Walking Well


I’ve found that, in walking, there are two general categories of types of dog.  There are fun-to-walk dogs, and there are not-fun-to-walk dogs.  You want your dog to be a fun-to-walk dog.  Your dog does, too, though he might not know it.  Because fun-to-walk dogs get more and longer walks, probably to more interesting places.  Regardless of the breed or age of your dog, he wants long and interesting walks.  He might reach an age where he simply can’t go so far as he used to, but he still wants to go as far as he can.  It might be subconscious, or it might be blatant, but you will make decisions about your dog’s walks based on how enjoyable the experience is to you.  If the entire experience is a drag, regardless of the weather, the time of day, or your health, it isn’t going to be a long one.  Or, not as long as the walk you might have taken, had the experience been made more enjoyable by having a fun-to-walk dog. 

Fun to walk dogs are the kind that don’t drag you down the street (or across a stranger’s lawn chasing a squirrel), that are friendly towards other dogs, and that listen to you, and pay attention to your decisions about direction, pace, and places to stop.  Basically, you’re calling the shots, but he’s still enjoying himself.  I’m not saying the dog has to be perfect at this to fall into this category – but you should be the person overall in control of the walk, despite the occasional tug at the leash.

Unpleasant to walk dogs are pretty much the opposite.  Some of them are dog-unfriendly (or people-unfriendly, even more hazardous), some are so focused on what they’re sniffing at on the ground that they completely ignore you, and your commands.  Some drag you down the street, whether it is all the time, or only when they spot another dog, a squirrel, a person, or something else equally exciting that they absolutely have to get to.  Even the obsessive desire to mark every single twig, tree and shrubbery he passes can make a dog unpleasant to walk – who wants to spend the entire walk meandering down the sidewalk as the dog dribbles tiny drops of pee on everything he passes?  This aspect is slightly more prevalent in male dogs, but I’ve run into female dogs that do nearly that, only without the leg-lift. 

I figured I’d focus on the one thing I’ve had lots of experience in – dogs dragging on the leash.  If your dog doesn’t drag on his leash every moment of the walk, this increases your overall enjoyment of the walk HUGELY.  It makes such a big difference, even if your dog still does lunge on occasion, or sniff constantly at the ground.  If you can stop his pulling on the leash, you will be a happier dog owner.

Obviously, the best solution to your dog dragging on the leash is to train them out of this habit.  However, in my un-scientific opinion, dogs and cows must be pretty closely related, because they are very bull-headed.  Un-teaching bad habits is very difficult, and requires a fair bit of time and patience.  It isn’t a fun kind of a walk, and you can’t just practice the good habit sometimes, and ignore the bad habit at other times, when you just don’t want to deal with it.  The other issue with training a bad habit out of a dog is that you might not be the only person walking the dog.  Which means you have to get everyone on board with the habit-breaking.  I know from personal experience (my own family) that this isn’t always easy. 

Before I started walking Dog, I already knew just how much I hate being dragged down the street by a dog.  My arm hurts at the end of that kind of walk, and my feet pound the pavement much harder than my usual walking does, leaving me feeling battered, and generally hard-done-by. 

The best time to train a dog to walk loose-leash is when he hasn’t developed the bad habit, and that was my goal.  I wanted (and still want) dog to walk down the street beside or behind me, loose-leash.  Training this is a bit repetitive, and, depending on the dog, can seem kind of cruel, as he wheezes on the end of a leash, pulling so hard that he’s choking himself.  When I started walking Dog, the walks didn’t always necessarily go far, and I found myself taking much longer to do a few blocks than I thought possible.  Every time Dog ran out in front of me (loose-leash or pulling), I’d call him back in, guiding him with the leash until he was back beside me.  And then again.  And again.  And again.  Sometimes without having even made it more than a step or two.  The other thing I would do was change direction.  If dog walked out in front of me, I’d simply turn and walk the other way, putting him behind me.  You can see why my walks were taking so long, right? 

If you’re trying to train your dog not to drag on the leash (whether you just want the leash loose, or you want the dog beside/behind you), here is the no-additional-equipment solution. If your dog is pulling, don’t let him pull you in that direction.  Letting him pull you in that direction is basically rewarding him for pulling.  He pulls, and then he gets to go to that thing he was pulling towards.  He wins.  And every time he wins, he gets 10 times more into the habit of pulling – because it gets him what he wants.  If, every time you wanted something from a store, you’d go in and grab it, leave without paying, and the security guards didn’t stop you, even once they saw you doing it… would that teach you to be responsible and pay for things?  Or teach you that stealing gets you what you want, ho hassle?  Yeah… the answer there is pretty obvious.

