Pulling on the lead seems to cause more pain and grief for dog owners and their dogs than any other dog problem.

There are so many canine equipment manufacturers out there delighted to supply us with expensive solutions to this issue that you would think there would be no dogs ever pulling on the lead any more.

Yet the other day I watched a poor lady being carted across the park by her strong and healthy labrador. The lab was enjoying the way his harness made it easy to get his shoulders and full body weight into the job of pulling, just like a good carthorse.

The lady also had an ordinary lead on him and a muzzle halter – presumably just in case one or other device had any impact. She had entered a nuclear arms race of pulling with her dog, and he had won it.

When your dog is pulling, resist that temptation to go nuclear. Instead press the button on your common sense. It will save you some money, and realising there there is no quick fix is actually the first step towards understanding and solving the issue.

But if there’s no kit to cure it, what on earth do you do?

What to do next

The answer is straightforward: walk your dog to heel. Just put your dog on the lead, give him the command to heel, and off you go with your best friend trotting along obediently at your heel. It sounds so simple … if only!

For most of us the reality is that we have to go right back to the boring basics of teaching the dog to heel properly.

Heeling training should start at roughly the same time as all the other puppy basics of come, sit and stay. But if this training got skimped or became sloppy, by the time the dog is grown up, pulling often sets in.

Find a small, enclosed, safe space where you can take the dog off the lead. Get him to sit alongside you on your left hand side.

Tap your thigh, say “heel”, and walk positively forward two or three steps. Now sharply turn left, doing a 90 degree angle.

You should find you are crossing in front of your dog’s path, so he is forced to turn left as well if he doesn’t want to get walked over.

This means that for at least a couple of strides, as you turn, he will be heeling (without really knowing it).

Turn sharply left again and you will find your dog cottons on quickly to the need to be close to you. Repeat this exercise with the lead.

Next, turn sharply in the opposite direction from the dog, so you are pulling him.

Then turn straight back towards him, so the lead goes slack – and hey presto, he’s not pulling. When lead training, don’t walk in a straight line for more than about five paces.

Keep turning right or left or back, or in a spiral or figure of eight. This keeps your dog guessing. It means that instead of just charging off, he really has to stick with you and pay attention to work out where you’re both going.

Do equal amounts of training on the lead and off the lead – there should be no difference in your dog’s behaviour.

There are many more complex elements of heel work, and it’s worth checking out a training book or website, as mastering heeling will put an end to pulling on the lead.

But if your dog doesn’t even sit beside you to start the lesson, it’s definitely time to go back to basics!

If you want some more help from Janet you can find three of her books for sale in the BASC Bookshop.

  • Psycho Dog – If your dog seems like a mission impossible, relax! This one-stop guide to understanding and curing your dog problems is here to help you on the way to owning a happy, loving dog that you will be pleased to see you every morning.
  • From Puppy to Perfect – A simple step-by-step guide to puppy training – covering topics from selecting your puppy and early preparations, through to training a growing dog.
  • Training the Working Spaniel – This book makes it simple for anyone to train their gundog, no matter what facilities are available.
Categories: - Offbeat

Janet Menzies

Janet Menzies is the author of Training the Working Spaniel; From Puppy to Perfect; and PsychoDog. She has established her own champion line of working cocker spaniels under the Gournaycourt affix and also writes regularly for The Field magazine.

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