Dear Miss Behavior: My Dog Pulls So Hard She Chokes

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?

missbehaviorThat’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. Though they are shiny, they aren’t as stylish as diamonds!

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. Also, a limited color palette makes it difficult to find the perfect match for your dog’s coat.

No pull harnesses are newer and becoming increasingly popular. There are two main types of harnesses: one that 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 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. Stylish though it may be, it certainly limits one’s wardrobe! 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 pick your tool, follow the below steps to train your dog not to pull.

Put your dog on his leash and collar and stop. Don’t move forward. If you pull the leash up and keep it tight, your dog will just think he’s supposed to pull.

If the dog is on a training collar, I might give a correction (a little tug) as he hits the end of the leash. If he’s on a harness or flat buckle collar instead, I don’t recommend you correct him. On a head-halter, I’d discourage you from tugging or allowing him to hit the end of the leash with any force.

When the leash is loose, praise your dog and give him a small, high value treat. Take a step towards the door praising him as you move. If he hits the end of the lead, stop. Correct or wait out the pull. When your dog realizes that tugging will get him nowhere, he’ll most likely turn to see what the problem is. Praise and reward him and take another step forward. Continue to praise him as you move forward. Anytime he hits the end of the leash, stop. Correct or wait out the pulling behavior. Only move forward when the leash is loose.

You may not get out of your yard the first time. The goal is to never reward your dog for pulling. (Allowing your dog to go somewhere while pulling is rewarding him.) When you find you can get several steps without him pulling, start to fade the treats, but continue to him for walking with you.

Once your dog gets the idea of walking with you, don’t forget to occasionally reward him 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 your dog will learn he can’t pull even if she’s on a flat buckle collar.

marcygraybillThanks 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.

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