Lessons learnt from having a leash-pulling puppy
We got our beautiful GSP-cross-Vizsla puppy Calley (the one dotted all over our dogroyalty.com.au website) just over two years ago, and have never once regretted it, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few times when they drive you a little insane! One of the main things that continually frustrated us was her lead pulling, especially as she grew bigger and stronger.
We tried everything to help solve the pulling, including several methods trainers - who we got in to help at various stages - taught us. It was becoming a big problem mainly because Calley quickly got to the size when she could pull my wife Lucy over very easily. Now perhaps we didn’t stick to the training advice well enough, or we executed it poorly, but Calley just did not have any interest in staying behind/beside us on the lead. I should add that Calley is very well trained in most other respects. She is well-mannered, stays, comes, knows ‘off’ (definitely the command we love most), she can do a good few tricks too – she’ll turn in a circle, roll over and she does more practical things like close the door on request! But for some reason the Cesar Millan-perfect lead walking we wanted just didn’t stick with her.
One piece of advice I would immediately give to big dog owners particularly is to get a harness designed to combat pulling. Using standard harnesses for big dogs is like supercharging their pull because it allows them to use all their shoulder and body strength to pull you – and off you go flying down the street... A leading harness, such as the Halti chest-fastening harness we use for Calley, re-directs her pulling force sideways/backwards towards the lead’s direction, and it instantly reduced Calley’s pulling power (incidentally I discovered the Halti was founded in the UK not far from where I was born, by a Dr Roger Mugford – read more at companyofanimals.co.uk). Other friends of ours absolutely swear on head/snout collars – we also used one of these for Calley for a period and found this super effective, as did many of our friends with pulling pooches.
Utilising the head collar, along with maintaining basic training techniques helped us get Calley to a place where she pulled less, sufficient that we felt more comfortable using the chest harness over the head collar because she hated the it on her face so much (with her slim pointer nose they do impede her vision at times as they slide up her muzzle). Despite this vast improvement, she still wouldn’t walk by our side. This was becoming a source of frustration.
Then I read a fantastic book by Alexandria Horowitz which changed my perspective completely and helped open my eyes to her behaviour. In her New York Times Bestseller ‘Inside of a Dog’, the author de-constructs a lot of the myths around why we think dogs do what they do, and looks much more objectively at dog behaviour, removing the human characteristics we like to infer on our pooches (you can read more about this book here insideofadog.com.) The book also reminds us and celebrates that every dog is different and has its own personality and foibles just like their humans. While I thought I was already quite good at reading our dogs behaviour and interpreting the whys, I realised I was still not approaching the problem from my dogs perspective. The main thing I realised was that in fact we didn’t really have a problem at all with Calley. In hindsight, in our continual desire to give Calley the best playtime it meant we always gave her off leash play every single walk. She (and we) loved this off leash part so much that the leash walk became, for all of us, a means to an end– which encouraged her to want to rush, rather than enjoy the journey, so she could get to the ‘real’ fun part. Her behaviour also reflects my tendency to not enjoy a dog-less walk, but rather treat the act of walking as a rush to get somewhere. As ‘Inside of a dog’ discusses, dogs are great at attuning and adapting to becoming our perfect companion, and when I thought about this I realised Calley was doing exactly that. She was as excited as me to get to the off leash play time. For me this made a big difference to how I viewed and coped with her positioning and pulling. We also decided that the behaviour of walking in front of us was fine and just a part of her nature, provided she wasn’t actually pulling (maybe the gundog in her?). We realised we were hung up on a perception that where the dog stood relative to us mattered, when to us and Calley it really didn’t.
Now Calley is over two years old and while she’s still pretty crazy, her lead walking is much more manageable. We still have to encourage her not to pull from time to time, and as with all training it’s an ongoing exercise; but I’m fine for her to walk slightly ahead of me, and I just enjoy her excitement at going out to play.
Great advice we received:
Buy a chest-fastening harness or head collar - you may have to experiment with what works for you and your dog (available at all good pet stores)
In hindsight what would we do differently?
-We would have built in regular outings of slower leash-only walks with more focus on meandering and sniffing, and ultimately, on enjoying the journey, to get Calley accustomed to not rushing to get somewhere, and also to have built her enjoyment of this style of walking.
-Continual training right from an early age - we could have worked on this more with Calley to build habits, using high value rewards
At Dog Royalty we offer free basic training as standard for all dogs. This can include if required, leash walking practice around our huge premises. You know your dog prefers to be off leash though – so have them picked up by Dog Royalty and whisked away to our dog wonderland with outside areas, water features and plenty of space – all fully fenced, supervised and secure.