Put your best paw forward: Leash manners

by Kira Garrett | October 17, 2013

If your lovable hound keeps pulling on the leash whenever you take him out for a stroll, it may be time to nip that behavior in the bud. Dogs are not naturally inclined to walk properly on a leash. It is a behavior they must learn and constantly practice.

Some dogs get very excited to explore the outdoors and want to pull, while others want to stop and sniff or mark every single lead they see on the ground. If you have one of each, you will certainly grow tired of being pulled in opposite directions. Leash-pulling isn’t just frustrating for the dog owner; it can lead to a number of injuries and health concerns for the dog as well. Some issues include spinal misalignment, thyroid damage, difficulty breathing and injury to the trachea. Brachycephalic dogs run an even greater risk of facing complications from leash-pulling, so they should always wear a harness when on a leash.

Teaching a dog leash manners is generally one of the first commands trainers work on. While special leashes and collars can help prevent pulling, changing the dog’s behavior should be the first option. Once you adopt your furry family member, you should immediately begin working on leash manners.

Try the “red light, green light” method, which requires the trainer to stop once the dog reaches the end of the lead. When the dog stops pulling, you can reward the dog and continue walking. Another effective method is “lure and reward.” If your dog is food-motivated – and what dog isn’t? -- he may respond well to receiving a reward when he keeps pace with you as you walk.

If you still feel the need to protect your dog against pulling or want a few tools to help during training, you can use a specialized leash with a head halter, like a Gentle Leader, or a no-pull harness to protect your dog’s neck from injuries. A harness will fit around the dog’s body so that as you are training, your dog won’t experience any excess pressure on his neck. A regular harness may encourage pulling, but a no-pull harness will tighten around the dog’s chest to discourage the behavior. Even if you have been able to reduce your dog’s pulling, an occasional jerk of the leash can still cause damage.

As you work to improve your dog’s leash manners, remember to be patient. If it is a new behavior for your dog, it will take time to learn. It goes against a dog’s natural instincts, and although he wants to please you, he may get frustrated with training as well. Be sure to take breaks and work play time in with training to keep you both happy.