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Home > Pet News and Articles > Teach Your Dog to Walk This Way

Teach Your Dog to Walk This Way
Article By: Glenn Redmond

Helmet and knee pads - check. Elbow pads and leash - check. Okay, I'm ready. "Fido, let's go for a walk!"

For some dog owners, taking the dog for a walk has turned into a contact sport - namely, the owner hitting the ground.

One frustrated owner displaying her bandaged knees and palms admitted to me recently, "It is the most dreaded and dangerous part of my day."

Dogs that consistently pull on the leash during walks not only pose the risk of injury, but also take away the pleasure of what should be an enjoyable experience. Fortunately, Popeye-like arms do not have to be part of the protocol to turn this behavior around.

Believe it or not, leash manners are more about psychology and relationship than muscle strength. It is about teaching our dogs to follow us, rather than the other way around. Once you have decided to correct this annoying behavior, there is one golden rule to follow. Every outing becomes a training session. We cannot allow a dog to pull one time when in a hurry to get back to the office and expect perfect manners on a leisurely weekend stroll.

Though the above-mentioned padding should not be necessary, starting with the proper equipment will help you set up for success. First, you will need a six foot leather or nylon leash. This length allows the dog a proper range of movement, while maintaining a safe distance to the owner. And please, if you now use a retractable lead, do me a personal favor. Go get it right now and put it where it belongs, in the garbage. These death traps (many dogs have lost their lives being walked on these) offer no control, and because it's designed to extend as the dog moves forward, they inadvertently reward pulling by allowing more lead.

My collar of choice for most dogs is a martingale. ¾ of the collar is made of nylon with a small chain that attaches to two rings on the end. Once these two rings meet, the collar cannot go any tighter, unlike the traditional choke chain, which keeps tightening if pressure is applied.

Many dogs can easily back out of a regular flat buckle collar and harnesses remember, are designed to encourage pulling. Head halters which attach around the muzzle, may make it easier to walk a dog, but do not teach any lasting behaviors. As well, many dogs never get used to the feeling of straps around their muzzle, causing frustration, which is the last thing you need when attempting to teach a new exercise.

Getting Started

Now that you have the right equipment, it is time to change your status from anchor to active participant. The reality is that continuing forward motion while the dog is pulling, actually rewards the dog for pulling with every step. For example, if your dog pulls you toward a fire hydrant that he wants to sniff and you follow or are dragged behind, then he is rewarded upon arrival because his pulling got him where he wanted to go. The secret lies in changing direction.

Start in an area free of distractions - say, your backyard or a quiet street, and begin to walk with your dog. As the dog starts to pull, quickly turn around and start walking the other way. You may have to change directions a few times, but most dogs will at least slow down and look at you as if to say, "What is going on here?"

Take this opportunity to praise the dog and offer a treat for his good attention. Continue to change direction anytime the leash goes tight and offer as much unpredictability as possible. Walk, run, stop, turn left, turn right, remembering always to reward your dog verbally and with a treat in the beginning for paying attention. Make a big fuss if the dog changes direction with you on his own or adjusts quickly to your changing pace.

Progress to putting favorite toys or treats in the middle of your working area and give your dog the opportunity to pull towards these irresistible distractions. Change direction if he does. Allow the dog to have the toy or treat if it is approached on a loose leash only.

Prepare to be Patient

Work your way up to short walks, never having a destination in mind, and always changing direction the moment the dog pulls toward anything. Increase the duration of walks and level of distractions as your dog becomes more proficient with this newly developed skill.

As with all things, time and effort will yield results. Do not become discouraged by lack of overnight success. How long depends on your dog, your training skills and how much time you devote to the teaching process. Even a month of teaching a dog how to walk well on a leash is well worth the future years of enjoyment.

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