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Teaching a dog to walk without pulling

I must confess I never walk my dogs on a lead. To me a lead is a teaching aid but can serve as a comfort handle to hold the dog back from something considered dangerous but as an aid, it can also teach a dog aggressive behaviour. A dog in the face of aggression will freeze, flee or fight so tie it up and it only has two alternatives. Once a gateman requested I put my dog on a lead so I agreed and placed, the loop round the dogs neck but gave the handle to the dog to hold. It was not was quiet what was expected but he let me off. When training to walk I take the front position and my dog’s head is by my side as I have promoted him within the pack to my main helper. You could see the pride he took in the position in front of my other dogs. You will see farmers keep collies walking behind them as a sign as who is the leader because the collies must at times work in front of the farmer but he is the leader and must maintain this leadership roll.

We stopped the use of check chains or muzzle controllers and use a simple noose rope slip leads using thin sailing or climbing rope with a metal ring. If you use one of these, you will find your dog will not pull as much as with all the other tethers I have seen used. I am certain you have seen obedience classes working dogs to heel and this is a little regimented. It works but it not actually the way you walk normally. You cannot walk to heel for hours so what is needed is to teach the dog to walk with you as it would in the wolf pack. Only the leader is entitled to walk in front so allowing your dog to take over this position is a claim on the leadership and any other members of the family. Remember dogs are always lower in the hierarchy than those who walk on two legs. If your dog walks in front of you, it can feel that it must protect those in the family behind and so this too creates aggression.

Using the slip lead is a major leadership assertive control. If a dog were to challenge for leadership the leader dog would turn the challenger over onto its back and place its mouth around the throat of the other dog until it submits. Allow your dog to pull on the lead puts it to the head of the pack and leader thereby destroying your right to lead.

The lead can teach a dog aggression as the lead is like the bitch holding the scruff of the neck of a bullied pup to protect it from other pups and so it feels that it can now take on all comers. We must re-programme this to a feeling that the tightness is self-inflicted and serves no purpose. You should introduce your dog to wearing a collar but do not let your dog feel a lead or slip rope and let it pull on it. Simply introduce your pup to a slip rope when you are ready to groom your dog or play with it within a confined area. Hook the loop onto something fixed and then you can begin grooming your dog so it associated that the lead simply restricts it to a confined area where nice things are happening. If it goes to the end of the lead, it will feel the tension and tightness and will back off when the lead will release. Encourage the dog to remain within the area and do this frequently for short periods. Do not let the dog off from the lead until it is calm and accepts the restraint. The dog will come to look forward to such times and whilst teaching itself that the pulling on the lead only produces discomfort to itself and self-inflicted. Doing this regularly will pay massive dividends even in older dogs as it is reinforcing conditioning. Get the whole family involved to reinforce this programming. After a while hold the lead but do not pull or walk about and the pup when programmed will remain close to, you and you can give it a treat. Cooked dried liver in little cubes is great and have one your self. Well maybe not the liver but show your dog you appear to be eating first just to install domination training. (My wife taught me that)

If the dog does this then try to walk around the house a little encouraging your dog with a titbit. Do not pull on the lead nor use it to give commands as we are training that tightness is self-inflicted and not from you as the handler.

Going outside you should not let your dog go first. If it bolts straight out then go back in and not until it waits for you to go out the door first do you start your walk. If it then goes in front go back in so try to plan this exercise with no where important to go because it could take until tomorrow for success. Once you are out then walk with your dog without the lead then as soon as the dog goes ahead of you turn and go the other way keeping the dog behind you. Keep doing this until your dog walks nearly up level to you on your left. A titbit can be of help but try not to rely on this even when it does seem to work. Traditionally the wife walks on the right (furthest away from the husbands wallet) so as the dog draws along side slip the lead over the dogs head so the ring travels along the horizontal part of the lead going over the back of the neck. To work properly when the dog gets closer to you it releases the tension on the lead and the ring drops down opening up the noose. Stroke the top of your dog’s head and down its neck. This is a major dominance signal that you are in charge. Continue walking holding the end of the rope in your right hand and your left hand is for guidance to touch only the dog’s head neck or shoulders but never the hindquarters. If the dog walks in front, turn to the right there is no need to jerk the lead but just push the dog’s neck towards you to pay attention or snap your fingers. You can say heel if you wish but I feel that the dog will loose attention relying on your command to tell when you change direction. No verbal command makes the dog concentrate. Remember do not pull the lead as the dog is conditioned that the lead is a fixed point now attached to you so any tightness is its own doing. Keep changing direction until your dog keeps level with you in order to anticipate what you are doing. Once achieved suddenly turn left 190 degrees and walk straight into your dog’s chest. It will step out of the way and turn to walk with you. You do not have to complete long distances just long enough to get over the last direction changed then make another. With this under your belt, you can now turn left 90 degrees with ease. You do not have to be as so precise as these turns but go in any direction until you are happy your dog is attentive to your walking. For the dog, it is like learning to drive at first you have to watch everything but after a while you go onto autopilot. Eventually and quickly, your dog will always be aware of what you are doing automatically and conditioned. You will be able to put the lead into your pocket or bag and only use if you consider it warranted. When you are finishing slip the lead off and change direction. If your dog walks in front, turn keeping it behind you or to the side. Again, you are conditioning your dog to never go pass you. If you are walking in the direction of home and have the dog on the lead and it gets ahead of you, just stop allowing the lead to tighten and wait for the dog to back up. Not until it is level, to your side again set off again and keep doing this. The dog will quickly learn it will not go anywhere except by being by your side. If you allow your dogs to walk, in front just for once you have lost a leadership roll and you must re-establish this. My snap of my fingers was a command to pay attention and be by my side. Again, you can use Heel but you are using your body to tell the dog where you are going no other commands are necessary even for the beginner. Some use these clicker things but what happens if you come out without it. Have you ever seen a wolf use a clicker?

You may have noticed I have not use any words of command or encouragement. My right hand is the fixed point for the lead but my left gives the praise. Dogs do not use language. They can recognise kind and encouraging tones of voice but the actual words are meaningless. If you were to say to your dog “Rights lets get your lead and we will go for a WALK down the road” If your dog understands the command walk that is the only word it will react to. It can notice the same phrase or the time normally said but never let the dog dictate the time it wants to go for the walk. If the dog comes to you do not look at it but ignore it and turn away until the dog goes back to lying down again. Allow a short time then you get up and go for the walk and you go out the door first or you do not go anywhere.

This may seem to some a harsh method but it is the natural pack control and the dog naturally understands this and is pleased to know it has a place within the pack and the pack leader has appreciation of what it does. Other methods to make the dog work by command governed by inflicting pain I found took too long to teach and ended up with a submissive dog. Once the dog understands what is required of it will retain its programming. Remember what is the dog getting out of this. The dog is appreciated, praised and has found a place in the hierarchy. This method is the one that the dogs understand and all the owners must understand is that some dogs sensing any weakness in the leader will try to take over the leadership roll and this must never succeed.

Next week I will consider the major leadership roll play that you can do every day and how this will continually establish you as the unchallenged leader within the family and how to use this to teach sit, stand and down.

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