Pulling on the leash is a natural behaviour for a dog. But it’s not healthy to let them continue to pull because no matter what your leash is attached to, constant pressure on the dog can cause damage (even with harnesses and head halters).
If your dog is overly distracted as soon as you leave the house, or is reactive, pulling on leash is one of the first things you need to address.
There’s lots of leash techniques out there, such as:
Turning the opposite direction when the dog pulls
Stopping every time the leash goes tight
Mark and reward when the dog is next to you
Correct the dog when the dog is ahead of you
Nothing wrong there, but there’s a technique I love that does more than just help stop pulling and that is teaching your dog to respond to gentle leash pressure. It’s simple but I can’t overstate how important it is to teach your dog to be responsive to the leash.
Rather than a battle over who’s pulling harder, leash pressure work should flow like a dance, where you can apply the lightest touch and the dog readily responds.
Beautiful! Would you like that for your dog?
And if your dog can respond like that, it doesn’t fit in with continuing to pull on the leash. It’s teaching them the opposite.
It’s not rocket science, our thoughts affect our actions. But do you always pay attention to your thoughts? What about when it comes to your dog’s behaviour – could it be that your thoughts affect that too? Well if thoughts affect decisions and actions, that definitely affects our dogs!
Here’s a common example I see: Karen decides she wants to walk her dog. But milliseconds after she makes this decision, she starts thinking of worst case scenarios.
It’s a busy time of day, what if another dog runs up to us…
My dog pulls on the leash and it’s not really enjoyable… maybe I’ll just throw the ball for him in the yard instead…
He never listens to me once we get out the front door, what’s the point?
In the above example, Karen isn’t feeling confident in her abilities to control her dog and it’s stopping her from giving the dog what he really needs.
Can you relate?
Training can be fun – it doesn’t have to be a drag.
The great thing about training is that if you were having troubles say, on the walk or in public, you could temporarily replace walk time with training time. This would get you better results when you train away from the home later because it would set up the foundations the dog needs, making the dog more likely to listen to you in any environment.
On top of that, it would build your confidence, leading to more confident thoughts, leading to more confident actions.
AND it would make your dog more tired and satisfied than throwing a ball mindlessly or going on a quick walk.
The first step you have to take with any struggle you are facing and want to change is to believe that you can do it.
Would you describe your dog’s behaviour around the home as calm and controlled, or more chaotic?
Can you trust them around your belongings without them being destroyed?
Does your dog push past you and barge through doorways and gates? Or wait calmly until they’re told?
Having a peaceful household with your dog/s in it is important for many reasons. Obviously, it’s more pleasant for you. But a dog that knows the rules is happier than a dog that has no rules at all.
When it comes to teaching your dog to make the right choices and not just run amok, a big part of this is what’s known as impulse control. This simply means that your dog is able to control their impulses rather than just leaping towards anything they want whenever they want it. It helps them to think before they act.
One brilliant way to teach some impulse control is the leave it command. This command is fun to teach (my favourite actually) and can show you how clever your dog really is.
If you have to shout, “LEAVE IT!!” in a panic or wrestle the object out of your dog’s mouth or physically intervene, your dog either doesn’t truly know what the word means, or is ignoring you.
Watch this video to see how I teach the leave it command and follow along with your dog at home.
Extra points if you post a video of your dog performing this skill in the Dog Matters Community facebook group!
A really common problem I get asked about regularly is, “my dog runs off and won’t come back when called,” or “my dog only comes back when he feels like it.”
My question back to the owner would be, “have you spent time training your dog to come back when called?”
Most the time, the owner has not done any formal training on the recall but will tell me that the dog does know it and is choosing to ignore it. Often the dog comes when called in the house or backyard only and that’s the extent of how they know it.
But the most crucial times you’ll need your dog to listen to a recall is outside of the home around distractions and this needs to be trained.
