Why does my dog pull on the lead and dash out the door?


07 September 2015

Why does my dog pull on the lead and rush out the door?

Looking for some simple solutions for those everyday dog issues? Then trainer Tony Cruse is your man.

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The problem

Does your dog drag you along the road? It's no fun and it can be dangerous; even small dogs can really pull and cause accidents. Your limbs start to ache and you certainly don't look cool walking like this! Walking the dog should be a mutual and pleasant activity; does your dog even know you are at the other end of the lead?

The cause

Dogs naturally walk faster than we do and want to get from A to B as quickly as possible. Your dog may scent, see, or hear something super exciting and so pulls you towards the attraction. Always look for what is motivating your dog to walk so quickly - it could be the allure of the park, a smelly patch of grass, or another dog.

So, your walking pace not quite matching your dog's walking pace, plus any attractions for your dog, all add up to a tight lead and a difficult walk.

Your dog's daily challenges

In this new series I'm going to be looking at common problems and behaviours in pet dogs, and answering the questions I'm frequently asked in dog training classes, behavioural consults, and during radio phone-ins. Every dog owner has at least one ‘Why does my dog?' question!

The aim is to help you understand why the unwanted behaviour is occurring; it is difficult to rectify an issue without first identifying the cause.

Dogs do things for a reason. For example, a dog who is jumping up at people has incorporated it as part of his greeting. Why? Because he is saying hello, just as dogs do - face to face. Jumping up may also become rewarding if it has been acknowledged previously. Fussing and even shouting ‘No' or ‘Off' can be seen as attention!

Once the cause of a problem has been established, you can train a simple, ‘do-able' solution. The dog who jumps up can be taught to sit first. When sitting he gets his desired reward, which is to say hello. Simple solutions work.

I will also be looking at strange dog behaviour, which is not necessarily a problem, just odd.

Consequences are vital. Work towards what you want your dog to do and reward that behaviour. You can use treats such as sliced hot dogs, low-fat cheese, or even your dog's daily meal allowance as rewards. Try to arrange each training situation so your dog cannot fail and practise mistakes. For example, don't allow access to the sofa if you are teaching him not to jump on it, and make his bed or a mat super-rewarding for him to lie on.

The solution

Make loose lead walking rewarding for your dog.

  1. Establish which side you want your dog to walk on. With your dog on that side and stationary, with a slack lead, give him two treats or two pieces of his meal.

  2. Walk forward and repeat, feeding your dog on the move. A slack lead means a treat and forward movement. Initially feed whenever the lead is slack.

  3. If your dog pulls, stand still, holding the lead with both hands against your stomach. Wait it out. When your dog moves back to you and the lead goes slack, repeat number 2 and set off again.

  4. Once your dog starts to understand, you can fade out the feeding by giving one treat after four paces with a slack lead, and then after eight steps and so on. Soon you will be walking in harmony.

Common mistake

Holding the lead in one hand and pulling your dog back to you can actually encourage pulling! Dogs have an ‘opposition reflex'. This means if pushed or pulled one way, a dog will instinctively pull the other! Follow number 3 and you'll find that because you are holding the lead in both hands against your stomach, it stops the pulling issue.

Why does my dog dash out the door?

The problem

You and your dog are keen to leave the house for a pleasant walk, but shooting to the end of the lead, he's determined to exit before you. This can be any doorway you are going through, and sometimes after arriving home when you have put the key in the door.

The cause

This has nothing to do with your dog being ‘dominant' or you not being ‘pack leader'! Both were labels used in the past and neither was particularly helpful. The reason is pretty straightforward - dogs often go through doorways before us because they are curious and because they can! They want to know what is on the other side and they are quicker than us. For many dogs, there is a huge doggy playground just beyond your front door.

We consider it rude behaviour but if your dog has not been taught to wait, then it is perfectly normal for him. A little control and safety is in order. However, there may be times when you want your dog to exit before you, for example, for that last wee of the night when it's chucking it down outside! So relax, you don't always have to go through a doorway first but you need to build in some control.

The solution

Teach your dog to sit in one place until you call him through to join you.

  1. With your dog on a lead, request a sit, and open the door; if he gets up, gently close it. This may take a few repetitions. The door only opens fully when he is in a sit.

  2. Step out and turn to face your dog. With a flat hand, traffic cop style, say ‘Stay' and step completely through the door.

  3. Keep the lead slack and using your dog's name, call him through. Reward him with a tasty treat once he has joined you. Now you can go for your walk.

  4. To teach your dog not to rush out as you enter the house, practise with a friend holding your dog on his lead for safety. Open the door, request a sit, and reward by tossing a treat behind your dog.

  5. This teaches him to sit and move back because the tasty treats land behind him!

  6. Soon your dog will be waiting patiently at the threshold.

Rule out the reprimands!

Never scold, reprimand, or physically punish your dog for what you may consider ‘naughty' or ‘bad' behaviour - more problems usually develop as a result. It is likely your dog doesn't understand what is required because he has never been shown, isn't motivated, or he's anxious. Instead, look to work on an alternative behaviour.