Why does my dog still pull?
I’ve been asked to explain why a dog might pull when walking, even though they are intelligent.
Dogs learn best when motivated by things they find rewarding, meaning they will repeat the desired behaviour as they naturally seek out the reward.
The old school way is to teach via corrections, so the dog is avoiding discomfort but also trying to guess what they are meant to be doing instead.
So this tells us if we want the dog to repeat a behaviour of walking beside us, we need the right sort of motivation, things they enjoy, else we will lose out to other exciting information around them.
Dogs also learn best when they are shown what we want them to do in clear, simple instructions. Bare in mind they speak a different language, so let’s make ‘guess work’ a thing of the past. We reward the dog when they are in position!
A reason a dog might not walk to close to heel is that they have a quicker walking pace than you and unless you are fully engaged with them (not on your phone or in your own thoughts) they will end up in their own thoughts and forget they’re stepping ahead.
Don’t forget, dogs have less sensory filters than we do, so the world is very loud and distracting with smells and sounds. It’s easy to see how they can become overestimated and just pull to their destination to get their nose down or run and burn off the accumulated energy.
Dogs can become desensitised to equipment quite easy, so if you’ve ever used the lead to pull the dog back to you, the tension on the lead won’t alert them to stop and reset their position. In other words, the tight lead means nothing.. They pull, you pull, they pull… How frustrating for the both of you.
Some dogs are genetically driven to drag people on sleds but that’s not to say they can’t learn the behaviour of walking beside us on a loose lead!
If your dog isn’t learning from scratch i.e you’ve tried to train them before, they will have habits that need time and/other reward-based techniques to change. If you’ve repeatedly used the cue ‘heel’ while adding discomfort like a firm word or lead jerk, you will do best to use a new cue, such as ‘close’ to accompany your new tactic. I don’t add the cue until they are happily prancing beside me, because I want them to only associate ‘close’ with that feeling they have.
So, if you want to begin to teach your dog how to walk beside you on a loose lead, here’s that you’re going to start with:
The next time your dog gets to the end of their lead slow down to a stop. Don’t jerk the lead, don’t pull them back, don’t make a sound, just pause on the spot. Be boring, watch them and wait.
When your dog turns to check why you’re not moving, say a really proud and annimated ‘Yes’ or ‘Good’, lean forward slightly and step backwards to invite them to you. As they join you take 1 step forward and give them a treat at the back of your leg. This treat placement shows your dog where they need to hang out if they want the rewards.
A quick glanse warrants your positive reaction, as does their disengagment from whatever they were just sucked into. If this is your dog then this is where you start – work your way up to having your dog fully turn back and lock eyes with you. It feels so great when you see them realise what you want!
If you are stood waiting for ages while your dog is fixated on something other than you, unable to even notice that you’ve stopped, know that this environment is not the best class room for them to learn the basics so find a quieter spot and revisit later.
What it means to the dog
This method teaches your dog to reposition themself when they feel the tightness of the lead, they also learn to check in with you. This helps your dog to understand that you want the lead to remain slack, or at least return to being slack should they step too far ahead. Most importantly, your dog will learn the benefit of paying attention to you. And like with all learning, we try our hardest when the rewards are great. So don’t skimp on the treats, you can fade them out when they have mastered and no longer need reinforcement.
I recommend practicing when you have nowhere special to go and can repeat the process up and down the street, field or yard until the dog starts to bounce back to you when they hear your happy Yes! The more fun, the quicker they learn, the longer it sticks and walks become a joy. But remember to take breaks, all learning needs time to be processed.
There are many ways to teach loose-lead walking, which is what you want unless you’re competing in obedience and need a dog who walks glued to heel – but that also requires us handlers to be totally, solely focused on the dog at all time, which is great but not realistic for regular walkies.
If you want to learn some of those techniques I’ve a fun 6 week online course that covers that and more – Life Skills level 1. Tuition included!
TIP: When training I use a 2 meter lead, a flat collar, a Y-Front harness (like a Perfect Fit Harness) that does not restrict the dogs movement. I use fresh, cooked meat and cheese cut up into tiny pieces and a treat pouch for easy access. I practise where it’s calm first, always!
Hope that brings some understanding to that question.