Using New Communication Methods to Teach a Dog to Stop Pulling on the Leash

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 3, 2015

SaxerSaxer is a two year old Lab / Pointer mix who was recently adopted. His new owners called me for help with his pulling on the leash, rough play with their other dog Millie and his listening and response to their commands and corrections.

Saxer had a nice medium energy and fairly calm demeanor. When I arrived for the session he showed a healthy curiosity, giving me a good sniff before finding an antler to chew on while I discussed the situation with his owners.

His owners had been using a few unique sounds to disagree with unwanted actions and behavior, but since his response to them was inconsistent, I suggested that they use a hissing sound as a warning instead. As I was explaining why I prefer this sound, Saxer started to jump up on the chair one of his owners was sitting in. I made a loud hissing sound that made Saxer immediately stop and get down.

Saxer’s owners shot each other a look of disbelief at how quickly he responded to the sound. Whenever I get a startled but satisfied look from my client’s this way I know Im on the right track. I went over some other communication methods they can use to disagree with other unwanted actions and behaviors and answered a few questions before we all headed down to the basement so I could introduce a few exercises.

I started out with a leadership exercise that asks the dog to ignore a high value treat placed on the floor in the middle of the room. This exercise accomplished several things at once; increase the dog’s ability to focus, helps a dog calm down, puts the human in a leadership position and most importantly lets the dog practice restraining itself.

It usually takes a few minutes for a dog to understand what I am asking of it the first time I go through the exercise. Not Saxer. It took all of 45 seconds for him to move away from the treat and lay down on the floor to tell me he had no intention of challenging me for the treat. He did this without me saying a word.

I practiced the exercise with him a few more times to be sure, then coached his owners through it until they were getting the same result. Because Saxer got it so quickly, I went over ways to make the exercise more difficult and suggested that they gradually increase the level of difficultly. This exercise will help them in all areas of the dogs life, including his pulling on the leash.

Next we got bundled up so we could go out for a walk. Saxer’s owners had been using a harness for walks and when you have a dog that pulls, that’s the wrong equipment for sure. Fortunately they had purchased a Martingale collar for Saxer, so I showed them how to add a special twist to the leash that stops most dogs from pulling.

After going over some dog handling tips, we headed out the door for a practice walk. I stayed with one of his owners on the front porch and watched as his other owner walked the dog on the sidewalk in front of their home. Saxer was pulling ahead, but his owner said it was less than usual. After observing them together I called them back then took the leash so I could demonstrate a new technique.

Because a dog’s nose controls 60% of its brain, I suggested that they do not allow him to sniff on the walks until he is paying attention to their lead on the leash. Now scent is the dominant sense for dogs, so sniffing is a normal healthy activity. But if the dog is so focused on the scent, they can’t pay attention to their owner. When this happens, the human is walking with the dog instead of the other way around.

When I walked Saxer, I gave a quick tug on the leash any time he started to move his head down to sniff. It took a half dozen corrections before Saxer started to walk with his head up. This is called a Migration walk. Once Saxer was walking with me this way, I gave the leash back to his owner so he could try again.

This time his owner was correcting Saxer the second he started to stray or get out of position. By adopting better timing with his corrections, Saxer performed much better on the second walk. By the time we returned to the home, Saxer needed only minor corrections as he was staying in the proper position and speed on his own. His owner told me it was a night and day difference between this walk and his previous attempts.

At the conclusion of the session, Saxer was responding to his owners commands and corrections right away. Before the session, Saxer obliged them when he felt like it. But now that they were adopting communication methods he understood and their timing was better, the results were noticeable.

Because he is a smart dog, it shouldn’t take long before Saxer adopts these new behaviors and habits for good.

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This post was written by: David Codr