pretty amazing. Sweetie was able to leap over large frightening obstacles that even an agility dog might balk at, and was trained to do things by my snaps – hand raised even an inch meant sit, hand lowered an inch was down, hand moved forward an inch was shake – she was able to read my slightest cues, and was simply a joy to own and train.

Back to Milly – boy did she pull, and pulled hard for years! In fact, she’s only now getting over it after I’ve figured out what really works. Milly is the type of dog who responds very well to positive training, but usually to “really get something” she will need one or two corrections (ever) like a quick pop on the collar. Many people will disagree with this training, but I’ve found for me, the positive with the reinforced correction really does work for her. I tried a variety of products in my effort to get her to stop pulling, and it was very frustrating having a dog behave beautifully off leash, but rip my arms out of the socket (quite literally) on leash. I finally realized no product is a substitute for good training, but some, combined with proper training can really help.

I have compiled a list of suggestions a friend of mine that posts on the Golden Retriever Forum shared with me, and added some of my own, try to present the best tips and tricks that work to prevent pulling while walking your dog(s).

Correction based method: My first suggestion is to wear your dog out before a walk – play fetch in the backyard, run around the house with them, pretty much anything you can do to get them tired, listening to you and less distracted. Then, take your dog on a walk (only walk one dog at a time for this method). Use a regular collar or a martingale for this - do not use a PRONG collar (more about prong collars later). A common mistake people make is start with a nagging light correction "no... stop," light pull on the leash, and so forth... slowly building up the correction until the LOSE IT. From the very beginning you should LOSE IT - your first correction needs to be serious enough to STOP the behavior, immediately. If you slowly build up, you're building up your dog's tolerance for corrections and essentially TRAINING him to ignore signals and corrections from you. This common mistake applies to ALL training where correction based methods are applied, not just this particular method. When I finally stopped trying to correct Milly with a take give, and applied this method the first instant she pulled, the results were amazing. The pulling did not end over night, but it went from her dragging me down the street, to a taught leash after only one correction. So no, the results were not perfect (perfect would be loose leash walking while healing) but they improved A LOT.

When applying this correction method you do not have to be mean, and I would not suggest it, because constant shouting and yanking on the lead will condition your dog to ignore you. I have no problem with you giving some slack to the leash, turning around rapidly and yanking very hard in the opposite direction while shouting, "No!" or "No Pull!" Often times this abrupt, and forceful correction will be enough to stop the pulling, and after that simply stating, "No Pull!" in a firm voice with slight tension on the leash is all your dog will need to stop pulling. This is an example of "losing it" at the first instance of pulling, and not allowing your dog to be conditioned to ignore your cues, commands, or orders. When your dog does not pull, throw him a party - feed him, kiss him, give him a treat, a belly rub, a squeaky toy, whatever he likes best in this world - let him have that thing. Really reward him for this positive behavior! Like I said already, correcting this way does work, but it isn’t going to work over night. And in case you did not know, please use a flat leash, not a Flexi or other type of retractable leash when doing any training.

For the sake of urgency, you can use a prong collar to stop pulling. Never give a hard correction like I describe above on a prong collar (unless your dog is a literal monster). Prong collars are self correcting and you need very little skill to use one. The biggest rules with using a prong are to fit it correctly and not yank hard on it. In order to properly fit a prong collar you can remove the links from the collar (I chose the photo of a prong below to show you how the links are removable). Positioning the collar is also important, you want the collar to sit high on the neck, fairly close behind the dog’s ears. Very often I see people using prong collars that are not properly fit, and this can hurt the dog, and is not very effective. If you do not know how to properly fit a prong collar ask a dog trainer, or even your veterinarian. With a well fitting prong collar the dog will condition himself not to yank hard on the leash. However, there are some dogs that seem immune to the prong - if your dog is this way do not yank harder, but instead use a different method. After buying a prong collar for Milly, and properly fitting it to her, I was overjoyed with the results. Many people think prong collars are cruel because all they see are spikes digging into a dog’s neck, but the spikes are quite dull, and set on an angle – the result is when a dog pulls on the leash the prong will gently pinch the dog’s neck. I actually put on Milly’s prong collar to see how it felt, and it does not hurt – I even harshly popped/yanked on the collar while wearing it, and that hurt a little, but not too badly… though I would not recommend snapping/yanking/jerking a prong collar on your dog, because after all, it is a self correcting aid, and harsh corrections are not necessary. I have seen dogs stop pulling wearing a Halti/Gentle Leader (I'll discuss these below) and they clearly look in pain, but I have never seen a dog in a prong collar look distressed or in pain. With a prong, a dog should never have a retractable leash on, and you should never tie a dog wearing a prong collar. A prong collar should only be on the dog when you are actively on the other end of the leash.

