a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Walking the Dog

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Walking the Dog

SUMMARY: Training Tika not to pull on the leash.

Just had a brief email discussion about training dogs not to pull on the leash, especially herding breeds when approaching something exciting like sheep.

Strategy that didn't work

[The other blog entry] reminded me of a John Rogerson strategy for fixing dogs who pull on leashes: as soon as they start to forge forward past you, grab the collar and PULL them forward, since most dogs' instincts are to resist whatever direction they're being pulled in.

I tried this with Tika for a little bit, but my miserable back wouldn't stand for it, so I quit. I don't remember why we were supposed to grab the collar and not just use the leash--or maybe we were just supposed to grab the leash at the collar (this was maybe 3 or 4 years ago so it's a little hazy)--but in any event, I can't picture bending down very much with a low-slung dog, and Tika is almost 23 inches at the withers.

Something that seems to be working

Here's what I started doing with Tika that seems to finally have an effect. Interestingly, I got the idea from watching a documentary on TV last year sometime (which is one of the approximately two only times I watched TV last year) where a woman who does sheep & sheepdogs took a rescue and taught it to do sheep with a 12-week time challenge. With mixed success, but that's neither here nor there--what she DID have, and very quickly, was a wild & crazy young shelter-reject Beardie who would bounce & leap & be excited...off leash and walking behind her at all times. It caught my attention.

(About this documentary: "From the award-winning public television series NATURE comes inspiring true stories of miraculous second chances. Henry Winkler narrates "Underdogs," in which two unwanted and abandoned dogs, Holly, an 85-pound bloodhound with a hyperactive and destructive nature, and Herbie, a two-year-old bearded collie who attacks livestock, get a last chance for a new beginning." Also: "For thousands of years, dogs have been more important as working partners to humans than as pets – for hunting, guarding, herding or retrieving. It’s these finely tuned instincts that often turn dogs into problem pets. Holly the bloodhound will destroy an armchair to follow a scent, and bearded collie Herbie petrifies sheep when he relentlessly chases them. To stop them joining the 100,000 dogs in the UK which end up in rescue centres each year, police dog trainer Larry Allen and sheepdog trainer Barbara Sykes have 12 weeks to turn the unruly pair into proper working animals. ")

Anyway, the trainer started with him on leash at the beginning, and as soon as the dog started to race ahead of her, she stepped on the leash to force him to lie down (which he did--eventually); nothing else. Then she'd praise him as long as he was lying down, and if he stayed lying down when she took her foot off the leash, then release him and try moving forward again. All I saw was that one shot, and she wasn't even talking about what she was doing, just that it wasn't acceptable for her dogs to take the lead.

I resolved to try it with Tika, since nothing else has really worked. I discovered that stepping on the leash of a crazed, forging dog isn't as easy as she made it look. So, despite my back, what I do as soon as her head moves ahead of the line of my body is stick my fingers into her collar under her chin and pull her head down (taking a step forward so that she's behind the line of my body) until she lies down. I praise and let go--if she moves without my permission, I do the same thing. There's no verbal, as this isn't something I want on command.

Then, when I'm ready, I step forward and then say "come with me" (I'm trying not to make it a "heel" or a "come", but "OK" is usually a complete release, and I wanted to invent something inbetween). Repeat. Repeat. Repeatrepeatrepeatrepeat. This might work much better on a dog who hadn't had years of experience forging ahead and pulling.

If I'm consistent at this, she stays behind me a much larger percentage of the time than with any other method I've used. (But it's harder to explain.) She's getting better and better over time. Would probably get better faster if I did it *all* the time in *all* situations.

Interestingly, I'm just reading a book by The Dog Whisperer guy (never seen his show), Cesar's Way, and he talks about how the leader of the pack is the one who makes and enforces the rules, and how the nonleaders never go past the leader when the pack is on the move. I knew that already, but that's one of the things that he emphasizes. Actually I'm enjoying his book quite a bit. It's just putting together a lot of pieces that I already knew and/or practiced and/or had thought about.


  1. There is a book called Chose to Heel, by Dawn Jecs. I don't know if it is still available, but I used her method with my Ray, who was a notorious forger to teach a loose leash walk ("with me") and it worked wonderfully. It is entirely positive and entails no corrections. And is pretty pain free for the handler.

  2. I found a brief description of the method. Don't know how accurately it summarizes it.


  3. That's how you start. There is more to it, but in it's simplest form, you give the dog the opportunity to choose to walk along side you and when they do they get rewarded. You can also use a long line that is tethered on a center pole in a big field if you don't have somewhere that is fenced.

  4. I'm the world's laziest trainer so I never have trained my dogs to walk on leash without pulling. And since I've always lived where there are no sidewalks, it hasn't really been a problem except at trials or the rare occasion when I find myself on a sidewalk.
    All I do is loop the leash around the dog's chest to make a sort of harness. It works great, no pulling and I'd really rather have the dog walking ahead of me anyway so I can see where they are, especially when going through doors.
    Now that I live adjacent to a subdivision I've started walking the dogs through there in the am. I use this method and it works great.

  5. I use the wrapped-leash trick or Gentle Leader (Halti) often. However, I don't want anyone to think that this prevents Tika from pulling. It just makes her pull a little less hard. Many of my dogs have walked ahead of me in the past, but in particular with Tika that means that she seems to feel that she's in charge and she's the one making the decisions about what to do and where to go, like to take off after a squirrel or cat or another dog, or just to lunge forward at a shrub or speck of lawn because it looks interesting and she doesn't want to wait to get there. At my side, I have some control over that, but out in front she dislocates my shoulder and gives me serious whiplash. OK, not quite that bad, but sometimes almost. Remembering my vet's recent comment that I could use her on harness to haul my disabled minivan...