Pulling and dragging on the leash is probably one of the biggest problems for dog walkers and owners alike when it comes to walking our dogs. I am going to share with you 4 easy, well, maybe not so easy, tips that I use to accomplish something I like to call W.W.E., or Walking With Ease.
If your dog is full of hyper energy like some of mine have been in the past then you know fighting with them while on a walk can sometimes resemble a real W.W.E. match. Not only can this be extremely frustrating for you walking the dog, but your dog could also be hurting itself in the process. Especially if you use choker collars, which in my humble opinion is a somewhat cruel way of getting your dog to do what you want. While following these instructions might be a lengthier process, I would encourage it as it will probably yield more satisfying results in the long run.
My first recommendation would be to enroll your dog into puppy training classes when they are still young. These classes work wonders with new puppies, teaching them how to behave in and out of the house and listen to your commands. One of the most important commands you will learn is “heel”. For those of you who don’t know what heel is, it’s the command you use to get your dog to walk alongside of you, as opposed to dragging you along. If you are trying to teach your adult dog new tricks, do not fret. I have witnessed a number of older dogs who have benefited substantially from an attending a class. Maybe this is not your dog, even still, a class is not the only way to train your pet. In fact, learning this command is only the first step in training your dog to walk on a leash.
The next step, is all about you as the human controlling the leash. For this step, think of the leash as a direct connection between you and your dog, where they can literally feel everything through it. Because they can. What I mean by this is any anger, aggression or nervousness you feel is channeled through your grip on the leash and transferred from you to them. Doesn’t it just amaze you how cool dogs are? Keeping this in mind though, it is important to stay calm and confident even when you feel like you are losing control. Also, try not to get angry at your dog, especially verbally. Patience might be hard for you at first, but practice building it over time. Believe it or not, the more relaxed you are, the more your pet will be in return, and the more likely they will be to follow your commands on a consistent basis. It is important that you have a mutual relationship built on love rather than just trying to dominate your dog through fear and punishment. This can lead to them rebelling or resenting you. A cool tip I learned to help with this is to change your viewpoint of the situation. Rather than thinking of it as wanting your dog to stop pulling (something that frustrates you) think of it as teaching them to walk calmly with you (more positive).
The next step in learning to walk with ease is developing a positive reward system to encourage the behaviors you like in your dog. For instance, when they correctly respond to heel, you should have a treat on hand to reward them. To start off, you will want to do this every time, gradually leaning them off so they learn to listen whether there is a treat waiting or not. Be sure to not only reward them for following explicit commands for you, but also for other behaviors that will benefit them. For instance, every time your dog yields to streets or traffic without you having to tell them to, be sure to reward that. You might even want to reward them a little extra for these safety habits. This way, in a situation where your dog gets away from you, they will be trained to avoid cars with or without you there. A positive reward system reinforces the loving relationship between you and your dog over one of owner and owned.
Lastly remember to practice, practice, practice. I am not going to bore you with any cliché sayings, but we all know the importance of practice if you want to perfect anything. The same concept applies with your dog. In the beginning, they will try to continue to do their own thing, even with the reward system. But think about it, if you were trapped in one location all day and finally got to explore you would go crazy too! Walking your dog every day will desensitize them to that freedom, and they will learn that the same rules from home apply there. Once the reward system kicks in, use it over and over. Even if it is every half block or so that they walked with you instead of pulling you. As I said, you can wean them off over time once they get a hang of it, and you will be able to tell easily when that time comes.
Overall, this is definitely a process. And I do not want to lie to you and tell you it will be easy. But if you stick it out you will definitely be glad you did. There is nothing like a walking a well trained dog. When you and your pet really sync, you will even be able to walk them without a leash. But that is a lesson for another day. Whether you are dog walking for others or just taking your own dog for a walk around the neighborhood or park, get out there and practice your new skills!