January is walk your pet month, and I have to admit something – for years I hated walking my dog Daisy because she’s a puller. I mean, a real puller. I consider myself a good, or at least adequate, dog trainer. But there is one area that I have failed at – teaching my dogs to walk on leash instead of pulling like sled dogs. As such, this is my story of how not to walk your dog.
I adopted Daisy in 2008 from a shelter in northern Idaho. She was a quiet and gentle dog. I remember walking through the shelter, passing up on all the jumping, boisterous barking dogs and instead fixing my gaze upon Daisy, a medium-sized black pup, who quietly sat hunched over in a corner. Little did I know that this cute, quiet dog was going to give me a run for my money.
I quickly learned that Daisy was strong – she’s a Labrador retriever/American Staffordshire terrier mix, so that’s a given. Early walks with Daisy were like tug of war and I was generally the loser. Things could turn downright ugly if she saw a squirrel or a cat or another dog. Having had little experience with canines, I purchased a harness to protect Daisy’s neck during walks. I later learned that harnesses can actually encourage dogs to pull harder on a leash.
A few months later, I enrolled Daisy in her first obedience class. Daisy excelled and we participated in an advanced course. We tested for the Canine Good Citizen certification. She passed, but struggled with – you guessed it – the walking on a loose leash section of the testing. The course instructor recommended I try a choke chain. I didn’t like the sound of that, but I trusted the trainer. I purchased the chain, used it for awhile, then stopped. I didn’t like pulling, but I really didn’t like choking my dog either. Plus, I read that improper use of this training collar could permanently damage a dog’s trachea.
So it was back to square one.
Next, I tried a gentle leader after being promised that it was magic. But no dice. Daisy refused to walk on the gentle leader. When she finally did, she still pulled. I also tried tying the leash around Daisy’s waist, a method that puts gentle pressure on the dog’s waist when it pulls on the leash. This is supposed to be uncomfortable for the dog and stop them from pulling. Daisy didn’t care though.
At this point I was desperate and I enrolled in a 6-week “walking with your dog on leash” class. Mostly, we used treats as bait to get our dogs to heel. Supposedly, you can eventually decrease the frequency in which you are treating. When the dog pulls ahead, you gently change direction and reward when they resume walking with you. This was really successful with Daisy during the chicken every two seconds phase. But as I would decrease the frequency of treating, she would inevitably lose interest in the practice altogether. Sometimes she’d even lose interest in the actual treats if I didn’t change it up often. I practiced this method off and on for a year or two, but eventually decided the effort was not worth the results. So, we were back to pulling. And then I got another dog, so now it was two against one.
I’m not quite sure how Rosie would have been on leash if not exposed to Daisy’s poor walking etiquette. But as it went, Rosie quickly became a puller too. With two sled dogs pulling me across the pavement, I got into my share of predicaments. They were like two gang members walking around, looking for things to harass. I was worried about my safety as well as that of Daisy and Rosie. At this time, I enlisted the assistance of a professional trainer. She gave me two pinch collars.
I examined the collars in her hand. They were scary looking, which made me hesitant about using them. The trainer asked me to stick my arm out, and to my surprise, she wrapped one of the collars around my wrist and jerked it to prove it was really just a pinch. Consequently, I took her advice and tried the collars. They were quite effective, but I couldn’t stand the fact that they looked like some sort of torture devices. After about a year, I discontinued using the collars.
That brings me to today. My dogs excel at a number of obedience commands and participate in agility. Yet we just can’t quite get our act together on walks. My dogs pull and I have made the personal decision to stop trying to fight it and manage the problem the best I can. This means power walking to keep up with Daisy and Rosie and keeping an eye open for things that might get them excited so I can refocus their attention before chaos ensues. It also means cooing “good girl” and saying “no” a lot (I mean, like every few seconds) to mixed results.
Perhaps I am a failed trainer, but it’s not for lack of trying. At the end of the day though, I finally love walking my dogs. Though they aren’t the perfect on-leash companions, the looks of joy on their face when I ask “Wanna go for a walk?” are priceless.
Do you struggle with walking your dog on leash or do you have a perfect walking companion? Feel free to share your struggles or training solutions in the comments section below.