There is nothing worse than having a dog that pulls relentlessly on the lead.
It’s exhausting, I know. Walks become a chore rather than a fun time for you and your pup.
I see a lot of owners with this problem, and many end up reaching for “anti-pull” equipment to resolve the problem quickly. From “no-pull” harnesses to head collars/figure 8 slip leads to prong collars to front ring harnesses – there is a tonne of equipment on the market that is advertised to stop pulling.
The thing is, these are pieces of equipment that go around the dog’s nose & back of the head – the weakest area of the dog – to make it easier for us to manage their strength. For most dogs, both head collars and figure 8’s work and will stop them from pulling. But how do these work?
Headcollars and figure 8’s work by tightening over the top of the dog’s nose, putting pressure on an area that has lots of nerve endings, blood vessels and other sensitive organs, and causing pain. In essence, your dog learns that pulling while wearing a head collar or figure 8 hurts, so they become less likely to pull in order to avoid the pain. Does that sound like good training to you?
Collars like these simply teach fear through pain.
What your dog is not learning is the skill of lead walking. Sure, they walk nicely when wearing the headcollar or figure 8, but if you had to walk them on a collar, would they still walk nicely? Not a snowball’s chance in hell, I'd bet. This is because the threat of pain is no longer present, so they return to the learned behaviour of pulling. They haven't learnt a skill, they've learnt a fear.
Pulling is naturally reinforcing; they get to sniff, say hi to people & dogs, chase cats, go into the park, do all the things dog's want to go and do. Walking nicely on the lead is one of the hardest skills we have to teach our dogs, it seems simple to us but it goes against everything naturally want to do. It takes time (months – not days or weeks!) and a metric tonne of patience. Unfortunately, this is also why I see a lot of owners reaching for the "Quick fix" solutions.
No piece of equipment is a substitute for training loose lead walking – and depending on the dog, may not stop them pulling in the first place! Some dogs pull on the lead, despite the pain, despite the discomfort and despite all the verbal punishment and lead corrections that are doled out. I’ve seen dogs pull despite wearing some of the most painful, aversive equipment out there. If the learned behaviour or motivation is strong enough, no pain or threat of pain is enough to stop them.
So, what's the answer? In short, there isn't a quick, or easy one. The only route is to take the time to invest in and practice loose lead walking! With a puppy, as a trainer, I always say: start as soon as they come home. The Great and Small Oaf Athena started her lead training at 9 weeks old, in the garden, with all the treats and rewards she could stomach when she got it right. if you have an older dog or a rescue, the same applies - practice at home & in the garden first and then slowly start to practice in the “real world” once they understand the basic skills.
Harnesses for all!
Here at Great and Small, we of course have our favourites when it comes to leads, collars and harnesses. I'm a particular fan of the Dog-O-Matic as far as headcollars go, though these aren't something I really use at all. All the Great and Small dogs learn to walk with both a flat collar and a harness, we tend not to go out without them on nowadays. Bully Billows for the big ones, Perfect Fits for the others - Their modular design is brilliant. I've also used True Love, Rabbit Goo, Ruff Wear, Hurta and T-Touch and found them to work really well, without putting excess pressure or harm on the more delicate parts of the dogs.
The Great Oaf herself, harness and all
Using reward-based training to make walking nicely on the lead a super rewarding, fun, enjoyable activity for both you and your dog - and they live a pain-free, fear-free life. If you're struggling with those energetic, pulling pups, don't reach for the quick fix. Give Great and Small a call.