A dog doesn’t generalize something they know well at home to all other situations and locations. A dog that comes when called at home is most likely doing it because the backyard is familiar and boring and they crave the owner’s attention so it’s easy for them to come running when they hear your voice. That’s why it can seem like the dog knows the recall without much training actually put into it.
But add distractions and new environments to explore? You’re no longer the most exciting thing to your dog and they have no training experience to help them realize that they can’t just run off to do what they want whenever something interesting and new is present.
When it comes to training the recall, there’s a couple of important rules. The first is to always make the recall rewarding and never punish your dog if you just called them and they came to you.
The other very important rule is to never allow a situation where the dog can learn that coming when called is optional. So when someone tells me their dog runs off and won’t come when called, or until he feels like it, I have to ask, why is the dog able to run off and make that choice?
If you haven’t practiced recall training to prepare for these situations, it’s really unfair to expect the dog to just know what to do.
Set your dog up to win – practice recall training in many environments on a long line, so that you can control the outcome.
Remember, practice makes permanent. Make sure that what is being practiced is what you want the end result to look like. Are you practicing a perfect recall because you are the one in charge, or are you allowing your dog to practice ignoring you? What you allow is what you’ll get.
If you need help with recall training, visit dogmatters.com and fill in the contact form to arrange a one on one training session.
Playing with our dogs is fun, or it should be, but it’s hard to keep the game going if the dog won’t give up their prize! Whether you’re playing fetch or tug, your dog should know to drop the item when told.
So if your dog brings the toy back or plays tug happily but won’t give it up? This one is for you.
There are two main techniques I use to teach a dog to drop a toy on cue. I have my favourite but you can try each and see which works best for you and your dog. As we know, every dog and human is different.
Technique #1 – The Trade
This is the option I would choose if the object in question is a ball. This is because a ball is a bit harder to hold if using technique #2.
When the dog brings the ball back close to you (this is a good option to use if the dog won’t bring it all the way back), present a trade. You can trade for a piece of food or an identical ball. Which one you use, again, depends on the dog. Some dogs like balls better than a treat so in that case, trade for another ball.
Hold the trade item up close enough for the dog to know what you’ve got. Never chase the dog if they are possessing an item they don’t want to give up. Stay still and stand your ground. The first few times you may need to give them the second item before they’ve dropped the first one. But as long as you have something they want, they HAVE to let go of the first item to take it.
After a couple of trades, start adding in your desired cue word right as the dog switches items. While they’re off fetching the second ball, or chewing the treat, pick up the first ball and repeat.
Keep trading until your dog is coming right up to you and dropping the ball on cue.
If it’s a tug toy, food may be easier to use. Hold the treat right on the dog’s nose and say your command to let go, reward with the food and repeat.
Technique #2 – The Hold, aka the death of the tug
This option is my preferred option for teaching a dog to let go on command during a game of tug.
By the way, tug is a healthy game to play, as long as your dog lets go when told.
Dogs like to tug on a toy that is moving – it has life to it.
This technique works when you remove all movement and life from said tug toy. The toy is dead and boring.
Take both ends of the tug toy and hold it firmly against your leg, planting your feet in a firm position with your knees bent and legs slightly apart. This will help you stay firm even if the dog is stronger than you.
Once you’ve planted the toy against your leg stay still and don’t allow the toy to move no matter how hard the dog tries. Say your command once and wait it out.
The idea is that the toy is no longer so exciting because it won’t move. The second the dog gives up on trying to get it and lets go, say, “YES!” and throw the toy again as the dog’s reward. Repeat. Each time, your dog will get quicker at letting go until you get to the point you can say the command without bracing the toy against your leg.
If your dog doesn’t return the tug willingly you need to practice with the dog on a lead or the tug on a line that you can reel in like a fishing line. Remember, what you allow is what you get so adding a leash or line removes the ability of the dog to practice parading around with their prize and playing keep away.
Looking for information online can be so confusing as there is so much conflicting advice. In Training Matters, we explain not just the how of dog training, but the why, so that you know what to do and why to do it this way.