There are so many reasons a pet parent may contact a dog trainer because excessive pulling. The conversation may start with HELP!!!!!
A few of the more common reasons:
Dog is reactive or demonstrates aggression toward other dogs and/or humans (lunging, barking, growling), making control of the dog difficult.
There is a mismatch between the dog’s strength and human’s strength which means the human struggles with managing their dog on a walk.
One spouse insists the dog pulls, and the other spouse insists the dog does not pull.
A first time pet parent does not feel comfortable walking their dog if their first few walks did not go as planned.
Pet parents become frustrated when their dog does not listen to them on walks.
When I meet with clients, I always start by explaining a number of very key concepts and topics that could be the difference between success and failure. Loose leash walking skills can be a lot more challenging than humans realize, especially if reactivity, aggression, and/or anxiety are involved. With that said, I thought a blog post was in order!
Some of the most common topics I discuss with my clients are:
When a dog pulls, it can be a little scary! Falls can happen that result in injury. A pet parent can accidentally drop the leash in the event of a sudden hard pull. If there is reactivity, neighbors or other humans encountered can be quite unnerved if a big dog is pulling, lunging, and barking at them. With that said, it is important for pet parents to understand that their emotion can feed their dog’s emotion, and emotion can be an accidental reward. It is important for pet parents to stay as calm as possible so that they can react quickly to any circumstance. I realize this is a lot easier said than done. Pulling can be so frustrating, especially if it has been going on for a long time. I will say that it is common for humans to feel more comfortable when they learn what their options are, and they become confident implementing the options!
Many breeds have strong prey drives which can make an evening stroll a challenge if the humans have as many bunnies, squirrels, and other critters in their neighborhood as I do! If Mr. Squirrel lives in a particular tree on the dog’s street and is home everyday at a certain time, the dog may begin to anticipate visiting that tree. The pulling may start well in advance, many times, of reaching the tree. The same theory would apply to reactive dogs that know where their friend or not friend lives. The dog may become more and more excited, sometimes not in a good way, and can be difficult to handle. Regardless of the situation, I work with my clients to understand that pulling will happen until progress can be made. Management is so important in the beginning. If a problem behavior is rehearsed over and over, it become worse. Again, humans usually relax a bit when they know what to do in the event of pulling or in the heat of the moment. Once pressure on the human is reduced, the baby steps for improvement can begin! Sometimes it may take months. The dog must know exactly what their human expects on their walk – so the human needs to be able to communicate the expectations. Also, the expectations must be consistently applied by everyone in the family. The good news is that there are a number of positive techniques that can be used! It is important to identify the technique that works best for the pet parent and their individual walk. The dog AND pet parent should be set up for success!
Know Your Trainer
I have discussed the concept of “Know Your Trainer” in previous blogs. This is so important. There are three types of trainers – compulsion, balanced, and positive. Each type of trainer will approach pulling and reactivity differently. For example, a compulsion trainer may recommend using a shock collar for pulling. A positive trainer will train with treats and praise. The various types of trainers should not criticize the techniques of other trainers. With that said, each type of trainer should understand why trainers use certain techniques. For example, the use of a shock collar may have an immediate impact; however, there may be consequences. Training with treats and praise may take significantly more time. It is important for pet parents to understand the techniques! It is important for pet parents to ask plenty of questions and be involved every step of the way – even if a board and train is used. Pet parents must be able to use the techniques consistently.
I have to add something I say often – “If you put ten trainers in a room and asked each the same question – you would get ten different answers”. 😊 There can be many approaches. The important thing is to work with a technique that works for the pet parent – in Dawn’s humble opinion. 😊
Dogs that listen very well indoors may not perform well outdoors – as it relates to focus, obedience – especially recall. In training mode, trainers typically start teaching obedience cues indoors with no or very few distractions. Some dogs find being outdoors overstimulating! Sometimes, as it relates to obedience training, even if the dog has achieved a more advanced skill level indoors, the dog must start at the foundation skill level outside and move up from there so that a good focus with lots of distractions can be achieved. When a dog pulls, with or without reactivity, it is important that a human be able to get the dog’s attention. This is difficult if the dog is focused on everything but listening to their human. I teach certain cues that help many pet parents when their dog pulls that redirect the dog as they mark and reward not pulling. Dogs cannot learn if they cannot focus on the pet parent and instructions. So, with that said, focus is one of the most important foundation skills. Skill advancement starts at no distractions and like working with building blocks, humans move up levels as the dog becomes more and more successful. Dogs love routines! Humans can build their own routine for a walk. They can even build in auto-behaviors. It can be fun instead of frustrating in some cases. 😊
Leash handling is one of the first things I look at during a consultation. I cannot stress how important leash handling skills can be. Good skills help avoid falls, leash drops, slow reactions, etc. Some experts suggest holding the leash with one hand vs. two hands. I train to a human’s reality. Again, the dog AND the human must be set up for success. Sometimes two handed just feels better to a human. If so, we work with that. There are ways to go from a long leash to a short leash quickly in the heat of the moment, whether you hold the leash in one hand or use two hands. I will note that there are ways to hold a leash that may result in injury, such as a broken wrist. I will also note that holding the leash in certain ways can make a dog pull harder. With that said, good leash handling skills are critical and can add to a human’s confidence on walks. Confidence can make a significant difference on many levels.
A number of difficult situations come to mind as it relates to safety. A few would be:
There is a mismatch of strength. The dog has far more strength than their human; therefore, control becomes very difficult with issues such as hard pulling.
A pet parent may be pregnant or may be walking with a stroller.
Older pet parents may suffer more serious injuries if there was a fall. A fall would be quite dangerous. Falls are dangerous for any human, but in some cases, a fall could result in a tragedy.
Dogs off leash may be common in a neighborhood. Dogs are masters at reading body language of other canines and humans. They can detect a threat far sooner than their human. Some breeds are natural guardians. Some human emotion can mark a canine reaction that the human really does not want to mark as desirable. (There are many complexities with this topic that cannot be covered in this post.)
As it relates to the few examples listed above, I work with my clients to understand that they may need to tweak their walks a bit, at least for a time. Humans typically find walking their dogs to be therapeutic. Many absolutely look forward to an evening or morning walk. Again, pulling and reactivity can be so frustrating. When working with clients, we go over the options in great detail – we find ways to train while making the “new” walk enjoyable!
Having the right equipment is a big one. There are different types of no pull harnesses, and harnesses that make pulling a bit more difficult. There are harnesses for escape artists. There are head halters that can be magical for humans in certain situations. (I will take this opportunity to say that some collars are not for pullers – choke or martingale collars because if a dog routinely pulls, a collar that puts pressure in the neck area may cause serious injury.) There are many types of leashes. There are many sizes of leashes which is important. The wrong size leash for a pet parent’s hand can make a difference. Luckily, Google has a wealth of reviews on canine equipment. Some organizations do a wonderful job outlining the pros and cons of certain harnesses and collars. If my clients need guidance in this area, I go through the options, but I do recommend clients look up the reviews. There are just so many brands and choices out there. Sometimes, it does take a bit of trial and error, but there are some wonderful products that can help make walks a bit more enjoyable. I also want to note how important it is to check the equipment’s condition before walks. With age, wear and tear, and other situations, equipment can become worn and/or damaged. With a puller, you do not want equipment to fail when you need it most!
I hope you found information in this blog helpful! I could go on and on about this topic 😊. It can be complex in some situations. If you have any questions about my post, please contact me! I would love to talk to you!