Q My dog pulls on the lead; it’s always tight when we’re out on the walk. It’s as if I’m not there, because he takes no notice of whatever I tell him. Even if I stop I’m hindering his progress to wherever we’re going and sometimes it’s such an awful experience I wonder why I bother to take him out at all. Is there something I can do to make him realise that going for a walk with me is a nice experience?
A A tight lead and a tense dog can produce unintended consequences, such as over-excitement and boisterous behaviour or aggression to other dogs or people. Walking a dog on a loose lead is a pleasure, so the lead should be a reasonable length – 3 to 5 feet (1m-1.5m) – and should be sturdy enough to give you the feeling that you have control. Longer leads or flexi-leads should not be used on the walk; it sends out the message that it’s a restraint and doesn’t allow much if any communication between you and the dog.
Think of the lead as a means of communication, not just as a means of preventing the dog running away. Dogs pull on the lead, because they haven’t been told not to in a manner that they understand especially if you’re tense and anxious. This type of energy betrays your emotion and sends the completely wrong message down the lead. When you decide it’s time for your dog’s walk, from that moment you must take control. A dog that is rushing around, bouncing up and down getting over excited will take that behaviour out with him and immediately you leave your home he takes control.
So, be determined to be the decision maker from the outset. Be calm and send the signal to your dog that until he calms too, you are going nowhere. Of course, this may take some time initially and may even result in you not going out at that time; if that’s the case, put the lead away and wait a while before you indicate that it’s time for the walk. It can be very frustrating, but dogs pick up signals – both verbal and body language – very quickly. Just remember that pulling you around on the lead is a learned behaviour, it’s been normal for your dog to do so, but now with a calmer, more confident attitude you, as the leader, will be giving your dog a clear indication that unless he listens and watches you, he’ll not be going out until he realises that you’re the boss, not him.