If it isn’t you… you have seen plenty of people out “dog skiing”, being pulled down the sidewalk by their amazing canine companion… or tangled around sign posts, tripping over irregularities in the pavement, or heaven forbid there be another dog walking towards you on the other side of the road! If you are like me, with a with a bad back, putting up with this is not acceptable. Tolerating this behavior will become a matter of riding the sofa for weeks and choking down pain meds, so it’s a full stop, “no go”. So how do you prevent it? And how do you become that guy (or gal) in your neighborhood who is secretly the envy of all other dog walkers with your dog neatly at heel?
Showing off is one thing, but safety and security is another thing altogether and is a legitimate goal to pursue. I often walk all of my Drents together at once, so having their cooperation is quite important, as I could easily be carried away.
Safety and security, sounds pretty serious, but the health and welfare of you and your Drent are something of importance! Maybe you are accustomed to being dragged along by your dog and don’t realize the implications, and that there may be a better way. A leash-puller can run the risk of breaking away from your control, which can be a danger to your dog. Things such as continuing to run into traffic, towards some unfriendly animal, and of course the danger to yourself as I’ve already eluded to. Furthermore, proper leash manners minimize the risk of you injuring your dog in a moment of overzealous leash yanking and will make the time spent walking your dog more about walking and less about tug-of-war, or skiing, with the typical accompaniment of cussing and fussing.
“From a relationship perspective,” explains Sarah Fraser, a certified professional dog trainer and co-founder of Instinct Behavior & Training in New York City, “if your dog is walking nicely on a leash, it likely means that your dog is paying more attention to you, making it easier for you to provide direction and guidance as needed along your walk.” I find this quote to be very accurate and important to take note of. Fraser goes on to say, “Teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash allows you to take her more places and for longer walks, because it’s more comfortable and enjoyable for the both of you.” Few truer words have been spoken I feel.
Tips for Better Walking Behavior
Adjust your attitude.
First, ask yourself: “What would I like my dog to do instead?” Instead of teaching a dog to stop pulling, think of teaching your dog to heel as teaching your dog how to walk nicely beside you.
Remember it’s all about the rewards - sorta.
Since a Drent is nearly always hungry you can use this to your advantage! One of the easiest and most effective ways to start teaching a dog to walk properly on a leash is to reward the dog for paying attention to you and for being in the desired position (next to you or close to you) when out for a walk.
“As the dog learns that walking next to you is a pleasant, rewarding experience, she’ll spend less time pulling and more time walking nicely beside you,” says Fraser. “Try using very special treats in the beginning, like small pieces of boiled chicken or roast beef, to really get your dog’s attention,” Fraser advises. I’m a huge fan of raw hotdogs cut to pencil eraser sized pieces. Just have your dog sit near you, say its name, and give half once he/she looks you directly in the eyes. The better your dog gets at this, treat him less and less consistently. Sessions should only last a few minutes at most a couple of times a week. If your dog “loses the bubble” with his consistent and prompt response just go back to being more consistent with treating. Keep in mind reinforcement behaviors on your part, positive or negative, need to be within 1/3 of a second.
Play the “follow me” game.
This is an extension on the game from above and how I prefer to teach a recall: ‘come’ or ‘here’. Doing this with a partner is ideal. Each person should have a store of high-value treats at the ready, and the pup with collar and line (you can use a 6’ lead, but a longer cord can be helpful). You both are within an arm’s reach of one another. Person one (P1) has pup nearby, and Person two (P2) says the pups name in an upbeat and higher pitched tone, once pup looks them in the eyes, they take a step back and say ‘here’ (or command of choice). While P1 allows the line slack, P2 holds the treat out to help entice pup in and allows pup to have the treat once he is in close. Tell him ‘good boy’ and be enthusiastic but not overwhelming. Wash, rinse, repeat. As pup becomes more and more responsive, add distance slowly. Keep sessions short, and use the line as needed to ensure pup doesn’t stray in the event he gets excited and decides to run if the game becomes too fun.
Once pup is pretty good at this, try this without an assistant. Hold on to your leash and take several backward steps away from your dog. The backward movement is inviting, so your dog is likely to turn and follow you. You don’t need to use your recall command, but it can be helpful if Sparky doesn’t find your step back inviting…also, he is accustomed to this from the earlier exercise. Say “yes!” as your dog approaches you, then immediately reward him or her with a treat.
“The game helps your dog focus and move with you,” says Fraser. Then back away several steps in another direction. Once again, say “yes!” as your dog approaches and reward him or her with a treat. Repeat this sequence a few times, until your dog is actively pursuing you when you move away. Remember to stay upbeat, and be sure to remain attuned to your dog’s interest in the game – better to go short than long. A few really good ones are significantly better than a bunch of so-so ones or worse yet ad handful of bad ones. This lure and reward technique is very low pressure, and you can become more and more selective as to what earns a treat as pups’ performance improves e.g. getting him to sit beside you versus in front.
Practice on your regular walks.
Once you’ve started your stride, each time your dog looks up at you or walks next to you, says “yes!” and immediately reward him or her with a treat. For those of you who like clickers, pop your clicker in leu of saying ‘yes’.
"Frequent rewards will help your dog figure out more quickly what behavior you’re looking for and make the learning process easier for her,” Fraser goes on to explain, “The trick to making this work is using very special treats at first, and keeping your rate of reinforcement high, which just means that you are marking and rewarding often — maybe every 4-5 steps at first — for any and all ‘good’ leash behavior.”
“Over time, you can thin out your rate of reinforcement, rewarding your dog less frequently throughout the course of the walk,” Fraser adds.
Consider additional assistance.
If your dog is already a practiced puller, there is still hope. Like nearly all training issues with dogs, going back to the beginning and using lots of treats can many times work small miracles. Sometimes you may need to consider employing more serious training aids for the job at hand. For these you may want to visit with an experienced trainer to learn how to correctly use these aids, but a properly fitted prong or JASA collar, while looking pretty rough, are generally much subtler in their employment than a traditional training (choker collar). I am not a fan of the various body-clip or head-muzzle harnesses, as most tend to give the dog leverage, or can be very dangerous to the dog. However, if your dog already pulls hard, consider working with a certified, science-based positive-reinforcement type trainer.
Finally, remember that walking on a leash is a skill that takes time and practice for everyone involved, so be sure to celebrate your incremental improvements.
I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Fifty some years later this is what you get.