Mama Sally: When I’m working with dogs, it might surprise you to know that small things that we can do differently will make huge differences to our dogs in giving us the results we want! I think many people think that they have to do lots of big things in order to get their dogs to come along and produce the behavior that they want.
We’ve already discussed having the right equipment. Just changing the style of harness or collar can make a difference between a dog who pulls and one who walks nicely on a leash. Unfortunately, you’ll have to try a few things out to find what works, but as a trainer, I often have various forms of equipment with me that owners can try. It saves you the money and headache of figuring it out all by yourself. Pet store staff may not really know how to direct you, but a good trainer can, and they’ll teach you how to use it properly.
We’ve also discussed just walking your dog in the driveway or up a couple of mailboxes and back every day to help your dog improve on walks. Just the small change of having your dog on cement rather than grass will make a big difference in sniffing and pulling toward those interesting smells! If you have a quiet street, you can walk your dog in the middle of the road where he can’t get to grass or mailboxes to check his daily “Pee Mail.”
When I’m teaching dogs to walk nicely on a leash, I start with a six foot fixed leash. NO RETRACTABLE LEASHES!! The goal is to have your dogs walking nicely on a loose leash without crossing in front or behind you. They often pull when you first start out because they’re very excited and they have places to go! Every time the dog pulls, I simply tug his leash, say, “NO!” and turn in the opposite direction and keep going. When the dog pulls in that new direction, I change to the opposite direction once again. I continue to repeat this, until the dog starts to figure out that we’re not really going anywhere, and his initial excitement starts to wane.
Once the dog isn’t strongly pulling any longer, I start watching for the dog to glance over his shoulder and look up at me. When that happens, as long as the leash is still loose, I quickly offer the dog a tiny tidbit about the size of a dog food kibble, smile and praise him. I keep walking, changing directions as needed when the dog pulls, but anytime the dog glances up at me, he gets a tiny tidbit of food, a smile and praise.
What happens after a very short amount of time, is that the dog figures out that looking at his handler produces food in his mouth and nice words from his handler! This does several things for you as a handler:
- First, by offering treats when the dog looks at you, he’s going to keep looking your way to get additional treats. When he’s looking at you, he’s not seeing that squirrel dash across the street in front of you! Those distractions are a primary reason he’s pulling in the first place!
- When you offer treats for keeping the leash loose, you’re reinforcing the likelihood that he will continue to keep the leash loose. It’s much more comfortable for him, and what dog doesn’t want a comfortable walk?
- When you offer a treat for keeping the leash loose and looking at you, your dog will naturally begin to walk closer to you, because that’s where the food is! The closer he stays to you, the quicker he can get his nibble, and he will figure all of that out!
Rugby James: Well, for me, I getsa be a Guinea Pig for the Mama to try stuff. She’s tried all kindsa stuff wif me, but she ended up liking a Sporn walking harness best. I doesn’t do well wif just a collar and leash, but I can walk purty good wif a harness.
I doesn’t likesa eat nuffing when I leave home, on account of I getsa lil anxious and worried on walks. So the Mama just uses a happy voice and pets me sumtimes. She does a goofy fing wif changing direction all the time when we start out, sos I will start to focus on her and pay attention to her better. It’s a lil bit annoying, so I try to pay attention quick on account of then we can just keep going.
One fing I can tell you about the Mama when she walks me, is that she kinda wants me to look at her sumtimes. She lets me sniff and stuff like that, but she always wants me to keep checking in wif her by looking at her. This is sos she can change directions and I’ll be watching her, and sos I doesn’t wanna go after skirrels and bunnies and cars and stuff. Walks can be a good adventure, and I highly recommend them….provided that you gotsa good safe place to do it! Barrooo!!