Power Steering for the Pulling Dog – Posted in: Columns
We have an adult German Shepherd/Lab mix. She is a great dog when at home and is trusted to be free all day in the house. She is people friendly and great with kids but if you try to walk her, she walks you. If you stop, she will run right back and heel without you saying a word and the minute you lift your foot to walk again, she starts pulling. If she sees another dog (squirrel, cat, insert any creature here) she is almost impossible to hold onto. I am not a small person and it takes all my strength to hang on. I don’t dare try it in the winter. As a result, she doesn’t get walked much. I walk a lot without her which is a real shame.
We dog trainers can think and say what we want regarding what a proper heel is. The 1,000’s of dog owners I’ve worked with don’t care if the dog walks right at their heel staring in rapt adoration of them for giving them the privilege of accompanying them. All they want is to be able to take their dog for a walk as often as they want and come back every time with their arms the same length.
A lab/shepherd will likely weigh around 80lbs which converted into human pounds is about 240 – 320 lbs depending on the mentality of the breed as dogs have four wheel drive and a low centre of gravity. In these cases I look at leverage, not only technique.
Most collars slide down too quickly and too low on the dog’s chest. The face halter ones put too much pressure on the dog’s cervical vertebrae and dogs seem to universally hate them and the prong ones scare most people. To my clients I recommend a collar I designed for use with habitually pulling and jumping dogs that I’ve found works better then any of the aforementioned because it stays up nice and high and in place with a simple sliding button. It provides power steering. However it doesn’t replace training. It provides a playing field slanted in the dog owner’s favour. Clients love them as for most it’s the first comfortable walk they’ve ever had. Dog’s love them because they actually get to go on more walks.
Once you’ve found some leverage look at technique and I have a simple one that starts in the back yard, moves to the front yard and then on walks and each step has to be perfect before the next is allowed. I call it the grocery store rule. When my boys were small we had this rule recited in the parking lot. Me: “Who buys the groceries?” Boys: (Groaning) You do. Me: “Then who picks the cereal?” Boys (More Groaning): “You do.” Me: “And if there’s fighting in the cereal aisle about cereal?” Boys: (Petulantly) “We have to go back to the car.” Same goes for your dog. Start on a 30′ lead in the back yard and go where ever your dog isn’t going and keep it up until he is. It seems silly but sooner or later she’s going to have to set aside part of her brain for you just to track your position as she’ll get tired of coming to the end of the lead. Shorten up the lead as the dog gets better. Get three days under your belt and move to the front yard, get three days there and then start your walks. I like to head right off to an area where we can access the dog’s soft spots. If you have a dog park, work him outside the park from a distance closing the gap as he gets the idea the grocery store rule still applies. Send me an email and I’ll send you a video link of me doing this with a dog.