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Leash Pulling – The Dog’s Neck and Your Arms

Dear John,

I have a black Labrador Retriever.  He wants to pull all the time on walks and he chokes himself until he coughs. -D. N.

Hi D. N.

I’ll bet he doesn’t think he’s pulling. My guess is he thinks you’re choking him while he’s trying to do something really really fun. Most dog walks fall off the rails before a dog owner gets their walking shoes on. The dog knows it’s that time of day, they see you walking towards the door, reaching for the leash, getting your shoes on. The excitement continues to mount until you’re attaching the leash to a whirling dervish that used to be a dog. Then you take a deep breath, brace yourself, open the door and then go for a drag, I mean walk.

If a dog gets away with all that nonsense before it even gets out the door the average person isn’t going to have much of a chance getting the dog to heel. First make it a rule that every outing whether walk or bathroom break begins and ends on a mat near the door. Have a leash on the dog so that even as you’re headed to the mat if the dog starts to pick up too much of a head of steam you can step on the leash, bring him back and try it again, and again, and again until he reaches the mat with some degree of decorum. Once the dog is on a mat I mess a little with it, reaching for the door knob, turning my back, leaving the area, opening the door, ringing the door bell etc. I could care less if the dog is standing, laying or sitting on the mat so long as it’s on the mat. This will make it easier to work with the dog once out in doggy Disney land.

I like to use long leads in the early stages of teaching heel. It’s easier on the dog and the owner if we don’t get too hung up on a precise heel too early. I once had a dog trainer tell me the dog I was working with wasn’t heeling properly because it wasn’t staring at me all the while. Flattering as that might be, I’m really not that good looking and if a dog can’t multi-task enough to enjoy the walk and keep track of me at the same time there’s something more seriously wrong with the dog then pulling on a leash.

I’m like the average dog owner, I’m happy if I get home and my arms are still the same length. So just take the long line and let the dog have it’s head and without a care in the world go the opposite way as sneakily as you can. It doesn’t matter whether you end up getting 2 houses down or 200. I guarantee at some point the dog is going to start keeping track of where you are and make the turn before it gets to the end of the long line. As it gets better at tracking you, shorten the leash. This can happen in a day or it might take 2 weeks. Don’t worry about how long it takes to come together. Whether you get 20 blocks in 30 minutes or a couple of houses down, back and forth for 30 minutes, it’s the same amount of time outside. You’ll be surprised though at how quickly the light bulb goes off in your dog’s head.

-John Wade the Dog Trainer 

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