Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How to make your dog walk nicely on a leash

Liam resting in his bed after a long walk
Liam resting after a long walk.
I take Liam for two walks per day, and three weeks ago, I would have said that Liam has nice manners on a leash. Now that I can only use one arm on these walks (since I am still wearing my sling after shoulder surgery), I have a different opinion. Liam tends to pull, run and lag behind on most walks, and he's hard to control with only one hand.

On a standard walk, most dogs will dart and pull. Male dogs, in particular, are notorious for this behavior as they like to mark most surfaces you pass along the walk. Even dogs that only weigh 24 pounds can pull you off your feet if they run in a different direction without warning. I can't imagine what my surgeon would say if I had to pull a Mulligan on my surgery because of my pug.

Training a dog to walk nicely on a leash isn't easy. Most of the time, you must be hyper aware of your dog, and stay on the lookout for head movements that signal a run is near.

Liam tends to pull his ears forward and tighten his wrinkles before he darts away. If I catch this behavior, I give him a sharp "No!" and he stays in line. If I don't catch the behavior and he darts away, I stay completely stone still and ask him to come back to my feet and sit nicely. I don't move forward or back until he completes this command.

Some dog owners can use no-pull halters that force the dog's head into an unnatural position when the dog pulls. The dog may end up looking down or flipping around at the end of a pull, and they may learn to stop pulling as a result. Unfortunately, most of these halters fit around a dog's muzzle. Snub-nosed breeds like pugs can't wear these halters, since they have no noses.

If anyone knows of a no-pull halter that would work for a pug, shoot me an email message. My surgeon and I would appreciate it!

But there is a secret weapon you can use in place of a no-pull harness. That weapon? A cookie. The theory is that you can use a treat to make your dog look at you, not at something else, and the cookie is a way to reward that behavior. The treat doesn't have to be huge to work. Even a tiny nibble will do the trick. As long as the dog gets something for behaving, you're on the right track.

I'm using cookies, and I can tell you that they work. Yes, it's hard to give out cookies with one hand, but the snacks keep Liam from pulling me off my feet. Catching myself with one hand if I fall would be harder, I reckon.

Good luck! Hope you have the same success I've had.