Help my Dog Pulls. What Equipment / Tools should I use?

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One of the questions that will get any dog group interesting is. What do I do to stop my dog from pulling on a leash?   Post that on any social media group involving dogs and duck as the “stuff” will soon be flying.  People will primarily start arguing about tools.  

Which collars and tools work best? Which tools are humane or inhumane?  Should we even walk our dogs on leash at all?   Walking on a leash at our side is not a natural behavior for dogs.  In general, we walk too slow and we don’t ever stop to sniff interesting stuff. I think the way our dogs would prefer to walk with us is similar to how I see dogs and people hiking on trails or walking in the country off leash.  The dogs usually will be a bit in front of the owner and after a while wait till the human catches up or the dog will hang back to investigate some interesting scent and catch up to us which is easy as we are so slow.   Unfortunately, that is not safe or legal in most urban or suburban settings.  

Teaching a dog Loose Leash Walking is different than behaviors like sitting or lying down.  Dogs already know how to sit and lie down.  We are just teaching them to do it when we ask.  Loose Leash Walking involves several different skills and the dog has to make decisions about where his position is in relationship to the owner and the dog has to do this while moving, often in distracting environments. Yes, the regular walk around the block is distracting to your dog.  There are all kinds of interesting scents, sounds, and people. But with some guidance from us humans dog can and do learn this skill.  With a little help from the right equipment, some training and some patience you and your dog can learn too.  

They're are several tools you can use to reduce a dog from pulling. I favor the ones that do not involve causing, pain, force or fear to the dog.   But the even tools I like, use and recommend like Front Clip Harnesses, Martingale collars and on occasion head halters, are only tools, even leashes are tools. Tools do give some much-needed relief to the owners and allows some large dogs to be walked safely and more enjoyable. However, it does not necessarily teach the dog to walk politely on a loose leash. Training, patience, and consistency in applying that training teach your dog to walk politely (as defined by the human) on a loose leash.   What my clients usually want is to just take their dog for a walk without the dog pulling crisscrossing or tripping them up with the leash. So I will talk a bit about some of the equipment that will help you to achieve that. 

Step 1 Define the goal -  For the purpose of this article, I’ll define the goal as the dog walking with no tension in the leash. But you can define it differently.  One person might want the dog on their left side no more than 5 feet in front of them.  While another might define their goal as the dog is on either side but not more than 3 feet away from owner and leash is always loose. It’s important to define the goal so we know what we are working towards.  Of course, our standards may change depending on the dog, person, and situation.   

Step 2 Decide what tools you want to use or try out.  Remember even a leash and flat collar are leash walking tools.  I always like to use the least aversive tool that allows the dog and handler to experience success, so we can reward that success. Behaviors that are rewarded are more likely to be repeated. Rewards can be anything the dog likes and wants, so food, toys, praise, and even moving forward are all rewards.  I am only listing tools here that I would use or recommend. I will not be discussing Prong, Shock or Choke collars or get into why I do not use or recommend them.  That is for another day and another blog.     

Tools / Equipment options - 

 Front Clip no pull Harnesses - With these harnesses, the leash is attached to a ring at the front of the harness on the dog’s chest. They give the handler more control over the dog by changing the direction of the dog when the dog pulls.  These harnesses make it harder for the dog to pull and refocuses the dog back to the handler.  You should see an immediate reduction in pulling by just switching to a front clip harness from a standard back clip harness or flat collar. 

Martingale Collar - this is a flat collar that has a loop which tightens when the dog pulls or tries to back out of the collar.  This collar when properly fitted will not choke the dog.  Two fingers should fit between the dog’s neck and collar when fully tightened.  This may give a bit more control than a standard collar but its main use is for dogs and puppies who are in danger of backing out of their collars. They were designed for dogs with small heads in relation to their necks such as sighthounds.   

Head Halters - Head Halters such as the Gentle Leader and the Halti Head Collar works similar to a halter on a horse.  Where the head goes the body will follow.  Gentle pressure is exerted on the bridge of the dog's nose when they pull which is a deterrent.  This is not my favorite tool as many dogs just don’t like them and will paw to get them off. But they can be a useful tool when the owner is physically unable to control a large dog who is a determined puller.   If you do choose to use a head halter it is essential that you condition your dog to it slowly.  I would also recommend that it be used as a training tool and faded as soon as the dog's skills progress. It is not a muzzle and if fitted properly the dog can eat, drink, pant, bark and bite with it on. It should be snug on the neck but allow free movement of the mouth. 

Long leash 20 feet - A greatly underutilized tool for teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash.  You use it to be able to teach your dog to walk without tension in the leash and reinforce any time he chooses to be close to you.  This is especially effective when working with a dog who is used to pulling and/or an owner who pulls back.  It eliminates the feeling of tightness. This technique was developed by Grisha Stewart as part of her BAT 2.0 program. I love it because it helps the dog get it right fast.  All of a sudden you see the dog making good choices and loving it.   There are some videos on Youtube that showcase this method.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4caLivNlyDs There is also an instructional video which is excellent https://www.tawzerdog.com/programs/walk-with-me .   

Step 3 Get out there and Walk 

I hope some of the tools listed above can help you get out there and walk your dog because the more you walk together the better you will both get at it.  A dog that pulls often doesn’t get walked often so on the infrequent walks he gets he is so excited that he pulls even more. Of course, that leads to fewer walks, more excitement etc. So get out there and walk your dog.

If you need professional help reach out to a force-free trainer. You can find one listed at The Pet Professional Guild http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/ or Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers http://www.ccpdt.org/