If you own a dog who constantly pulls, you're not alone. Pulling on the lead is one of the most common problems people have with their dogs.
Why does my dog pull on the lead?
There are four main reasons for this: firstly, medium and larger-sized dogs naturally move at a faster pace than humans and so find walking slowly without using the lead for support difficult; secondly, if a dog's not getting enough exercise he can be excited and full of energy when he goes out; thirdly, dogs are enthusiastic creatures and can't wait to get to where they're going; and lastly, the dog has never been trained not to pull on the lead.
"Before starting training, take a look at the first three issues," explained trainer and behaviourist Carolyn Menteith.
"Are you walking fast enough for your dog to be able to move comfortably by your side? Are you practising lots of slow heelwork mixed with faster-paced heelwork at home or in a safe place, without a lead, to help your dog learn to balance without using the lead for support?"
Training tips for pulling dogs
"The good news is that training a dog not to pull is very simple; the bad news is the commitment needed to do it once he's learned to pull is really hard and few people are committed enough to do it," continued Carolyn.
"When thinking about how long it'll take, it depends on the dog, but you should realistically be thinking weeks of working on this every time you have your dog on the lead, rather than days. It's worth it, though, because it's safer for you and far better for dogs, who can suffer long-term health problems from constant lead pulling.
"Punishing a dog for you not walking fast enough, you not training him, or because he's just enjoying life too much is hardly fair. Instead, he has to believe with all his heart that he'll never get anywhere quicker by pulling. If he finds that pulling works, even just once, you're back to square one - that's why it's so hard."
Gwen Bailey, founder of Puppy School, a UK-wide network of training classes for young puppies, said one of the most useful things to remember when teaching a dog to walk better on the lead was to exercise him well.
"There's no point trying to teach a dog who's full of energy as he won't be able to concentrate," she explained.
"It's really important to get rid of that energy first. A good retrieve game in the garden wears off energy before you take him out. Taking your dog in the car somewhere safe, letting him run off steam off the lead, and then putting him back on the lead for a training session, is a lot easier than trying to train him straight out of the house. It also helps, when you first start, if your dog knows you're in training mode, and that a different set of rules applies. So at first, have a different lead and collar for training; one that feels different to the dog for whatever reason.
"Another tip is not to let your dog learn to lean on the lead. The dog gets used to the feeling of pressure on the neck. If he starts to lean, let the lead go a bit looser so the dog falls forward. Dogs want to run and jog and we want to walk - they're naturally faster. It's like going for a walk with a toddler and having to go at their speed when you want to get somewhere in a hurry. Owners need to learn the technique necessary to teach a dog not to pull, which can be difficult for a novice owner, so it helps to find a good trainer to help you.
"If you teach puppies from a young age not to pull it's so lovely because you have a dog who's not going to pull all his life. It's a matter of teaching them they will get where they want to go faster if they keep the lead loose."
How to stop your dog pulling
To train your dog not to pull on the lead, Carolyn recommends the following tips:
● Start with lots of treats and by clipping on the lead - a long training lead is helpful here. Hold the lead at the end and any time it's loose give your dog a treat. If the lead is tight, no treat. Don't pull him, just wait, and the minute it goes slack reward with a treat.
● Now start walking. If the lead is loose continue walking (if he comes really close to you give a treat), but if it gets tight, stop, and slowly walk backwards. As soon as the lead is loose again continue walking forwards.
● Once he understands that the only way he'll ever get to go where he wants to go is on a loose lead, move on to having a favourite toy at the end of the garden or room and start walking towards it. If he wants it, he's going to have to have a loose lead because if it gets tight, you'll stop, and slowly reverse. Once the lead is loose, his reward is getting his toy.
● This method only works, however, if you never let him pull again and do this every time the lead is on. If he believes that pulling ever works to get him to where he wants to go, he will continue to do it.
On days when you don't have time for training every step of your walk, a headcollar can be really useful. There's an ever-increasing variety on the market and all are designed to prevent your dog from pulling. They don't train your dog not to pull when he doesn't have the headcollar on, but make it hard for him to do it when he has.
Owners can use them as part of their no-pull training on days when they aren't able to do the training, if they feel they really can't hold their dog because of his size or weight, or if they don't have the commitment to train. It works exactly the same way as a horse's headcollar by giving you control of the animal's head. Make sure you get one that's fitted correctly, doesn't ride up into the dog's eyes, doesn't put pressure on any sensitive parts of his neck, throat, or behind his ears, doesn't rub, and can't come off accidentally.
When wearing a headcollar, the dog should be on a plain lead and walk beside you at all times. Even better is a double-ended training lead, with one end on the headcollar and one end on the dog's flat collar - that way you can walk him on a flat collar when he's walking nicely. Injuries can be caused to the dog's neck and back by allowing him to charge ahead and get pulled round sharply.