Do you dread taking your dog for a walk? Very few things are as unpleasant for a dog owner than a dog who constantly pulls on the leash. It hurts your hand to hold onto the leash and the battle is exhausting. The walk is not delightful; in fact, it makes you crabby. What begins to happen is fewer walks, shorter walks, and before you know it the dog does not get a walk at all.
A leashed walk is VERY important for our dogs. It is the equivalent of us going to the movies, reading a book, or browsing the internet. We do these things because we need to be refreshed—a mental reset, if you will. Imagine what it’s like for your dog just seeing the same things all day, every day without anything really being new or interesting. Even though our dogs live in loving homes and are as well cared for as they can be, life for some of them is the same thing day in and day out. If they are not getting regular leashed walks, they are not getting good mental stimulation and that can lead to behavior issues.
So why do dogs pull on the leash while out for a walk? The honest truth is – wait for it — WE trained them to pull. How can that be? To understand why dogs pull on the leash you have to take in to consideration the amazing senses the canine has.
According to Stanley Coren, PHD in his book “How Dogs Think,” a dog’s hearing is “hundreds of times” better than humans for some sounds, particularly the sound of moving prey. So, they’re hearing things we are not hearing. Strangely, Dr. Coren also says dogs are not very adept at discerning where these sounds are coming from. Humans are actually much better at telling where a sound is coming from than a dog is.
So, right out of the door your dog is bombarded by sounds you cannot hear at all. Sounds they can hear but cannot pinpoint in space. With no training, the dog’s instinct is to anxiously seek and solve the mystery of those interesting sounds.
But that isn’t all. How about smell? If you check out the website www.dogcrunch.com, you’ll learn the part of a canine’s brain that processes smell is 40% larger than a human’s. This translates to a dog’s ability to detect smell being 1,000 to 10,000 times superior to humans.
Now you have the full picture. Right out of the door your dog is bombarded by not just sounds but smells that you cannot even imagine. Smells of other dogs that have been at a particular place or have marked it. Your dog will recognize the smells of any number of small animals that have passed by … possum, rabbits, squirrels, armadillos, field mice, rats, or who knows what else. All of those smells are like an interesting internet link to you or me. To a dog those scents carry a wealth of information that MUST be investigated.
So how did we train our dogs to pull? Pretty simple actually. One day the dog started pulling and we allowed it. They heard a sound, they smelled a smell and began to pull. The leash contracted around their neck or the harness around their chest and stayed tight as they pulled. Finally they made it to the source of the sound and/or smell, and then the collar or harness went loose as they inspected the source.
We just taught our dog that in order to get to an interesting sound or smell they MUST pull. They must feel the tight collar or harness and then we REWARDED them by letting them get there. Depending on how long your dog has been trained to pull on the leash, changing that behavior can be difficult.
The good news is the training is not difficult but it does take a serious commitment by the dog owner and takes determined patience. The trick is that YOU, the owner, must be the most fun, rewarding and interesting thing on the walk. You have to be even more fun, rewarding and interesting than that other dog’s scent or the sound of that squirrel scurrying along somewhere you can’t see.
So, pack your pockets with high-value treats before you set out on your walk. Engage with the dog regularly throughout the walk, ensuring that he knows “we’re working.” Reward with treats when commands are obeyed. Never allow the reward of investigation on the dog’s terms (accompanied by a taut leash and tight collar or harness). Pick some points during the walk that are meant for investigation to occur – on your terms.
It takes discipline and a paradigm shift to get to the notion of a walk being part of the dog’s training. Your dog will know that his reward (investigation) will come. Eventually your reward will come too. A nice and easy stroll where your dog is living in the moment WITH you while the both of you are actually enjoying your walk.