Dear Miss Behavior: My dog pulls so hard she chokes herself. She gags and coughs and her bark sounds funny. How do I teach her not to pull?
That’s a problem? Hook her up to the front of your car and save yourself some gas! But seriously . . .
There are several tools that will help you teach her not to pull. The first thing to remember is that these are tools. Many people put on a training collar or harness and then think, “That’s it; it’s a miracle. I don’t have to train my dog.” The problem is the dog never learns anything; the owner just has better leverage while the training tool is on the dog.
The first tool many trainers think of when a dog pulls is the prong collar. This collar closes around the dog’s neck with dull spikes and some say mimics the bite of the dog’s mother. The collar, properly fitted, gives the dog a correction for pulling. It limits the amount of force they can use to pull. The harder she pulls the more correction she receives.
The next tool is the head-halter; Halti® and Gentle Leader® are two brands of head-halters. They go around the dog’s neck and over the dog’s nose to control the dog’s head. The action of pulling makes the dog’s nose go down or to the side, limiting her forward motion.
No-pull harnesses are newer and becoming increasingly popular. There are two main types of harnesses. The first has the leash attach to the front of the harness, when the dog pulls the harness turns them toward the owner. The second uses loops that attach to a collar and run under each front leg. This type of harness tightens around the front legs and pulls the collar downward when the dog pulls.
Each tool has it pros and cons and I recommend you do some research on which type, if any, you’d like to try. Tools are meant to be used and then faded. Your dog shouldn’t have to be on a no-pull harness for the rest of her life. Using one of the tools might make it easier at first, but whether you use a special collar/ harness or not, you need to train your dog.
Once you’ve picked your training collar or harness, you can start training your dog not to pull. Have your dog on a collar they can’t back out of, it can be a buckle collar, a chain collar or a tool mentioned above. Try to pick a color that goes with your dog’s coat color. She’ll want to look her best.
Then when you have time to dedicate to your dog, put her on her leash and collar and stop. You’re probably still in your house which may or may not have any distractions, but that’s okay, don’t move forward yet. Remember that if you pull the leash up and keep it tight the dog will just think they’re supposed to pull.
If the dog is on a training collar (chain, nylon or a prong), give a correction (a little tug) as they hit the end of the leash. If they’re on a harness or flat buckle collar, do not recommend you correct your dog. On a head-halter, don’t tug or allow the dog to hit the end of the leash with any force.
When the leash is loose praise the dog and give her a small, high value treat (liver, cheese, Chateaubriand). Take a step towards the door praising the dog as you move. If the dog hits the end of the lead, stop. Correct or wait out the pull, when the dog realizes tugging gets her nowhere she most likely will turn to see what the problem is. Praise and reward her and take another step forward, continue to praise her as you move forward. Anytime she hits the end of the leash, stop. Correct or wait out the pulling behavior. Only move forward when the leash is loose. No one ever said this was a quick fix.
You may not get out of your yard the first time. The goal is to never reward the dog for pulling. (Allowing the dog to go somewhere while pulling is rewarding the dog.) When you find you can get several steps without the dog pulling, start to fade the treats, but continue to praise the dog for walking with you.
Once the dog gets the idea of walking with you, don’t forget to occasionally reward the dog and definitely don’t reward any more pulling. If you’re using a training tool, begin to switch back and forth between the training tool and a regular collar. This way she’ll learn she can’t pull even if she’s on a flat buckle collar.
For more advice and practice, you might consider taking a Good Dog Class with the Greater Lincoln Obedience Club.
Thanks to this feature goes to Greater Lincoln Obedience Club, who ran the Miss Behavior Dog Advice Column in their newsletter. Appreciation also is extended to Marcy Graybill, a trainer at GLOC and the expert behind this column. She also hosts her own blog, Dog Log, where she talks about training adventures with her dogs.