Monday, November 11, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer #2: My Dog Pulls On Leash

In this edition of "Confessions of a Dog Trainer," I am going to talk about another behavior that is at the top of a lot of dog owner's "Must Fix" list; pulling on leash. In my previous post I talked about the first of my dirty little secrets and today's post is aimed at another common "problem" behavior that I hear complaints about...a lot.

So as I stretch out my legs and begin my ascent onto my soap box...let me start by asking a few warm-up questions to those of you out there reading...and be honest with your answers.

Question 1: Are dogs born knowing how to walk on a leash?
Question 2: What is your dog's natural walking pace compared to yours?
Question 3: How many dogs pull when they are NOT on a leash?
Question 4: Who's idea is it to walk on leash? Your's? Or your dog's?

Now, think about your answers. Like, really think about them.

If you're like me, your answers were:

Answer 1: No.
Answer 2: Faster. In my case, a lot faster.
Answer 3: Zero.
Answer 4: Mine. 

Walking on leash is NOT a natural behavior for dogs. 

Yet for many dogs, being on a leash is an everyday occurrence and it is a necessary safety precaution to keep themselves and others safe. Have you ever seen an off-leash dog hauling ass down a busy road in the city as cars swerve and slam on their brakes? I have. And It's scary. Really scary. It is a hazard to more than the dog at large...I have seen cars swerving in rush hour traffic to avoid hitting a dog who was on the loose.

I do think leash laws are important for safety reasons and I wholeheartedly believe that all dogs should be taught how to walk politely on leash. Do I think every dog needs to walk in a perfect heel position? No. Do I think that they should be taught to walk on a loose leash - even if they are in front of their owner from time to time? Yes.  Do I think that owners should allow their dog to pull them down the street the entire walk. No.

But, I do have a confession... 
My dog is NOT perfect and pulls on leash, on occasion.
Oscar pulling on leash. GASP!
Oh wait, the world kept turning!

The leash pulling is usually in one of the following contexts:
  • At the initial sight of a squirrel or bunny rabbit.
  • If we are on our walk and get home to see Aaron has arrived home while we've been gone.
  • When he gets dropped off at doggy day care.
  • When I have released him to "go sniff" in nature's shopping mall.
Is Oscar being a "bad" dog when he pulls on leash? No. He simply wants to get from point A to point B as fast as possible...which happens to be faster than I can move...and wouldn't you know, there's a piece of leather that doesn't let that happen and tension is created on the leash.

Have I taught him how to walk politely so I can cue that behavior when I think it's important? Yes I can.

Do I stop moving if he is pulling on leash when I don't want him to be? Yes I do.

Do I "allow" Oscar to sniff on walks? Um, yeah. And a lot. 

Do I use access to what he wants (squirrel chase, Aaron, day care gate, pee tree) to reward a few steps with me on a loose leash? YOU BET.  

Do I want him to be a robot dog that walks perfectly at my left knee at all times? Nope. How boring for both him and I.

Do I think a walk should be a mutually enjoyable time for us to be together? Absolutely

Do we negotiate during our walks and listen to each other's requests to stop and sniff or keep walking? Yes.

Do I sometimes adjust my pace to keep up with Oscar? Yeup. 

Does Oscar sometimes adjust his pace to keep up - or slow down - with me? Yes.

To me - in my life and in my situation with my dog - an occasional pulling on the leash is completely acceptable. I don't lose sleep over it and I certainly do not think Oscar is trying to take over the world by pulling.  I actually like having a dog that acts like a dog from time to time...a dog that is excited about the environment around him.

And here's my challenge to you, on the loop end of the leash:
Have the same respect for your dog as you would like. If you don't want your dog pulling on leash, then you should mirror the same behavior...don't pull them all over the place. Instead focus your efforts on reconnecting with your dog with your voice, body and mind and invite them to come along with you. Unless if it is a life-threatening situation - or you NEED to get your dog out of somewhere (say, there are 20 toddlers running toward you and your not-so-kid-friendly dog), NEVER initiate a leash pull. 

Stay tuned for more confessions from my daily life with my special boy...

Coming Up Next: 
Confessions of a Dog Trainer #3: My Dog Goes Through Doors Before Me

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