So welcome to part three of a series (which is to say, I’ll keep writing about the topic until I get bored) in proper dog walking! Over the course of the series we’re going to look at walking and take each bit in stride (ha ha). The previous entries can be found here and here.
Today we’re looking at… no-pull walking!
Ideally you want some form of training collar: a martingale, a choke or slip chain, or a prong collar. DO NOT use any methods that involve tugging if you’re using a no-pull harness of any kind. It’s also not advised to use your dog’s flat collar (the collar their ID goes on) because your dog will pull harder than you can, and you’ll end up doing damage.
With a martingale or a slip/choke chain the idea is to safely control the head, NOT to choke your dog. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to assume you already know how to put one on. If I’m incorrect, wait a few weeks and I’ll have a post up about it, or check youtube for a tutorial! Once you have your collar on, you need to bring up it just behind the ears and under the jaw. The idea is to get it off the windpipe and against the bones, so we don’t worry about effecting their breathing. Up this high it also makes it so we can control their head, and it keeps them from pulling.
When you have a collar that sits low on your dog’s neck and it tightens, their instinct tells them that they’re caught in something, but it’s at the strongest pulling point of their body so if they pull harder, they’ll get out of it. It doesn’t matter if that something is choking them; they’ll keep pulling. If you bring the collar up so it controls their head, then when they pull harder their head lifts up. They can’t keep pulling, so instead they stop and think. Yay! We want them thinking! (Note that this isn’t the case with a prong collar. A prong collar is pokey, so a dog isn’t likely to lean against it even if it slides down. Those prongs also keep pressure up off the windpipe, so you don’t have to worry about choking.) Note that puppies should NOT be checked. At the most, you can gently bring them back where they belong. Checking puppies leads to later anxiety in life. Use positive reinforcement as described in the next bit, and know that you’ll have to stop and re-adjust often. That’s okay! It’s a puppy. Life is good. If your puppy is causing trouble even after practicing, find a trainer. Puppy emotions are still developing: we want them to think the world is mostly happy! Also keep in mind puppies’ bodies are developing, too; we don’t want to put undue pressure on them!
So now that you have your martingale or slip/choke chain up high or your prong collar on your dog, it’s time to walk! With martingales/slip/choke chains you’ll want to make sure that it stays up. Your leash can be taut but not tight; we don’t want pressure, we just want to keep the collar high.
You’ve stepped out the door, turned around and closed it behind you, and now it’s time to go. We’re going to use the the same basic ideas we used in the last two sections: treats, check, reversals, and body blocking.
So start walking. For control purposes, it’s best if your dog’s head is beside your hip. You have the most control when they’re right there. As soon as your leash is pulling forward AT ALL to meet your dog, your control is lessened. We start, therefore, with our dog right beside us. If you can, ask him to sit. If he’s wiggly and excited that’s all right, you’re going to pull (gently and steadily) up and back on his leash and press down on his butt until he sits. When he sits, praise and love. Sitting gives you a chance to organize and make sure that you’re at least starting out with him beside you! Your leash should be long enough that it’s not tight, but short enough that when you tug you feel it pull on your dog.
We’re going to start walking. As soon as your dog leaps up and forward, check him. Pull sideways or up (not back) on the leash. This is a quick motion; we’re not telling our dogs to come back, we’re telling them that we don’t like it when they leap forward. It’s a subtle but important difference. Telling them to come back means pulling them back into place (and giving them a pressure they can fight). Telling them we don’t like it when they leap forward means a quick sideways or upward tug, releasing the leash so it’s loose as fast as we tightened it. They can’t pull against this, because it’s over too soon for them to rally. (Note: pulling sideways is sometimes more effective because they need to catch their balance slightly, but pulling upward is safer for the spine.)
You will probably have to do several of these before your dog decides to listen. You might even just have to keep doing them, tug-tug-tug-tug, before your dog notices. That’s okay. Each tug can be progressively harder. Your dog will tell you when it’s hard enough; they’ll stop and say, “Okay, I noticed that. I guess I shouldn’t leap forward.” When they’re in the right spot, praise! You can encourage them to stay in the right spot by having a treat. They can have it when they’re correct, and you can use it as bait (holding it in front of their nose in the spot they belong but making them walk in that spot for several steps before you give it to them) when you’re trying to get them or keep them correct.
If your dog leaps ahead of you, stop tugging. Once your dog is ahead, the check is useless. At that point, turn around and walk the other way. Your dog will whirl around and come after you, ready to blast by again. Wait! As they near your hip, give them a quick check. This will help break their speed and stride, so that if they step ahead of you, you have time to do it again.
When your dog finally starts to slow down and tune in, begin to loosen off on your leash. Your collar will slide; if you tug and get no response, start pulling it back up every few minutes. (Yes, this is a pain, but it’s temporary. Sometimes it’s just a matter of one walk before the dog listens even if the collar isn’t high.) Also start thinking about your body language. Are your shoulders back? Are BOTH of your arms swinging as you walk? If they aren’t, then some part of you is tense. When your dog checks in with you and sees this tension, he’s going to say, “Oh no! Tension means something bad’s going on! I’m ready to have your back. Don’t worry, I’ll figure out what’s bugging you and take care of it.” We don’t want your dog in that mindset! So relax.
At first, you’ll be checking your dog every few steps. This is normal; don’t worry about it. If it lasts longer than the first few walks without changing, then start doing more reversals so they tune in a little more carefully, or give more treats when they’re in the right spot. Either method will work; which works best depends on the dog and owner combination. You can also bump your dog with your foot when you walk. Aim for the hip or ribcage; this is body blocking, and will make them tune back in to where you are and what you want. (Don’t do this with small dogs; it’s too tricky and too easy to hurt them without meaning to.)
We are now working on walking politely in calm situations. Yay! Once you’ve mastered this, we go on to walking politely in ALL situations. Won’t that be fun!