Choke chains are wonderful tools and a favorite tool of many trainers and handlers, but in untrained hands the results can be devastating (and severely hurt your dog).You should never use a choke without first having a genuinely good trainer's instruction on the proper use. If used incorrectly, you can ruin your dog's response to corrections, at best, and at worst, you can seriously damage your dog's neck and windpipe. It is hard, active work to use a choker correctly, but in educated hands they can be very effective. A dog should NEVER have a tight leash on a choker. It should always be loose, no matter how many corrections you have to give to keep it that way. The leash should look like a J from the collar to your hand. If it doesn't, you're not using it right/actively enough.

Haltis, Gentle Leaders, and fancy harnesses are all the rage right now. I see them all the time at the dog park, and there is an entire aisle dedicated to them at Petsmart! I have tried many of them, but I no longer use any of them. I strongly believe in the importance of being able to safely walk your dog, without having your arms ripped off - if you need one of these devices in order to walk your dog, by all means use one. While they are not a replacement for proper training, they can be a great tool in ensuring a safe and happy walk. I will not endorse the Gentle Leader/Halti, because a dog’s snout is extremely sensitive, and I often see dogs that clearly look in pain being walked wearing one of these. As far as fancy harnesses go, many train your dog to pull by putting pressure on their chest or armpit area, think this sounds counter productive? It is. This is the same reason a sled dog will pull when wearing his harness.

I will say, I had wonderful results after shoulder surgery when I tried the Sporn Harness, though now that I have really trained Milly not to pull I see this was not a replacement for good training, but instead an aid to help me walk my dog in a manner that was safe to her, other people walking on the sidewalk, and me. Looking back on it, I wish I had used the prong collar, rather than the Sporn Harness, because Milly never walked on a loose leash at my side using the Sporn, but instead a loose leash a few steps in front of me. The last image in this collection of photos is the Sporn Harness.

Now I will discuss non tool based training, or the "be a tree" method. The key to this method is to stop walking as soon as your dog starts pulling - you must not take another step until the leash is loose. You can be silent while standing like a tree, or you can say, "No!" and then praise your dog when the leash loosens with a sweet voiced, "good!" to encourage your dog. If you are patient this method can and does work. You can also do this using food as a reward for loose leash walking, but you do not have to. Another way, and my personal favorite, of using the tree method is to actually turn and walk the OTHER WAY when your dog starts pulling (as opposed to simply standing still). As soon as your dog pulls you simply turn around and start walking in the opposite direction. You must not stop walking the other way until there is a loose leash in your hand, and a dog at your side. My boyfriend actually had great results with Milly doing this, but he was very patient and really set his mind to it. Sometimes on walks he would have to turn around 20 times, but with-in a few walks Milly was not pulling on the leash.

Another method of training your dog to stop pulling is using the Clicker Method. You can train a dog to walk however you want, and some advanced freestyle performers even clicker train their dogs to walk backwards! Many trainers, handlers and dog owners use clicker training for fancy dancy prancy heelwork, or advanced obedience, but not for everyday nice walking on a loose leash. This method certainly does work for training your dog for everyday walking, though. Clicker training is a very positive way to teach your dog to associate the click of a clicker with a reward - good behavior = click/click & treat. Clicker training is frequently taught in obedience classes, as strictly positive training is en vogue right now in the dog world. You can pretty much use clicker training to teach any trick or behavior you want – from loose leash walking, to freestyle dog dancing!

