Does your dog bark, lunge, pull or act differently when he’s on a leash? What challenges do you have when you’re walking your dog? Through training, managing and desensitization your dog can unlearn bad habits and create positive emotional responses.
When you’re walking your dog, you notice that they may pull away. Dogs pull on a leash for a few reasons: one, for you to follow them because they know you will follow them along. Two, they pull because they’re trying to get away from the leash. Leashes can be very restrictive for dogs.
Last week, I talked about how you can build a positive association towards the leash for your dog. For instance, if you keep on popping the leash every time you walk the dog, they’ll have a negative association towards the leash.
On top of that, if you add a negative response, by saying ‘no’ while popping the leash, they’ll try to pull and get away from you as well. Learning how to handle the leash is very important.
Getting the right tools or equipment for your dog also makes a difference. Let’s take for example using a front clip harness instead of a back clip harness. Dogs naturally try to get away from you when they’re on a leash.
When you’re using a harness and it’s clipped on the back, the dogs are naturally going to want to get away.
When you have a front clip harness and your dog tries to pull away, it just redirects them. This isn’t a cure-all solution, it’s just meant to decrease your dog’s pulling. Essentially, dogs who pull away still need training but it would help a lot to use the right equipment.
An extra note for dog owners with smaller dogs, they generally have back problems. Using equipment that pulls on their back may irritate them and could be a reason why they’ll pull away.
Other things to keep in mind would be the type of leash you have. If you have a retractable leash and you let your dog go further and back, it confuses them. The dog doesn’t know whether it should be walking or going, so they end up just wanting to get away.
Equipment is very very important.
- Make sure your dog has a collar.
- Use a front-clip harness to help decrease them pulling away on walks. Another one you can use is a gentle leader. It also helps the dogs on walks too but it goes around the dog’s muzzle. So when the dog pulls, it redirects the dog to the side, so they’re not pulling forward.
- Use a 4ft leash instead of a 6ft leash just so you can control the dogs better during walks. This is most ideal for people who are experiencing their dog pull away.
- For my clients, when going through dog leash training, it is also important to go through the Doggy Training Checklist.
Dogs do not know how to walk with leash on. We actually have to teach our dogs how to walk on a leash.
An important question I ask when I’m leash training is, what does walking with your dog on a leash look like to you? Visualize what the walk would look like to you. Ideally you want your dog to walk next to you.
If you’re okay with your dog just walking with the leash and not to pull, that’s fine too. If you’re okay with just attention walking, when your dog is walking by you, that’s also okay. Your preference is what we would work on during training.
Some important ‘dog lingo’ to know and understand is the difference between Leash reactivity and Leash aggression.
Leash reactivity is when the dog pulls, barks or lunges in reaction to the leash. They’re not upset or anything, that just means they want to get somewhere. Maybe they want to meet or greet someone or play with another dog.
Leash aggression is what dogs have when they lunge, bark or pull because they’re upset or fearful. So they’re probably barking or pulling away so that something would go away or they’re trying to get away.
There’s a slight difference between the two, but there’s an apparent difference in behavior. It’s important to know this so that you know where your dog is at in terms of their relationship with the leash.
When a dog is lunging and barking because they’re fearful, they’ve already passed the learning stage where you can work on ‘attention walking’ (getting your dog to walk next to you).
When a dog has passed the stage of developing an emotional response to triggers… like a dog or a person or the leash, then we have to go through a process called ‘desensitizing’.
Reading a dog’s body language is crucial in redirecting your dog and changing their behavior. Dogs don’t just start barking out of the blue. Ideally, you want to read a dog’s body language and catch these subtle signs before they react to be able to redirect them.
Below you will find the Doggy Language Worksheet. It’s good to have this around the house, maybe hang it up your fridge so that you can easily interpret your dog’s body language.
When you’re going out for a walk and your dog sees or gets triggered by something which gets their attention, you’ll see them looking alert.
At that point, the dog’s making an emotional decision. They are deciding on how they’re going to react and you can help them with this decision. You can get out some treats and work on distraction.
For example, if your dog normally lunges at people, you can throw some treats down so they’re looking down while someone else is walking by. Right when they’re on alert, that’s when you catch them.
If you catch them enough when they’re alert, it teaches them what they’re supposed to do. So every time someone walks by or they’re in that situation, they’ll look to you for treats or know how to respond appropriately.
Now, if they’re alert and you don’t or fail to catch that, then you’ll notice they may be suspicious. That’s when their bodies stiffen up and they’ll start to lean forward. It’s usually the step before they start lunging and barking. At this point, you want to start distracting them as well.
If you still don’t catch them when they’re suspicious. They will start to be threatened; they will start barking and becoming angry.
So it’s important to catch them onset either when they’re on alert or suspicious. Other signs to watch out for when they’re either alert or suspicious:
- Hair may start to stiffen or stand up
- Teeth showing
- Lips coming up
- Ears are pushed back
These are all signs that your dog may be trying to tell you before they start barking and lunging. It’s important for you to assess your dog’s body language by studying the Doggy Language Worksheet, especially if your dog is reactive or aggressive. That way, when you see these signs with your dog, you can easily distract or misdirect them before they start reacting or being aggressive.
Behavior Modification: The Find It Game
Another way to help your dog change their behavior is teaching them the ‘Find It Game’. This is very beneficial and simple to do. You just toss treats on the ground and tell them to ‘find it’. It’s more about