Tall Sister, who did/does a lot of dog-walking herself, and who watched such addicting shows as At the End of my Leash, and Dog Whisperer with me, understood the purpose to my madness.  No worries asking her to walk Dog when I was sick, or had an appointment, or when she was home during my normal work-day.  I knew that the next time I would be walking Dog, he’d be pretty much just where I left him, in loose-leash-training, possibly improved since I last walked him.  Anyone else in the family?  He’d be worse than how he’d been when I first started walking him.  Short sister let him drag her down the street, teaching him habits he had never had before.  My dad’s solution was to keep constant pressure on the leash, keeping it short so that he had no option but to stay next to him – that’s certainly one solution, but it does teach the dog that being on leash means having constant pressure on his neck… meaning that he’s getting more and more used to pulling on the leash, even when he’s doing the right thing and walking beside you.  My mom tried, but gave up quickly, and her walks became a bare block’s length, and then stopped all-together.  I went out with them a few times, showed them the techniques I was using for teaching him to stop pulling… and found myself with a large portion of my family refusing to walk the dog at all.  They didn’t seem to understand that every time they let him stay ahead, they were encouraging this, despite how irritating it is to have to stop every few steps to get him back beside you.  And, while he is my dog, and it is no-one else’s responsibility but my own to ensure he’s walked, it was kind of ridiculous that other people in the house would go on walks through the neighbourhood for enjoyment/exercise, but wouldn’t bring the dog with them.  Going to the park to take some photos of the fall colours?  Wanna take the dog?  No.  Oh.  Huh.  Anyone want to come with me on a walk?  No.  Oh.  Huh. 

They realised it as well – it isn’t easy to be the only one willing to walk the dog (and, while Tall Sister is a regular walk-companion, she’s got the full-time commitment of homework, which is more important than joining me on a walk), and they did want to help, but this training isn’t fun, or pleasant, and requires a fair bit of dedication to the purpose.  They were finding it hard to have to stop so often in walking, having to turn around and never seem to get anywhere with the walk.  And they were finding it hard to have to drag the poor puppy back by the neck, when he was pulling so hard he was wheezing. 

What I found was that getting him to walk properly for me alone – and even for Tall Sister – was pretty easy.  He’d pull a few times at the beginning of the walk, but Dog isn’t stupid, and realised that all movement towards new and interesting things stopped every time he pulled on the leash.  I’m the boss, and he knows it.  The major part of the walk was without incident.  If you have a new puppy, and are either alone, or living with someone who is as focused on the dog and his training as you are (be honest here.  Are they really?)… I recommend at least trying this method.  Especially with a young puppy, you have the chance to start him from scratch, and get that loose-leash walk on whatever collar you choose to get, no additional equipment necessary.  It’s a bit harder if there are a lot of people who will be walking the dog, doing whatever version of training (or lack thereof) they choose to do.

The halter makes a huge difference in how much fun going on a walk is.

One of the dogs I’ve walked for some time, and that I still walk, started off as a dragger right from the start of our walking together.  Her owners got her a Halti, which is a face halter with the leash connecting to a string under her chin.  The strap goes around her nose, and when she pulls on the leash, the face strap tightens and pulls her face to the side.  There are a few other brands that have a similar face halter, choose the one that works best for you.  This works quite well, because no dog likes to have their nose tugged, and it doesn’t require any force to turn her head like this.  You can get a few different brands of this, but the concept is generally the same – it guides her head so that she’s facing away from where she wants to go, much easier to do with her face than with the leash attached to her very muscular neck.  Pulling a dog straight back by the neck only encourages them to resist that pressure by pulling harder.  And dogs have strong necks. 

Face Halter pros

  • Effective: it has calmed her walking considerably, and she only rarely dodges away from me in a way that causes her nose to be pulled to the side
  • Doesn’t cause any pain, less likely to do damage than just hauling on her neck the entire time.
  • Much more pleasant to take her for a walk now. 

Face Halter cons

  • She HATES it.  She rubs her face on the ground a lot when she’s wearing it, trying to scrape it off.  It took a while before we could get it on her without a big fight, while she’s struggling to avoid letting it go over her nose.  However, part of this, I think, is habit from her initial reaction to the halter, as she rubs her face on the ground a lot, even without the halter on.
  • They need to be worked up to – rather like how you’re supposed to acclimatize your dog to clothing, the suggestion is that you take it out, and give the dog a treat, and repeat multiple times, before even attempting to put it on, then put it on while treating the dog many times before actually going for a walk with it on.  This isn’t how it happened with this dog – it just got put on her, and we left for walks – which is probably why she still dislikes it.  Other dog owners have said their dogs refuse to go anywhere with it on, at all.
  • Generally, non-dog-owners mistake it for a muzzle.  We regularly have people ask why she’s muzzled, or just plain cross the street when they see her with her halti on.  This is the sweetest dog, not a mean bone in her body, but people are seeing her as a possible threat, and treating her as such.  Not fun.  However, it does contrast quite a bit with her fur color, and it is possible to get a different color of face-halter, one that would be less noticeable. 

