Walking to heel or loose lead walking doesn’t come naturally to dogs. Being restrained on a lead, and asked to walk at a pace that is often incompatible to their own, means many dogs struggle, but that may not be the primary reason for serial pullers; many dogs pull simply because they cannot balance themselves.
This may be due to a dog’s inability to organise his body, a health condition like hip dysplasia that means he carries more weight on his forelegs, or a pattern set up by an opposing reaction to the handler pulling back.
Dogs who lack balance may also struggle with travelling in a car, find laminate flooring difficult to walk on, or avoid walking on different or uneven surfaces.
DID YOU KNOW?
A dog has six different and distinctive gaits. These are: walk, amble, pace, trot, canter, and gallop.
Handlers often add to this lack of balance by using equipment that may be uncomfortable or aversive, by giving heavy lead jerks, or making quick changes in direction; don’t forget that your dog has four legs to organise and may struggle to turn quickly and sharply like humans can.
If handlers lack balance themselves and pull back on the lead constantly it’s a recipe for disaster, and whatever equipment you try, and however many trainers you ask for help, you may find yourself still trying to perfect the art of loose lead walking.
If you work with your dog’s proprioceptive system (the system that gives us awareness of the body and how each part relates to the world around us) you can teach him to organise his body. Then add in the correct equipment and lead handling techniques and you have a dog who can now walk with — rather than against — you.
When choosing equipment for walking your dog, avoid any that prevents your dog from pulling through uncomfortable means, like tightening around the body or restricting movement in some way. When walking your dog, you are aiming for him to have a natural carriage; if the equipment you use brings his head up, shortens his stride, or causes him to walk in a crab-like manner, it will be causing tension and discomfort in the body. This will only add to the problem, so take care when choosing and fitting collars and harnesses.
Nothing we put on our dogs is perfect; everything has a cause and effect — sore neck or back, or simply throwing the dog more out of balance.
Harnesses have become more popular over the last decade, but not all harnesses are equal. The best harness style to use for balancing your dog is a light Y-shaped design (the Y sits on the chest and should have a ring to which you can attach one end of a double-ended lead). The Y-shape should negate a shortening of stride, which a strap across the chest may cause, and the straps over the shoulders shouldn’t restrict the movement of the forelegs and shoulder blades. Each dog is different in shape and size so make sure the harness you use fits well.
What you then attach to the harness also matters. The Tellington TTouch Training method was one of the first to introduce the practice of attaching a lead to the front and back of a harness, giving you two points of contact. This enables you to influence more parts of the body, but in a sympathetic, subtle way, allowing you to rebalance the dog’s weight evenly over all four feet, which in turn encourages and enables walking in balance. This is best employed by holding the lead in two hands, but many people find this difficult to master.
The TTouch Connector can be used with any lead, but one of at least two metres is recommended so your dog can have more room when appropriate.
As well as the potential damage to the dog’s neck, this handler has no way to balance herself with such a short lead.
Over the past few years, this problem has been counteracted by designing equipment that is client and dog friendly, including the adjustable Liberty Lead, which has a sliding handle. This prevents an owner from pulling back if their dog leans into the lead. The sliding action means the dog feels he has much more freedom to move, and the tension from the handler is reduced. For some dogs, this instantly improves their walking as they now have nothing to lean against and rebalance themselves.
Later, the TTouch Connector was introduced, a short strap attached ached to the back and front of the harness s with a sliding ring, to which any lead can be attached. This is particularly arl good for people walking multiple dogs, or for use with a long line when you want your dog to have more freedom but still need influence over the front of the chest to help with powerful dogs.
However, even with the best equipment, dogs can still pull if you don’t use the correct techniques. It is important that handlers don’t hinder their dogs by hanging on, pulling back, or jerking on the lead; the softer the signals you give, the more harmony you will create. Think about gently tightening your hand around the lead for a second, before slowly, softly, and smoothly releasing the tension again, a technique that in TTouch is known as ‘meeting and melting’. Gently take up slack on the lead, bringing the weight back over your dog’s centre of gravity. Then the ‘melt’ enables the dog to rebalance without causing him to pitch forward and start that pulling action all over again. If needed, you can continue to use this subtle action as you walk. Sometimes even just a light vibration of the lead can remind a dog you are there and encourage him to come back into balance. Where you stand can also influence your dog’s movement; too far behind the shoulder and you can inadvertently throw him off-balance as well as yourself, or he might dive across your path tripping you over.
HE STILL PULLS
What if you have tried the new equipment, shifted your position, and employed the ‘meet and melt’ technique but he is still pulling. Well, there are more tools available to influence the proprioceptive system. You can remind the body how to walk well with the aid of a body wrap. This simple tool promotes sensory awareness and helps the nervous system correct any imbalances.
You can also help relieve any tension that may have built up due to inappropriate equipment or harsh training methods by using some TTouches (specialised ways of moving the skin around that can influence the nervous system in positive ways). Tail work and python lifts can be especially useful for dogs who pull, helping to ease tension in the back and making the dog feel more grounded.
Another tool for walking in balance is the TTouch Confidence Course, which involves the dog completing a set of groundwork exercises through and over a series of obstacles. This moves the dog’s whole body enabling mindful movement and self-correction. The aim is to negotiate the surfaces, and changes in direction, slowly, accurately, and in balance. Frequent pauses allow the dog to organise himself and the nervous system to remember that coordination, so once the dog has speeded up again, he continues to move in balance.
It is tough walking a dog who pulls but if you look at the mechanics of movement, and influence that movement instead of hindering it, a dog can start to control his movement on-lead, and harmony can be achieved. My advice would be to stop fighting with your dog and work with him to achieve amicable and happy lead walking.
The TTouch Confidence Course can help a dog’s proprioceptive system organise itself, enabling the dog to walk in balance. With self-carriage comes self-confidence and self-control, so it is also excellent for reactive dogs.
Tellington TTouch body work, especially the Tail TTouch, can be very useful for helping dogs to organise themselves and walk in balance.