A Positive Perspective on Leash Pulling, Part 1 of 2
Imagine your dog (or one you know) walking on a loose leash. Both of you are relaxed and in balance because neither party is pulling on or leaning against the leash. You’re connected with each other mentally, not just physically, and making frequent eye contact—just as human companions do. There is minimal pressure on you, the dog, or the leash. Your dog is choosing to stay near you, and also has the space to sniff and explore a bit without pulling. When you stop, he stops automatically. Nice!
This scenario doesn’t happen naturally. With the majority of dogs, it takes time, skill, and patience to teach loose-leash walking—which a lot of people don’t possess. But it’s well worth the investment, especially with puppies, to be able to enjoy being outdoors together. Of course, a positive trainer can be a big help with this effort.
For our dogs, walks are less about exercise and more about bonding and mental stimulation. They can pay attention to us, but also take in all those smells, sounds, and sights.
Dogs who have developed a pulling habit often miss out on all those enrichment opportunities. Walks become unsafe, aggravating, and embarrassing for their handlers. And this deficit can lead to bored dogs and behavior problems in the home.
Instead of asking How can I stop the pulling?, ask How can I help my dog to walk on a loose leash? Thinking about the solution in a positive way (instead of resorting to leash “corrections” or choke or prong collars) is a much better, more effective way to reach your goals.
Physical restraint--even a tightly held leash--can be very counter-productive, as that clearly causes discomfort and the sense of being powerless, which in turn causes stress, frustration, arousal, and worse. What works far better is helping our dogs to learn self-control.
Self-control is achieved—or at least improved—with the right equipment and good leash-handling skills. While there are several positive techniques for loose-leash walking, the most advanced yet simple tools and techniques come from the Tellington TTouch® method. TTouch teaches self-control by focusing on balance and communication. And this can happen very quickly.
Training begins (and sometimes ends) with switching to the right equipment.
Priority 1: Choose equipment that’s comfortable, well-fitted, and promotes balance.
Balance is essential for walking on a loose leash. Think about it: When pulling happens, the dog shifts his weight forward or to one side. That imbalance and pressure increases stress and arousal. If the pressure is on the collar, the result can be pain, injury, and nerve damage. I think we’ve all seen dogs choking and gasping on a leash attached to the collar. There’s a direct link between a tight collar and reactivity (displays of aggression) against other dogs or people. So we have several reasons to use a harness.
The right harness alone can make a huge difference.
A wide variety of harness styles is available, but many (most?) are uncomfortable, poorly designed, or don’t fit some individuals properly.
The right harness for your dog is one that lies above the shoulders, below the neck, and an inch or so behind the armpit. Neither tight nor loose anywhere. It should not restrict shoulder movement, pull or twist sideways, or allow your dog to back out of it.
For moderate and chronic pullers, two points of connection are way better than one. Only a handful of harness makers put a leash ring on the chest and another ring over the shoulders. This gives you three options: attaching the leash to both rings (recommended for training), in the front, or on the back. My favorites are Freedom, TTouch Harmony, and Perfect Fit.
Note: Dogs who are bigger and stronger than their handlers may benefit from a good head halter, together with the body harness. Pressure on the head halter alone can cause neck wrenching or spinal misalignment.
The right leash? It depends.
Narrower leashes with little clips are needed for small and fine-boned dogs; wider ones with heavier clips are for bigger, heavier dogs. This sounds obvious, but many people just use the leash they already have.
The best length depends on whether this dog is short or tall, your own height, where you’re walking, and whether your dog needs room to sniff or to do his business. For example, a short leash was not working well at all with my adolescent, Torre. She kept dragging me off the road to follow interesting trails and investigate other stuff. I was getting pretty aggravated because she would lunge suddenly, yanking my arm and my whole body off balance. Finally, I put her on a 6-foot leash, and the difference was amazing. We’re both happy now. But when we are walking in town, where she's a little nervous, the short leash will be my choice.
If your dog is already pulling a lot, you may be amazed at the effect of a harness with two points of connection together with a double-clip leash and a sliding handle—offered by Freedom (short), TTouch Harmony (adjustable), and Haqihana (extra-long).
Balance improves self-control and also reduces reactivity. Once your dog learns to walk nicely on a loose leash, you can try switching back to a regular leash on either front or back ring—but you may not want to!
My next post, in a few days, will offer five more ways to make walks more pleasant.
For readers who live in or near Easton, I can provide harnesses and leashes, make sure they fit, and teach you and your dog the skills needed for pleasant walks together.
Copyright Lisa Benshoff 2018