First off, get your minds out of the gutter.
So we're on post two and yes, I'm going to whinge. Hear me out though; it is a big deal.
If you are reliant on a head collar, half check collar, prong collar, slip lead, figure 8 lead, choke chain or even a front ring harness to get your dog to walk nicely on the lead then, to be blunt, they haven't learnt how to walk nicely on a lead. Don't worry, I'll explain.
Harnesses like these are great tools when used correctly
Front-ring harnesses, and, in some select cases a non-tightening head collar like a dog-matic have their place in helping us to manage pulling and make walks a little easier, we still have to teach our dogs how to walk nicely on the lead. Think about it for a minute: When the car goes wrong, we fix it don't we? We don't just say "Oh, it keeps steering left so I'll have to keep pulling it right" It's the same thing.
In my humble (and, not to toot my own horn, well trained) opinion half checks, chokes, prongs, figure 8’s, and normal slip leads have absolutely no place in dog training, walking or management as they all work by hurting your dog and causing pain to stop them from pulling. Does that sound good for the animal to you?
A front ring harness can absolutely help make your day to day walks easier, but the problems start when you become reliant on it. The only way to stop the problem, rather than treating the symptoms is to go back to basics and teach your dog the skill of walking nicely on a lead when attached to the back of the harness or a flat collar. Luckily for those of you out there that might be struggling a little with loose walking, Great and Small are here for you. So let's talk about what you can do, easily, at home, before calling me.
Start one step at a time, literally
Here are my top 5 tips for getting started;
· Start at home, or in the garden, not on a walk. Remember, if you have a dog that already knows how to pull on a lead, we have to break this association and teach them that walking nicely is more rewarding.
· Check your lead length. I prefer a training lead such as a Halti Lead, as these are slightly longer than most normal leads and give your dog a bit more space & freedom to move around, sniff & just be a dog.
· Start one step at a time, literally! Just take one step and reward your dog.
Using this method (also called the 300-peck method for training nerds out there!) doesn’t give your dog the opportunity to pull, to begin with, and builds up a REALLY strong association to good things happening when they walk next to you.
Slowly, as they get better, you start to increase the number of steps between rewards – move up to 2 steps, then 3, then 4 etc. As you increase the steps, if they do pull, just stop walking and call them back to you. Soon enough the dog begins to associate a tense lead with not moving and a loose lead with carrying on and rewards happening.
· Reward, reward, reward. Do not be stingy. Remember that you have to compete with smells, dogs, people, cats, wildlife, rubbish... even poop. Everything the big wide world has to offer! So reward them lots with high-value food. Loose lead walking is one of the hardest skills we have to teach our dogs, so use exciting, high-value food to teach it. We've tried and tested some great treat options here and have recently even started stocking what we know works in the store. Of course, anything your dog loves will work - from chicken to sausage to cheese.
· Patience. Loose lead walking doesn’t happen overnight, it takes lots of hard work, patience and consistency. In all honesty, you could be training loose lead walking for upwards of 6 months with some dogs until you can do an entire walk without pulling or stopping, but once they’ve learnt it, you’ll be loving every walk and both you AND your dog will be stress, and most importantly, pain-free.
While you could continue to rely on your figure-8 or slip lead because it’s easier and it works now remember that it only works because it hurts and you are choosing to use something that causes your dog pain & fear. Personally, I’d rather spend a year training loose lead walking than rely on something that causes my dogs pain and stress. How about you?