Why Is My Dog Pulling On The Leash?
I want to talk about a common question that I have been receiving in my emails, Facebook messages and through my website... that question is...
Why is my dog pulling so much on the leash?
It's a very common question, and throughout my years of dog training, it is my experience that there are two common reasons why dogs tend to pull on the leash.
1. Rewardable Pulling
When we take our dogs out for a walk, our dogs start to pull and what do most people do? They keep moving forward with their dog. As the dog continues to pull, we continue to walk right behind them, which is actually encouraging the pulling. We're basically rewarding our dog for pulling us. At times, the pulling can get excessive and we try to keep up and at times are power walking with them! You begin to say to yourself, “Oh my gosh, this isn't really enjoyable anymore! I don't want to do this anymore because I don't have any control, it's hurting my shoulder and it's not fun!”
This is especially common in puppies. When you then add in something that your puppy can get to, whether it's a person, another dog, a toy, some food... that also adds to the reward in their mind.
We all want to socialize our puppies and dogs with people and with other dogs. But, when we allow them to pull and get to the person they want to see, they are rewarded for pulling. Then add in the person petting them, sometimes even when the puppy or dog is jumping up, now it's a bonus reward!
So, the handler continues to move forward while the dog is pulling – that’s the first reward. They get to whatever it is that they want - person, dog toy, whatever - and now they generally are pulling hard at this point – that is the second reward. Then they get some type of attention once they get to the person or dog – that is the bonus, third reward.
Each time this occurs, we allow them to rehearse a behavior that we don't really want. We want to practice behaviors that we do want instead of letting them rehearse behaviors that we don't want.
There are several things we can do to help this… (HINT: Reason #2 below is the best starting point.)
You can stop the moment your dog begins to pull away from you and wait for your dog to decide to create slack in the leash. Once your dog has created slack in the leash then you can begin to move forward again. Or, you can begin to walk the opposite direction as your dog begins to pull away. Many dogs will learn that pulling is no longer rewardable and doesn’t allow them to keep moving forward.
Some people will use a front loading harness or no pull harness to keep their dog from pulling. However, as a Certified Canine Athlete Specialist/K9 Fitness Instructor, these types of harness pull your dog to one side and cause imbalances in the dog’s skeletal and muscular system, as well as add unwanted pressure on the shoulder and ultimately the cervical spine.
From a dog trainer’s position, the equipment is doing the work – we want the dog to make the choice to stay by your side through shaping and teaching what we want, not to have equipment making the decision for them. The dogs are only walking with you because equipment is making it happen, not because your dog has actually learned to walk nicely.
2. Rewardable Position
The other common reason that dogs tend to pull is that we haven't taught them the rewardable position - the heel position.
Many people think that “heel” means to walk with your dog. Heel just means find my left and stay by my left side no matter what I do. I step forward, backwards, turn in a circle, just stay by my left side.
But the key is teaching them that the position is rewardable. You can also teach this on the right – just be consistent in what you're teaching.
There are a number of ways to teach this, either using a bowl, box or a brick. You can utilize luring or do free shaping to teach the dog to come into heel position by teaching the dog to put his paws up on the bowl, teaching them to go around the bowl (rear end awareness) and then teaching them to come into heel position. Once the dog learns how to come into position, you continue to reward that position and then beginning to take small steps and turns. You can also use a wall to help create a barrier to prevent them from moving out of the position you’re teaching, etc.
Find the method that works best for you and your dog and keep at it daily!
If you’re interested in learning more about teaching your dog not to pull or teaching the rewardable position, reach out to me to discuss the various training programs and classes I offer!
Remember, enjoy the journey with your dog! It’s all about the dog!