Finally, if your dog pulls on his/her leash throw away your Flexi/retractable leash, donate it to a local shelter, sell it in your next yard sale, etc. Flexi leads train a dog to walk on an always taught leash with resistance, and teach your dog that he/she can keep walking forward after whatever their heart desires. If your goal is to have your dog walk on a loose lead you will never accomplish this by sending mixed messages when you occasionally (or regularly) use your retractable leash. Also, especially with a dog that pulls, a retractable leash can be very dangerous. There have been cases of people’s fingers being chopped off by these leashes – the dog takes off, person is struggling to maintain control, the cord of the retractable leash gets wrapped around the handler’s finger, and the next thing you know they are missing a finger! There have been many instances of someone walking their dog on a retractable lead, cresting a hill, and running into another dog or person - resulting in people getting tangled up. You have little control of your dog with a Flexi, Flexi’s have been known to break, the box type handle where you hold a Flexi can be very difficult to grip (especially because it is designed to hold with one hand) in an emergency, if you accidentally drop the leash, or it is jerked from your hand, the clanking of the box on the pavement or the ground often will scare your dog and it could run into traffic, etc. Simply Google ,"problems with retractable leashes," and you will probably reconsider ever using one again! I know I stopped using mine about two years ago, and I don’t think I can think of an instance where I would use it. Perhaps, I might possibly use it with an extremely well trained dog on a hike, but even that is questionable.

Finally, while not a training method, in an emergence that requires safe and controlled walking of your dog you can put your dog's collar very high, above the top of his windpipe (there's a little bump you can feel in the throat) and hold the top of the collar between the ears on the base of the dog's head. As long as the collar is up above this bump on the neck, it won't choke the dog and he's basically powerless to pull you. A friend on the Golden Retriever Forum explained how she has walked some real untrained lunatics, even aggressive dogs, through big crowds with this method. I have had to use this method with a dog I was dog sitting, while walking on a crowded street, and it really does work. It is not training, but it's a way to handle a dog that's going nutso when necessary, without harming him in any way, or harming those around you. How do you think some handlers walk five dogs they barely know through a crowded show hall? They do so with fine, thin choker collars in this position on the neck. A thin show choke collar is pictured here.

Please share any methods you have used in the comments section!

Do not forget there is still time to enter the second PUPCAKE GIVEAWAY!!! The drawing will take place on July 24th using a random number generator!! Good Luck!! :)


  1. Wow! Great entry!
    With our 12 week old Sierra, I am working on getting that wild wacky puppy energy out in the morning with letting her go top speed with me for a few minutes on our road, or darting around the kitchen with a plastic bottle, or just some form of monitored activity to work with that energy. Then she is better on lead but I do a lot of 'sit' and 'down' with her throughout the time on lead. And if she is afraid, I go down to her level and hang out calmly with her, so she recognizes I am not afraid. There is always lots to work on..... Great methods you have in this entry!!! Thanks!!

    Hugs and snaggle-tooth kisses,
    Sierra Rose and mom

  2. This is such great information. We never mastered walking properly on a leash. We do fine in our neighborhood, but if we're some place new I am pulled the whole way. I want to work on this!

  3. Great entry Lydia! Hershey definitely needs work on walking properly. We have been working on it and she is getting much better. She still pulls when she is excited or knows she is going to go swimming at the end of the walk. She has gotten better by me "losing it." When she pulls I say "No pulling" and snap the lease on her back. This gets her attention and she will usually stop pulling (for awhile anyways). She pulls the worst when she spots a bird, squirrel or rabbit that she wants to chase; I have really start to look for queues when she first spots them and I tell her to "leave it" and that is helping a lot.

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  5. Great info! I have been trying the 'walk the other way' technique, but Oliver (Lhasapoo, 21 lbs) is so determined that I literally have to drag him once I turn around. I hate doing this & am afraid I'm hurting him...but he absolutely will not listen to me. He mainly pulls & whines/barks when he sees dogs in the distance. He's never aggressive towards them - he just wants to greet & smell. It's really getting annoying (and painful on my shoulder) though - especially to the other people out for a nice stroll!