Dog Training: Who is Walking Who?
As a certified dog trainer I can attest that one of the most common problems dog owners endure in is being pulled around and about when taking their dog for a walk. The problem is certainly not a small one, indeed leash pulling can lead to several other problems: being dangerously dragged causing falls, being unable to control a potentially dangerous dog, scaring several passer-byers due to lack of control, not to mention, being unable to provide dogs with the leadership skills and guidance they crave.
Of course, an obedience trainer is the right place to start to solve these problems, but not all people have the financial resources to afford that or they simply may not have the time. Some owners (and this is not that rare) may also refuse to go to dog training school simply because they are too proud to seek out the help of a professional, rather, they would prefer to take care of the issue themselves, even though they are not completely sure how.
Nothing can really replace the structured setting and opportunity for socialization a class offers. Dogs learn to be under control despite high distractions such as other dogs and people. If your dog is capable of walking nicely on leash in this environment, very likely he will be well under control during your evening walk around the block! So taking your dog to dog training is a big plus with many advantages.
Secrets to a Nice Walking Dog
Your main objective is to have a dog that walks on a loose leash. Remember this goal: a leash is just there because the law requires it, your dog will follow because he just wants to be with you and knows that your side is the best place on earth! Of course, this may seem like an unattainable goal, but you will eventually get there.
So how to get a dog in this sort of mind set? It takes a mix of classical conditioning, operant conditioning and special tools for the most serious cases. Let's take a look at all of these components, one by one.
Do you remember Pavlov and the studies on drooling dogs? If not, Pavlov was a Russian scientist that started ringing a bell and offering food to dogs right afterward.. With time, it was noticed that dogs started salivating in anticipation at the simple sight and sound of the bell! This helped us understand how a dog thinks and take it to our advantage.
How do we apply this in dog training? It is quite simple. We make a sound and classically condition the dog to associate it with something great such as food. The sound can be anything, a whistle, a smack of the mouth, anything, just do not use the dog's name!
Once we get the dog's attention, we will bring the treat to our eye level and then hand it to the dog. We will repeat the sound and then treat, sound, treat, sound treat.. after some time, the dog will associate the sound with food and will look forward to it. This is classical conditioning at best!
Once things start clicking in the dog's mind, we are ready to start moving in a fenced area. We walk with the dog and make the sound with the treat at eye level and once the dog looks up making eye contact, we give the treat. With practice, the dog will be attention heeling as the pros!
As the dog gets better, the dog is introduced to areas with more distractions.This is where going to an obedience school is best: the dog will learn to not pay attention to other dogs and people, rather he will chose to make you the most interesting thing out there!
Operant conditioning takes place when a dog starts thinking ''If I do this I get something for it''. It puts the dog's mind in a working mode. If the dog looks at you and makes eye contact, he will quickly learn that eye contact gets him the reward. This will make your dog eager to work and ''operate'' for the reward.
Most training today is reward based today. While the older aversive training methods focused in having a dog obey to ''avoid pain or discomfort'' today, the dog is encouraged to ''operate'' for rewards. This positive method teaches the dog two things: ''If I work I get something'' and '' My owner brings good things and I trust him'' rather than fearing him and associating him with aversive tecniques.
Troubleshooting Walking Problems
So you have your dog walking nicely, next to you, but what should you do if your dog looks up at you, takes the treat and then lunges forward pulling you and going back to his antics? Here you must be more stubborn than your dog and not give in.
Stop as soon as the dog pulls and either:
a) Walk in the opposite direction
b) Stop and put your dog back to being next to you and start walking ''together''.
There is only one bad thing that you can do in this exercise: follow your dog when he pulls. Indeed, when we deal with pulling dogs we really are most likely not dealing with a dog that wants to be ''dominant'' or stubborn, rather we are most likely dealing with a dog that simply thinks like this: ''On walks it works this way.. I go forward and my owner follows..'' In other words, the dog just thinks he must drag his owner around, because he was never taught otherwise!
It is therefore just something that has worked in the past, once, twice and the dog assumes that is just the way it is. Not to mention the fact that going forward is very rewarding to dogs and walking much faster than humans, they take the puller role very easily.Once we stop walking when the dog pulls,once, twice and more, then the dog starts thinking ''Oh, so it does not really work the way I thought'' and adjusts accordingly.
Tools to Stop Dogs From Pulling
If you have a very large dog and simply do not have the strength to control him, you may be wondering if there are any training tools that would at least allow you to not be dragged along the way. There are different different training tools that may work.
The prong collar was once recommended for dogs that lunged and pulled, but it may bring a too strong of a correction to sensitive dogs or dogs that are fearful or lunging out of defensive aggression, the ''I attack first to prevent being attacked''. Since, most people are not fully aware of what emotions go through the dog's mind I would not recommend this training device.
Preferable training tools are a head halter and a front attachment harness. Head halters mimic somewhat what a horse wears. It gives owners a higher level of control since it embraces the whole head and dogs seem to respond to it more, than an average leash.
The other option is the front-attachment harness, a harness with a front ring that allows more control and its pressure on the chest area teaches the dog how to respond properly. In order to work well, the dog must learn that it must stay by the owners side with the use of treats at first. Dogs appear to respond well to this tool and many people are quite satisfied of the results.
Of course, training devices may help gain control but lets remember they are simply tools. Nothing can replace actual training, which requires time, patience and being persistent. If you stop allowing your dog to pull you and abide to a ''no pulling policy'' it may take an hour the first day to just walk a block, but in the long run, your dog will soon understand that when he is ahead of you, you will not go anywhere and it gets quite boring. If your are more stubborn than your dog, you will ultimately win!
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