Part I: why pull?

(Part II next time: what to do about it)

One of the biggest challenges for any dog owner, whether she’s a first-time dog owner or a professional, is to teach her pup to walk without pulling on leash. It is not a “one and done” pursuit: it’s a long-term project.
Good leash walking skills are a dog’s ticket to the world, but when it’s a battle between the two ends of the leash, we both lose out.

High Expectations
It’s a tremendous ask to expect a dog to drop its genetic programming and replace it with something as unnatural as heeling*, so we have to understand where the dog is coming from first before we delve into a training plan.
Why is it so darned difficult?

Dog the Explorer
You’ve probably never seen a loose dog trot slowly in a straight line, looking up and ignoring the world around him. Dogs are naturally pulled in all directions by an intense curiosity about their environment. Their noses guide them towards a plethora of sensory benefits. This “seeking behavior” should be embraced and enabled as much as is safely possible as it plays an essential role in their emotional and physical health.
Dogs are not simply sniffing: they are collecting important data about their world. Familiarity with their environment provides a sense of security, predictability, and satisfaction - or sometimes gives them reason to be concerned. Curiosity is good!

Constant Motion
Our dogs want to be in motion. This is difficult when combined with the much slower and linear stride of a human. Most dogs walk much faster than the typical human, so she must unnaturally adjust her pace to match. This is hard work and has nothing to do with leadership or being “alpha”. If you’ve ever tried to walk with someone who walks much slower than you do, you have an inkling for how tough it is. Take me, for instance. I am a fast walker, but my husband is a slow walker. It’s difficult for me to slow down but equally difficult for him to take longer strides. We have to compromise and meet in the middle.

Pulling is Fun… And it Works!
When a dog is drawn towards the exploration of his surroundings (his purpose in life, mind you) but is restricted, his natural response will be to… try harder! The dog’s efforts are usually rewarded by being able to successfully move towards that thing that drew his attention. He instantly makes note of that: “pulling is a good strategy to get what I want, so I will employ it again as my ‘go to’, so to speak.”
It’s no wonder so many dog owners reach for any tool that might help, even if it hurts the dog, because a pulling dog is very difficult to manage, especially when he is large. Aversive tools such as choke chains, prong collars, and shock collars do nothing to condition a dog to want to be close to us. In fact, you may have noticed that dogs will still pull even with these punishment-based collars.
Imagine if the table were turned and we were forced to match the pace and movements of our dogs instead of them having to match ours.
Next Month: what to do about it! Simple approaches to teaching loose leash walking. Stay tuned!

Happy Training!

*The term “heel” typically refers to a position in consistent close proximity to the handler's feet where the dog is looking up at the handler and following the handler's movements. This may be on leash or off.

**The term “loose leash walking” generally describes a dog who may be on a longer leash with freedom to explore, but who stays within the confines of the range of the leash without pulling. A strict position relative to the handler is not necessary.

Diana Logan, CPDT-KA Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge-Assessed  
Pet Connection Dog Training, North Yarmouth, Maine
 www.dianalogan.com | 207-252-9352

Back to blog