Today I want to share a story with you. this is Tug’s story. Tug was a clients dog and a compulsive puller.
Tug simply loves the outdoors; he eagerly explores the hedgerows, hunting out scents across fields and forests. He lives purely for chasing rabbits and, like any typical springer spaniel, springing through the long meadow grass.
Whenever Tug’s owner, Mary, takes him for a walk he acts like a coiled spring. Ecstatic about the impending prospect of adventure, causes him to pull like a train.
He is not a big boy, but he’s a strong one none-the-less.
Unfortunately, Mary suffers from a bad back and Tug pulling on the lead is a massive issue for her. After each walk she comes back with sore shoulders. Plus, she swears her arms are stretched several inches longer every time she takes Tug out.
Over the past few years, Mary has tried several different things to stop him from pulling.
First she tried a slip lead, which nearly strangled him as he just kept pulling despite the apparent discomfort.
Next she tried a harness that was designed to stop dogs from pulling. It used cords that sit just behind the dog’s armpits which tighten each time he starts to pull, making it uncomfortable for him to do so. That so-called “No Pull” harness worked for maybe for 2 walks before Tug learnt to pull again. The main problem with this harness was that because of Tug’s continuous pulling it rubbed his armpits raw.
So, it was back to the drawing board.
Next, a head collar was purchased, and Tug hated it. He spent the entire time trying to get the darned thing off! To be fair, it did stop him from pulling. But, he was so miserable wearing it, that he refused to walk at all. Again, this was not a method that worked for Tug.
Ready to give up on Tug ever walking nicely on a lead, she stumbled across my advert in the local paper. In a last-ditch attempt to sort Tug’s pulling on the lead, she decided to ask me for some help. She hoped I would be able to offer some advice that would result in some relief from the physical discomfort that walking him caused her, and that I would be able to bring some joy back into their walks together.
When I first met Mary, she was desperate, the chronic pain in her back, the sore shoulders and arms, were really getting too much to bear.
Walking Tug had become a chore rather than a fun way to enjoy each other’s company and the beautiful countryside she lived in. She told me she had tried everything and that nothing worked. After spending a few minutes with them, I quickly identified that there was one key piece of the puzzle missing in their relationship.
To Mary, teaching a dog to walk on a nice loose lead was as simple as putting a lead on her dog and going for a walk. One of her first mistakes was that every time she had tried a new piece of dog training equipment like the harness or head collar, she had merely slapped it on him and gone for a walk. She had failed to actually teach Tug to walk on any of the training aids before attempting to take him out.
What she hadn’t realised was that teaching a dog to walk on a nice loose lead is more than just putting a dog into a piece of equipment that promises to solve all your lead walking and dog training struggles.
You see, she never ever, in all that she tried, actually tried to teach Tug to walk by her side. She just assumed that he would want to please her and do it.
She assumed that Tug would want to walk with her simply because he loves her. She did not believe that giving him rewards for staying by her side would solve the problem she was having.
She voiced her concern to me when she asked me: “But what happens when I eventually stop using these treats? Will he revert to pulling on the lead? I don’t want to have to bribe him by offering treats all the time.”
Those concerns are probably the ones swirling around your head too.
I don’t blame you. The original reward-based training methods to teach a dog to walk next to us relied on the dog staying by your side because you are holding a treat in your hand. Leading the dog much like a donkey walking forwards when a carrot is dangled in front of him on a stick. The trouble comes when it is time to phase out the rewards. This is where a lot of dog owners fail.
Reducing the use of rewards in dog training is not as simple as it seems. It requires a reduction in the rewards carried out in such a way that it keeps dogs gambling on when the next reward is coming. And this process requires a skill level that is beyond that of the average pet dog owner.
The other problem with using this method to teach your dog to walk on a loose lead is that most people find that the dog will focus on them when there are few distractions, but many dogs do not think it is advantageous to stay by our side when there are exciting bunny smells in the long grass, or when there are other dogs to go say “Hi” to.
There is something missing and that is a genuine desire on our dog’s part to stay with us in the face of all these overwhelming distractions.
Tug’s owner simply was not interesting enough for him to want to be with her. He had no reason to stay close to his owner as it wasn’t where the fun in his walk came from. The joy in Tug’s walk came from the distractions all around him. This was aided by the fact that his owner paid him little attention on their walks. She allowed him to be distracted by the environment.
In an ideal situation, we would start to convince a young puppy that the simple act of being near us is fun and rewarding. Even before we clip on the lead for the first time. If we do this, then teaching her to walk on a loose lead will be a lot easier because she will actually want to be near us.
I call this Closeness. Closeness is creating and nurturing the desire for our dogs to want to stay with us, no matter what.
Creating this desire in Tug was the first step to improving the relationship between him and his owner. But developing this one aspect of teaching him to walk by his owner’s side didn’t stop Tug from pulling on the lead.
We will have a look at what else we needed to teach Tug to walk on a loose lead in my next post.
If you can’t wait to find out the rest of Tug’s story head over to my shop and grab a copy of my new book “No Pulling Allowed: From Painfully Disappointing Drag to Delightfully Relaxing Stroll”. I’ll pop it straight in the post for you, so you can find out exactly how you can teach your dog to stop pulling on the lead.