Relaxed lead walking is one of the most important skills you and your dog can learn, as there is nothing more tiring, stressful or painful than being dragged along by the lead, or choked by the collar.
Although anxiety, a lack of training or inappropriate use of equipment might be the cause of the problem, physics is also against us, as it tends to be an automatic reaction to pull back on the lead as soon as we feel tension. Opportunities to reward a relaxed contact thus become scarce and this leads to a search for in a new type of collar, head collar or harness, instead of dealing with the actual problem.
Before you can work on achieving a relaxed contact, it is essential to think about why your dog is pulling. If there are any concerns that your dog is anxious, the anxiety needs to be addressed first and this may be by changing the location of where your dog is walked (e.g. away from busy roads) or starting by driving to where your dog is comfortable and rewarding relaxed behaviour as you gradually increase the area you cover. If the anxiety is more serious it is best to speak to an animal behaviour counsellor.
If you feel the behaviour has been learnt, then the video below shows the first stage of how to teach a relaxed contact. NB He is using clicker training – If your dog is not clicker trained you can replace the click with a positive word the dog associates with the delivery of a treat, e.g. “YES” or “GOOD”.
With very strong dogs, often starting without a lead or tying the lead to your belt removes the human influence and this can enable you to progress much quicker. NB You would need to ensure you are in an enclosed and safe space to do this and ensure that the dog was not strong enough to pull you over if attaching them to your belt!
A lack of time is often the biggest reason why people do not work on their dogs pulling problems and so here are some time saving tips:
- Drive your dog to the park and then do some lead work on the way home. This will reduce your dog’s motivation to pull and give you more opportunities to reward a relaxed contact.
- Work on the lead walking in your garden, instead of going for a walk. Do 5 minutes of training, then have a play for 10 and another 5 minutes of training. Finish with some ‘nose work’ games e.g. laying a scent for your dog to follow and find its favourite toy or scattering its breakfast around the garden.
- Go on a shorter walk but encompass areas that provide more opportunity for your dog to sniff and investigate its environment. This will provide mental stimulation for your dog and give you more opportunities to reward a relaxed contact.
In regards to the best equipment, a collar and harness combination are often the way of ensuring control and comfort for your dog. Harnesses with two points of connection (front and back) enable you to avoid getting behind the dog, which is when the game of tug of war usually begins.
If you have any questions on relaxed lead walking, please do not hesitate to contact me.