Problems with dog walking on lead
Last week I talked in general terms about walking dogs on lead. I talked about being realistic about managing your dog on lead. There are a number of different ways you can help manage your dog. I recommended a longline to help with your puppy’s recall. You can use a harness as an alternative to a simple lead and collar. Never use a harmful device, such as a prong collar (please sign the petition).
Off lead is always best
As I said last week and often repeat, letting your dog off lead should always be your main goal when walking your dog. You should be choosing areas to walk that are generally safe. Recall is of course the most important skill to have. I realise it’s a challenge! But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work at it.
Quin is the perfect example of a dog who is better off lead. At 5 months of age, he can still be a bit worried about new situations and can ‘react’ when he sees a new dog, or sometimes a strange person. He barks and lunges at them. When he is off lead he can ‘sort himself out’. So his reaction is much less and he calms down more quickly.
Pulling on lead
I feel that dogs pull on the lead primarily because they want to get on with the walk! Dogs tend to walk more quickly than we do. Well Border Collies do anyway. My dogs pull when they are setting out for their walk. On the way home they are much more calm. So if you are just getting to a safe place to let them off, a bit of pulling isn’t really a problem.
If you do want to stop them pulling, you need to not pull back. This is pretty difficult to achieve! You need to let the lead go loose, or change direction every time they pull forward. Another tactic is to have the lead round the back of your legs so they are not in front of you (just watch the dog doesn’t pull you over!) Or you can use a head collar, but dogs do hate these.
Why do dogs react?
If a dog sees something they do not know about, or understand, they react, usually by barking, growling, standing up to it, backing off or running away. Well you would, wouldn’t you?
How do you feel when you are faced with a new situation? Going into a room full of strangers? Starting a new job? Being introduced to a partner’s family? Scary isn’t it? So you should be able to recognise that sometimes dogs can be overwhelmed, or scared. It’s completely normal.
What to do if your dog reacts
When your dog reacts to a scary or new situation, there are a number of actions we can take. These include:
- punish or shout at your dog
- reward your dog
- calm your dog
- train your dog
Don’t underestimate the power of doing nothing? If you stay calm and ignore the ‘scary thing’, your puppy can learn that it’s no big deal. Sometimes that’s enough. It might even be the best course of action. Let’s consider the alternatives.
Hopefully you won’t punish your dog. Ironically, if you shout at your dog for barking and lunging, they might feel rewarded for their action. A shout is basically a bark, after all. So you’re just joining in with the fun! If you pull on the lead, that is the same as your dog pulling on the lead! Be careful not to reward the dog’s actions, because you know what will happen next, don’t you? Yes, your dog will think that is what is needed.
You might feel that you need to reassure your dog, to calm them down when something is scaring them. Sadly, this is also a reward. Your dog barks to warn you as much as anything. They lunge and look fierce to protect you. If you give them a fuss or talk to them, they can see this as a reward, or positive reinforcement, for their actions.
Train to ignore
This is ultimately the best course of action. In order to do this you need to get their attention before the scary thing happens or appears. You need to be able to hold their attention and reward them for paying you the attention.
Training your dog in this way takes a bit of time and effort. Your reward will be a dog that can walk calmly past other dogs, runners, cyclists, cars etc. If you can’t be bothered to train your puppy to do this, just ignore the barking and lunging. They might calm down anyway.
Walking on lead – conclusion
Teaching your dog to walk nicely on lead is a real challenge! Staying calm and not worrying about ‘other things’ is a good start. Training your dog to ignore other dogs and issues is much better. The best solution is simply to let them off lead!
Ultimately, we need our dogs to cope with varying situations, including crossing roads, changing pace and passing distractions. Aura demonstrates the ‘gold’ standard for the KC Good Citizen Award in the video. (The distractions are my other four dogs and my family standing out of shot, including Busy whining away!)
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.