When you have a pulling dog…

Oh how I wish there’s a quick remedy for pulling dogs but unfortunately there’s no easy way!

Bowie pulled, and he’s a very STRONG and PERSISTENT puller as well. He’s so much better now and we started to (actually) enjoy walking him, rather than seeing it as a chore.

There were times when I just didn’t have the confidence and/or the patience to walk him. He would be pulling all over the place and ignoring my commands (or desperate pleas). He’s not even remotely interested in tasty treats, let alone engaging with me. It started to get dangerous for me and others as well. FYI – I’m 5 feet 2 (160cm) and weigh only 45 kilos compared to Bowie’s 30 kilos. When I took him for a walk, people often made comments that it looked like he’s taking (or dragging) me for a walk.

Recently I joined a Labrador forum and it seems that I wasn’t the only one having this problem. There are various views, opinions and techniques offered by both dog owners and trainers to address this issue – not without some heated discussions as well. I’m not a dog expert nor a trainer so I can’t say that this technique is wrong or bad, or that technique should be or not be used etc. All I know is that there’s no ‘one technique fits all’, even for the same breed. Like humans, dogs have different traits and personality. I say do your research, educate yourself and work with your dog trainer – the one you and your dog can trust. Give it a go – if your dog responds well then stick with it. You know your dog the best – their personality, temperament, motivation and triggers – and which technique works the best for you and your dog, even though perhaps it’s not the most ‘popular’ one.

In Bowie’s case, we needed to use a correctional tool to help with his training, including his ‘loose-leash walking’ training, and also for his and everyone’s safety. Our dog trainer put him on a choke chain – I could hear GASPS! – Okay, reserve your judgement. For a start, harness and/or ‘figure 8’ head halter didn’t work effectively on Bowie. Harness encouraged him to pull and though Bowie was more controlled with head halter, he figured out how to slip the halter off by rubbing his face on the ground. That presented us with new problems – he constantly stopped and rubbed his face on the ground, and ended up scratching his nose. Plus he seemed to hate it a lot.

I was a bit apprehensive with choke chain at first because of its bad reputation, but I gave it a go. With Bowie’s boisterous personality, he responded better with the short and sharp tug and release from the choke chain, and it didn’t seem to bother or hurt him. I don’t see choke chain as a solution to pulling dogs, but more like one of the many tools to help with his training at that time. Keep in mind though that not all breeds/dogs are suitable for choke chains and they shouldn’t be used to punish or show dominance. Work with your dog trainer to correctly and effectively use it.

Bowie is now off choke chain for good, and we use a short leash when walking and training him. He’s generally not pulling anymore, except when there’s HIGH distraction (eg. other dogs or funky smell), but he’s still manageable.

I find that I have to read the situation ahead and use my better judgement for each particular scenario that we’re in. Here are a few scenario examples and what works for us:

  • Scenario 1: It’s generally quiet in the park and I can see a group of people coming towards us. I’ll do a few short length of ‘sit’ and ‘drop’ training with Bowie, treat him lavishly and gradually increase the length of the sit/drop before rewarding him. His attention will be more likely on me and less on the people.
  • Scenario 2: There’s another dog coming towards us and it doesn’t look like a ‘calm’ dog. I’ll switch my regular walking speed to more a fast pace or jog, and keep his leash short but still loose. When Bowie’s keeping up with me and in a ‘heel’ position, I treat him lavishly. I find that helps keep his focus on me. We often do this when we’re out walking in the park – regular pace, fast pace, slow pace, regular pace, fast pace and so on – good cardio exercise for us!
  • Scenario 3: A couple with their dog are coming towards us. If they’re generally friendly and don’t mind Bowie saying hello to their dog, then I just do a bargain with him – Bowie needs to sit first then he can say hello to them.
  • Scenario 4: When the distraction is too high and I can see Bowie gets over excited and uncomfortable (ie. hackles or panting), I’ll remove him at once from the distraction and keep going.

I also find that it’s always helpful to check with your dog trainer now and then, if you’re doing the training correctly and consistently. Having such a smart and cheeky dog like Bowie, he knows he gets away with certain things with me and other things with my husband. I guess it’s like parenting, both parents need to be on the same page so the kids don’t get mixed messages.

Overall, he’s doing so much better and our training seems to pay off. He is calmer as he gets older. Hopefully as he’s matured he’ll get even more chilled out – finger-crossed!

Check out my other post ‘From Brat to Fab: The Power of Training’ and this helpful article about ‘The Three D’s in Dog Training’.