There is nothing worse than having a dog that pulls relentlessly on the lead. It’s exhausting. Walks are a chore rather than a fun time for you and your pup.
Most owners I see want to resolve lead pulling ASAP and often end up reaching for “anti-pull” equipment, so let's talk about these a little, shall we? (editors note: She's going to whether you like it or not, sorry)
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."
Recently, I am finding that more and more people are reaching for the head collars or figure 8 slip leads, the popularity of these, in particular, is skyrocketing. For those of you unfamiliar, 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 a head collar and figure 8’s work and will stop them from pulling. Great, perfect, success, let's move on?
(The editor wisely decided not to comment here...)
Hold it right there, I'm not done. It's how they work that is important... 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 to avoid the pain. Imagine wrapping a noose around a body part of yours with lots of clustered nerve endings, and when you try to move away, it pulls on those clustered nerves. Does that sound like a good experience to you? (The editor wisely decided not to comment here...)
You've also got a huge range of no-pull harnesses out there, and whilst some of these are far better than headcollars and prongs and chokes, they still rely on discomfort and restricting the dogs movement to do their job. Take a look at my post on Harnesses for a more detailed breakdown on these, including fitting guides and my personal recommendations for good quality, non-restrictive, harnesses. (and some wonderful modelling work by the one and only Athena!)
What your dog is not learning is the skill of loose lead walking. Sure, they walk nicely when wearing that head collar or figure 8, but if you had to walk them on "just" their collar, would they still walk nicely?
Not a snowball’s chance in hell.
This is because the threat of pain is no longer present, so they return to the learned behaviour of pulling. Pulling is naturally reinforcing; they get to sniff, say hi to people & dogs, chase cats, go into the park. Walking nicely on the lead is one of the hardest skills we have to teach our dogs. It takes time (months – not days or weeks!) and a metric tonne of patience. This is precisely why most owners give up and reach for the “quick fixes”.
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 a lead, despite the pain, despite the discomfort and despite all the verbal punishment and lead corrections we dole 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 take the time to invest in and practice loose lead walking! If you have a puppy – start as soon as they come home (Great and Small Oaf Athena started learning how to loose lead walk at 9 weeks old!), if you have an older dog or a rescue, practice at home & in the garden first and then slowly start to practice in the “real world” once they understand the basic skills.
Use reward-based training to make walking nicely on the lead super rewarding, rather than use pain to intimidate your dog into not pulling and not teaching them anything.
And as always, if you're struggling, or just want a little extra support, the Great and Small crew and friendly neighbourhood dog trainer are always happy to help.