Teaching A Pack of Labradors to Stop Pulling on the Leash

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 29, 2013

Huey and Lila

Lila (Black on the left) and Huey (Chocolate on the right) are brother and sister Labradors from the same litter. Their owner called me to help stop their intense pulling on the leash.

When I arrived, both dogs met me at the door, but with almost no barking. It was obvious that they were well trained due to their behavior, responsiveness and showing confident body language / movement.

Normally I start my sessions out by discussing the situation with the dog’s owners. This gives me an opportunity to observe the dog’s behavior as well as learn what sort of discipline and structure of their owners had incorporated into the dogs daily lives.

Usually this part of the session reveals the reason the dogs have developed the unwanted behaviors or issues. But in this case, that wasn’t the case. These dogs clearly trusted and respected their owner. They were obedient, responsive and well behaved so I was able to focus strictly on the walk.

Because labradors are extremely strong dogs, I decided to take them out one at a time.

I fitted Huey up with a Martingale collar and added my special twist to the leash. When we got outside, I asked his owner to stand by the front door so that I could work with him one-on-one. Frequently dog owners get nervous and tense up when on a walk. This tension can often be communicated to the dog unknowingly by their owner and actually trigger the unwanted behavior.

As I walked down the street, it became obvious that Huey had a very short attention span. While this is not unusual for a puppy, It can make walking the dog in a controlled way very challenging.

I laughingly tell my clients that the Martingale collar stops 99% of all dogs from pulling immediately. Huey it turns out, is one of the rare 1%. While my corrections and the Martingale had a decent effect on him under normal circumstances, anytime another dog came within his line of sight, all of Hueys manners and good behavior went out the window.

While the Martingale or a pinch collar is a tool that can help physically keep the dog under control, I believe the best course of action is to get the dog to control him or herself.

I have developed a rehabilitation technique that I call “the long walk.” It’s a repetition-based rehabilitation technique that requires the owner to pay close attention and have outstanding timing.

The first stage of the exercise involves teaching the dog to sit whenever human stops. To achieve this, I walk the dog at a heel and then abruptly stop every two, three or four steps. Each time that I stop, I ask the dog to sit. As soon as the dog sits, I immediately continue the walk.

Humans have a tendency to get frustrated when dog pulls on the leash when out for a walk because we look at it from the perspective of, “hey we’re doing this walk for you.” But for a dog that lacks discipline or is still in his puppy stage, the walk reveals many hidden treasures; things to sniff, things to urinate on, things to chase things to smell, etc. The dog isn’t pulling to challenge you or to frustrate you, it’s simply doing it as a reaction to all the external stimuli.

By stopping every few steps and requiring the dog to sit over and over, we can condition the dog to pay closer attention to us. The more repetitions the dog has, the faster it will sit. Eventually the dog starts paying attention to his owner and sitting whenever the owner stops.

As we started the exercise with Huey, it was quite the ordeal to get him to even sit. We went through several corrective measures to communicate that we wanted him to sit, but the majority of them had very little effect on Huey. After about 10 minutes we discovered a correction that consistently got Huey’s attention. I instructed his owner to continually apply that correction anytime Huey failed to sit whenever she stopped.

Once his owner started using this correction, Huey was sitting much faster. We kept at it for another 20 minutes or so until Huey was starting to sit almost immediately after receiving the correction.

We swapped out dogs and repeated the exercise with Lila. It took approximately the same amount of time before we were able to determine the best way to correct Lila and once we made that discovery, she started to sit faster and faster as well.

Next we walked back to their home and picked up Huey. We practiced the stop-sit technique with both dogs together but walked separately.

Because one of their neighbors had a few dogs in the backyard that were particularly interesting to both dogs, we spent most of our time walking up and down the sidewalk next to this fence. At first it was quite a challenge, but within a few minutes I had one or both dogs sitting right next to the fence ignoring the other dogs. Their owner told me that they had never been this close to those dogs before without barking. I explained that its likely that because the labradors had not been able to properly sniff other dogs, they were barking at them out of frustration

By removing the distance between the labradors and the neighbor’s dogs, and doing it in a controlled way, we were able to communicate to the labradors that they were to ignore these other dogs and pay attention to the humans.

I advised their owner to continue walking them in this manner separately until both dogs are sitting on their own every time she stops. Once this takes place she will be ready to move on to stage two of the rehabilitation.

For the second part, I told her that as soon as the dog starts to pull, she needs to stop immediately. Because the dogs are now conditioned to sit whenever their owner stops, this limits the pulling on the leash. It requires a lot of patience and practice, but if the owner consistently stops the instant the dog starts to pull on the leash, eventually the dog is able to make the connection that pulling on leash is what triggers the stoppage. Once the dog makes this realization, the pulling is dramatically reduced and eventually goes away completely.

It will probably take the dogs about a week of practicing this type of walk before they start sitting every time their owner stops. That’s definitely the most challenging part of this rehabilitation.

Once the stop-sit is in place, it usually only takes a handful of days to a week of practice before the dog stops pulling on the leash due to the stoppage of the walk. Dogs love to walk and once they realize they are the ones that are stopping the walk by pulling, they are more than happy to stop, stopping the walk!

Categorized in: , , ,

This post was written by: David Codr

%d bloggers like this: