Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Leash walking 101!

My first real post! YAY! This is a topic near and dear to the heart of anyone who has ever had to walk a very excited dog on a leash - how do we get them to stop pulling?!?!

There are LOTS of devices out on the market to 'fix' this pro
blem. Really, the only thing that will really fix the problem is training. Devices control the problem, but don't actually fix it.

Controlling vs. fixing is a common thread we'll discuss as we go on. In the case of dogs pulling on leashes, controlling is okay in the short term, but, really, what you want is a dog that walks WITH you and is aware of what you are doing, the speed that you are walking and the direction you desire to go. You want to be able to snap a leash on your dog and be able to walk them the short distance from the car to the dog park without your arm getting pulled out of it's socket!

The myriad of gadgets, collars, and harnesses available basically attempt to force your dog into passively paying attention to the
characteristics we're looking for. I will admit to relying on our Premier Easy Walk Harness when I'm out with the dogs and not in a position to be focusing on training. However, the ultimate goal is to train them so they are actively paying attention regardless of how they are attached to the leash.

So how do we do this? Why, "Be The Tree"* of course! There are two ways - "the traditional stationary tree", and the mystical "backwards walking tree"!

Traditional Stationary Tree:
As soon as the dog starts to pull, you become immobile. Stand there and don't move. Don't say anything, don't cue him, just stand there, stock still and silent. Eventually the dog will realize he's pulling and he ain't moving...
DRAT!...He'll look around and he'll look back at you as if to say "Hello stupid HUMAN! We're on a walk here, why aren't we moving?!?!" - and when he does, the leash will slacken a little bit and as soon as it does - you start walking forward again! Then as soon as you feel the leash tighten - repeat. On the first walk you may move a whole 10 feet...woo hoo! Eventually he'll get it - he'll have the moment of realization - "OH! If I pull, we don't move and I don't get the sniff and explore. If the leash is loose, then I get to move and sniff and check out all the exciting things on the telephone pole! Okay, I'm going to make sure I keep the leash loose so we keep moving!" Voila! You may have to occasionally remind him when something particularly exciting arises, but okay - you know what to do...and he knows what to do too -- and the amount of time it takes for the realization to happen gets shorter and shorter each time.

"The Mystical Backward Walking Tree"
The second method is based on the same idea, except that when you feel the leash tighten, you start walking backwards - again silently, no cuing, talking, or nuttin! Don't turn around, literally walk backwards. Now you are making a very obvious physical point to the dog - when you pull, we don't go that direction, we are going away from the exciting things up ahead! Same a
s before, as soon as the leash slackens, start walking forward again. You may walk minus 100 feet the first time with this method. That's okay - because eventually, the dog will have the same realization - "if I want to go over the that telephone pole there and check my pee-mail, I have to keep the leash loose."

I use the MBWT method with my dogs when they start going "crackers with bananas on top" because they see another dog while we're out walking. They love to say hello to the other dogs. Overall, this is great, except that Comet gets excited and starts barking. Comet has a very loud bark, so we have a "No barking on walks rule". When he gets overly excited we back-up, away from the source of the excitement until he stops barking and then we move toward
s it again - until he starts barking, and then we back away, repeat ad-infinitum. Eventually, he remembers "Oh, wait, crap - SHUT UP! or I'll never get to sniff that other dogs butt!" Each time out I back up less and move forward more. He no longer starts yapping from excitement the instant we start walking, now he only loses it when he sees another dog. Of course, our progress would be faster if I walked them more, but it's cold and I'm lazy.

The one critical component of this method is one you have to muster up inside yourself - PATIENCE! I know we want this to happen quickly, but since we are waiting on the dog to figure things out for itself, we need to wait. Spend th
e time admiring the unique curl of your dogs tail, or the adorableness of the little swirls on his butt.

*I believe I first heard the phrase "Be The Tree" at a Suzanne Clothier seminar. If you are unfamiliar with her, she's AWESOME, and you should definitely check out her books and seminars!


  1. Congratulations! Great post! I'm not a dog person, but Will wants one. I guess I better get myself trained before he goes and gets us one before I'm ready! Looking forward to more great posts!

  2. :o Decided to follow along and see what develops; curiously, Being the Tree works in a variety of situations :) Me? I'm a "junk-yard cat" person -- 8 tamed strays of various ages; one's over 15 and the youngest is 9 months. (lol) It makes life interesting. Enjoyed the post; Thanks!