There are many ways to help stop a dog from pulling on a lead. This Part 1 will address prevention, whilst later Parts will cover cure.
Most people put a lead on their new puppy. Why? Probably because they think that’s the right thing to do and they want to stop their pup from running away and getting into trouble or danger. All good reasons.
But what about if we could get our pup to want to be with us all the time and not to want to run away?
If we put a lead on a pup, the lead will go tight as the pup resists this strange new restraint and hey presto – you’ve just started to teach your pup to pull! But if you wait until the pup wants and chooses to be with you – and then put a lead on, hey presto you have a pup that is much less likely to pull!
So how do we get our pup to choose to be with us? Well, Mother Nature helps us. A pup will naturally want to follow and be with you in the first few weeks as the main source of comfort, protection, affection and food. We must do everything we can to reinforce this natural instinct. This means playing with your pup, having fun, not chasing after it but walking away if it loses interest, rewarding the pup with a treat every time it comes, not calling it when it wanders off (this just teaches the pup to ignore the recall) and generally by making yourself the centre of its world, the source of play, food, fun, affection, protection, warmth and all the good things in life.
All this initial bonding work should be accompanied by minimum voice. The more you talk to your pup, the less they will pay attention, the less they need to look at you. Your voice will become white noise to the pup, a sound they hear but don’t listen to. Ration this important tool – your voice. Rather than talk to your pup, get them to focus on you, use a treat to get them to make eye contact and then reward. Never bribe or reward a dog when they’re not looking at you. Focus is the holy grail!
Use the words you want your pup to understand (come, sit etc) but ONLY once they are doing what you want. So, each time your dog comes to you because you have gestured to them with open arms or they come of their own accord, tell them “Come!” so that they only ever hear this word when they’re already coming. Same for “Sit!”. Only say this as their bottom hits the floor. This way they will quickly associate the word with the action and before long you will be able to use the words as commands.
The final bit of advice is perhaps the most important. If you take your pup out too soon into the wide, wild world and allow him unrestrained access to the attractions of woods, parks, wildlife and the myriad of other distractions, you will struggle to keep his focus and to maintain yourself as the centre of his world. That’s why we recommend that all the initial training takes place in a confined, benign, distraction-free environment, one in which your pup only has you to focus on. If you try and compete with the wide outdoors for his focus, you will lose!
By following all the advice above, you stand the best chance of developing in the pup a powerful desire and need to be with you, to focus on you and to listen to you. These are the bedrock elements of heel work, both on and off lead. If we achieve this, lead and heel work will simply not be an issue.
But if we haven’t managed to get our pup “plugged in” to us and we now have a dog that instinctively pulls on a lead because that’s what we’ve inadvertently taught it to do, we need to cure this annoying and potentially dangerous and painful habit. There are many techniques people recommend. The next Part will look at some of the techniques that we approve of, that we use and that work for us.
Watch this space!