I have plenty of clients who call me because their dog pulls like a freight train on the leash.
Several of them have broken bones from falling. Many are afraid to walk their dog on icy sidewalks.
They’ve tried treats, special harnesses, various collars… some will admit that they’ve tried swearing, too!
But most dogs don’t need all of that.
They need one simple word.
One word to avoid slipping, falling, injuries, frustration, and embarrassment.
Here’s how it works:
Your dog wants to go forward.
Desperately! They want to sniff and explore! But they have learned that pulling as hard as they can is how to get you to move forward.
You want to go forward, too, but without having your shoulder yanked out of socket.
Elsa Peretti’s designs for Tiffany were simple and elegant. The Madonna is in this piece, but many people don’t see the classic image at first glance.
Walking your dog can be like that. You will use movement to communicate, but it will be gentle and subtle. The rest of the world will just see harmony.
I call this version of leash manners “FreeDog Walking.”
There are a few things it’s helpful to know.
All dogs have a pulling instinct.
You do, too. It’s called the opposition reflex. It helps us keep our balance.
If you’ve ever done martial arts, you know that if you want someone to lean toward you, you give them a little shove. They lean in, and you flip them over! Voilà!
So, when you pull your dog back… they pull you forward.
Newtonian physics apply to dogs.
Remember the talk about equal and opposite reactions?
That force you feel on your hand is exactly the same as the force your dog feels on their collar.
They’re just much tougher than us.
Dogs will pull through a lot of discomfort to go say hi to their friend. They feel it. But they have learned that pulling hard works. It get us to move forward– so that’s what they do.
Miracles exist, but this isn’t one of them.
Like any new skill, it’s a little clumsy at first. That’s okay.
- Keep practicing.
- Work on your timing.
- Be kind to your dog.
These are the tools you’ll need:
- A regular collar.
- An ordinary 4–6-foot leash.
- A good supply of patience.
You won’t need prongs, electricity, or a glass of whiskey.
And for goodness’ sake, no retractable leashes.
Remember the opposition reflex? That retractable leash is teaching your dog to pull.
You know what else you don’t need? Treats! There are no treats in this technique!
You are going to reward your dog with movement.
There are two simple concepts here.
Give your dog the entire length of the leash while you hold the handle. Your dog is free to wander and sniff to their heart’s content. Sniffing is very important for a dog’s mental health.
But as soon as the leash goes tight against your hand, you freeze in place like a fencepost.
The moment that you feel any softness against your hand, you say “Good” and move forward.
That’s it. Just “Good.”
It’s simple, but it isn’t easy. There are four more points you need to know.
- The first time you do this, you’ll probably have to stop every 1-2 steps. Hang in there. That’s normal. It doesn’t last long.
- Your timing matters a great deal. Dogs only understand events that are immediately connected.
If your dog pulls against your hand for several seconds before you freeze, they won’t understand the relationship between those events.
They might think it’s because of a car that drove past or some other random event.
The more sensitive you are to the pressure changes on your hand, the quicker your dog will figure out what you want.
- I say “Good” a split-second before I move.
It is slightly faster than I can step forward. The dog gets instant feedback, so they understand that softness will be rewarded.
- Say “Good” in a casual, matter of fact way.
Think of the tone you’d use if you see that the garbage truck has taken the trash. It’s a positive thing, but it’s not a winning lotto ticket.
It’s distracting when we shout, dance, and cheer.
“Rover, you are the smartest, most handsome boy in the neighborhood! Good-boy-good-boy-good boy!” Whew. I get tired just thinking it. Let Rover concentrate on the collar pressure and the simple communication, “Good.”
Keep it simple.
Softness=Good + movement.
Now, give this article to your dog to read.
If only it were that easy! Unfortunately, your dog is not going to understand the new rules right away.
When you start this program, it’s common for your dog to continue pulling when you stop. Pulling worked yesterday, so they’re going to try it again today.
Let them pull for 10 seconds. If they haven’t eased up by then, make a small noise, like a whistle or a smooch. They’ll turn around to see what’s going on.
That small movement will create a flicker of softness. Be ready to say “Good” and move forward.
If your dog is absolutely fixated on a squirrel, just lead them away. I say “Let’s go” so my dogs know that we’re moving on. They’ll learn that phrase and you’ll see that the resistance will reduce quickly. They may still anchor occasionally, but it will be easier to get them moving again.
Your dog is not a robot.
Like us, they have good days and bad days. They get distracted, feel tired, and get frustrated. Do your best. Celebrate the good days.
And go on lots of walks.
I have seen a tremendous difference in a single 30-minute walk… even in dogs who have pulled like Olympians for their entire adult lives!
They’ll test the rules at the start of each walk. That’s expected. If you practice consistently for a week, you’ll see remarkable improvement. It’s typical for the bursts of pulling to be less frequent and less intense as the time goes on.
When you realize that you’ve covered half a mile without any pulling, let us know! We want to celebrate with you. And if you need help with training, you can reach us at https://42walksdogtraining.com/contact/. In-person and on-line training options are available.
Snuggles and Teeth,
Mokey, Rayvin, and Bree