Summertime is here! Time to enjoy the “Dog Days of Summer” with your canine pal, whether that means taking leisurely strolls in the cool morning hours, spending an afternoon hiking in the shade of the woods, or going for a run in the evening just before the sun goes down.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? It probably does to your dog, too, and I bet he just might show you that excitement with constant pulling, lengthy “Stop ‘n Sniff” sessions, or barking hello to his human and doggy friends.
If this daydream has started to seem a little less fun because you recognize some of these behavior problems in your dog, rest assured, there are solutions. We'll cover all of these issues over the next few weeks, starting today with pulling. Be sure to check back next week for tips on ending “Stop ‘n Sniff” sessions, and the week after for barking during walks!
The number one problem on a walk with a dog is pulling. Believe it or not, if you can retrain your dog to walk beside you instead of out in front, most other walk-time behavior problems will start to take care of themselves. While it may seem like an overwhelming challenge right now to teach your dog (who may already have years of pulling behind him!), there are many safe training tools that can help.
First and foremost – before we get any further – please, please, please stop using your retractable leashes! These are just begging for trouble when walking dogs. The slight, constant pulling sensation on a dog's neck actually teaches your dog to pull in order to go forward. Want to solve the problem by simply latching the leash to hold a certain length? True, it can be done, but your dog already has associations of pulling with that leash, not to mention the added degree of difficulty in holding a plastic handle in sweaty hands as opposed to a loop of fabric or leather that can be wrapped around your wrist for extra support. And, that retractable leashes are thinner than standard leashes, leading to a higher potential for breaking during use. But enough about retractable leashes – on to other training tools.
My personal favorite, and the one that is usually right for all the long-legged dogs out there (Dachshund and Basset Hound owners – I'm not talking to you just yet!), is the Easy Walk Harness. Yes, most harnesses actually encourage pulling, even some of the “anti-pull” ones on the market today. They do this because hooking a leash to a dog's back increases the strength of your dog by allowing them to use more of their body to pull forward. Feeling even a slight pressure of pulling causes an instinctual “keep pulling” response in dogs, unless they are trained differently. This is why dogs do so well with things like pulling sleds and wagons!
The Easy Walk Harness is different. The leash actually attaches on the dog's chest, which means when Scruffy goes to pull, he finds himself turning sideways, often times away from what he is trying to get to, instead of still moving forward. These harnesses also fit a bit more snug than a standard collar, so be sure to allow only for one finger's width to fit between the harness and your dog instead of two. You can find these at standard pet stores for around $20-$25. (Not in a hurry? Check online retailers for the best deals.) They come in a variety of color choices and are 100% returnable if you or your dog doesn't like them.
There are a couple of downsides to the Easy Walk Harness. Some dogs can develop chaffing from where the harness hits around their legs. This can be warded off by gradually increasing the amount of time your dog spends in his harness over a couple of weeks, starting with only 5-10 minutes. Also, some dogs can wiggle their way out of the harness during jumping fits, but this only occurs with improperly fitting harnesses, and an owner who pulls the leash down towards the ground when attempting to control these fits. Size it right and hold the leash up and your dog won't get out. As with any leash walking training tool, your dog will still be able to pull ever so slightly, so be sure to reinforce the right position and lack of pulling with tasty treats for the first few weeks.
On to the short-legged dogs – While the Easy Walk Harness may not be the right choice for your dog, there is another wonderful tool that will help you regain control of your puller! A Martingale collar might be the right choice for you if you find that your dog constantly slips out of his collar, or if you're looking for a safe alternative to a standard chain-link choke collar. Martingale collars are designed to give the same tightening sensation around your dog's neck to make pulling uncomfortable, but has a safety stop in it that doesn't let it constrict to the point of hurting your dog. Typically, most Martingale collars constrict about 2 inches – just enough for your dog to get the point, but not enough to risk damage to his throat. These can be found pretty much anywhere and run the gamut in prices to fit all budgets. Any color, pattern, design and size is available on the world wide web!
The Martingale is not simply a quick fix. Some dogs don't much mind the slight constricting, so you will need to be sure to employ plenty of positive reinforcement during walks for a few weeks when your dog shows non-pulling behaviors.
Another training method that works well for the Easy Walk Harness and the Martingale collar is simple. Your dog pulls… You stop. Every. Single. Time. There can be no more, “But it is raining and he is just pulling to his favorite spot. If we stop we'll get soaked,” or, “Is he pulling too much? Should I stop?” If you feel any kind of pulling, you must stop immediately. It'll be a little stop and go for awhile, but thankfully, most dogs catch on to this pretty fast (especially if you wait for them to look back at you before you keep moving) and once they learn it, your walks will be pull-free.
Here's to walking the dog (and not the other way around)!
If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle the submitted questions, and give practical advice to solve common dog behavior issues. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.