The cons of this type of harness turned me off of getting one for Dog.  While it works quite well, I don’t want to have to take the time to train him to like (or at least, not hate) it, and I don’t want people thinking he’s muzzled.  That is a purely personal thing – I don’t want people to be concerned that my dog might attack them or their dogs, even if it isn’t true.

I chose to go with a chest halter for Dog, but keep in mind – a chest halter is not the same thing as a harness.  A harness, with the leash attached on the back, gives the dog more pulling power. Think of the difference between how hard you’ll pull against someone holding onto your necklace, versus how hard you’d be able to comfortably pull against someone holding on to your backpack.  The force of you pulling on the leash is distributed over the dog’s very strong chest and shoulders, making it even easier for him to drag you.  You’re applying force straight back, so the dog can put all his weight into moving forwards, to counteract you.  There’s a reason that they put sled dogs in harnesses connected to the sled, instead of just leaving them with regular collars.

Unfortunately, with Dog, you can hardly see the harness. That bit on the chest is where you attach the leash.

We got Dog an Easy-Walk Harness.  This harness has a martingale loop at the front, to which we attach the leash.  This loop tightens when he pulls on the leash, putting a bit of pressure on his chest, and pulling him to the side.  In the same way that the face halter guides the dog to the side when they try to pull, the harness means that your pulling on the leash is pulling the dog to the side, not directly from behind him.  I am pretty sure Halti brand also makes one, and I’m sure these aren’t the only two brands out there.  Find one that is easy to adjust to the individual dog’s size, and that is made out of sturdy material. 

Easy Walk Harness pros

  • Easy to put on once it is adjusted
  • Easy to correct Dog without applying much force
  • Still allows us to keep training him to walk loose-leash and beside us
  • Very sturdy, we haven’t had any issues with it yet.
  • Two buckles, but it is easy to open just the belly buckle, loop it over his head, and close the belly buckle.

Easy Walk Harness cons

  • With a long-haired dog, we have to be careful not to get his hair caught in the buckle when doing up the around-the-waist section.
  • The leash gets caught between his legs more often than if it were just attached to his collar (though it still works when it’s between his legs)
  • Can’t drop the leash as easily during training, because it tangles in his legs when he’s walking, if you’re getting him to walk, leash dragging.

how an easy walk harness looks when there isn't extra hair in the way.

I feel like my cons in this one are a bit of a stretch.  Dog got used to it very quickly, walks very well next to me, with very few corrections, and is usually loose on the leash.  I don’t feel like I’m hurting him when I pull him away from something, and it really doesn’t add much time to my walk to occasionally fish the leash out from between his legs.  The more important difference is that the rest of my family, apart from Tall Sister, have begun to walk him again, and enjoy it. 

I don’t have intimate experience with any other, apart from these two types of equipment for stopping pulling.  There are choke chains and the collars with metal hooks facing inwards, neither of which I’d suggest, because I feel that there are equally effective alternatives that don’t have the potential for injuring the dog.  If you do want to try one of those, remember that they’re for walking only.  You have a regular collar, and you put the choke chain or hook collar on when you are taking the dog out for a walk, not when you’re tying them up in the yard or anything else.  Choke chains can get caught in the tightened position, so you need to be there to loosen it when the dog stops pulling. 

Another option is a collar that is half choke chain – this has a martingale loop of chain as part of the regular collar – it avoids the opportunity for the dog to be entirely choked, only squeezing the collar tight while the dog is pulling.  It also has the option of having the leash attached to that martingale loop, or just to the regular collar.  One of my neighbours uses this, and it seems pretty effective. However, it still puts you in the position of pulling in direct opposition to the direction your dog is trying to drag you, meaning the dog still has the advantage of putting his whole weight into the pull, and may or may not just ignore the tightening.

I’m not sure if this is standard, but my dog trainer insists that the dog’s leash be attached to a regular collar instead of the hooked collars or choke chains during lessons.  The collars with martingale loops, she requires the leash to be attached to the other part, so that it isn’t performing the choke-function. 

Hopefully some of my experience with dogs that pull will help you with any issues your dog might have.  The main thing to remember is that you can’t do the training only half the time – it has to be consistently shown to your dog that pulling on the leash is not allowed, or he’ll keep trying to pull.

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