Dogs don't pull on a leash. Pulling is not a behavior, it is the consequence of a behavior.
We think "the dog is pulling" because we feel the tension on our hand: the dog is going toward something or someone, or away from something or someone (owner included). Dogs don't learn to "not pull on the leash." They learn to be afraid of consequences, or they learn to use the space given and be comfortable in that space, with us. A dog who is not afraid of consequences can still pull on the leash.
If not totally inhibited, or very sensitive, a dog can always stop following us or pulling at the leash. This is because dogs do not stop seeing, hearing, smelling, and reacting to all stimuli they encounter, when on a leash. A dog may smell a scent and want to stop and sniff it. A male dog may be stressed by another dog and need to go and mark with urine. A dog may be afraid of something and try to move away. Dogs are alive, even when they are on a leash.
I teach owners what I call a Connection and Awareness Leash Walk, my goal is to develop communication and sharing between dog and human when they are bound by a leash.
One of the elements I teach, is consent. The dog pulls in a direction you don't want to go. The dog stops and refuses to follow you. The dog stares at a cat and acts as if the owner doesn't exist. The temptation to pull - or jerk - is strong. Pulling and jerking are zero communication. If you were pulling a sack of potatoes, it would be the same.
Consent is communication: give the dog an information, and enough time to understand it and choose to cooperate.
It's not even difficult: stay still, without orienting yourself toward the dog or stiffening in anger and frustration. Lock the leash, act like a pole. Don't get pulled, don't jerk, don't drag. Wait.
When you don't feel tension, try to move. If the dog follows you, you can also reward the dog with your voice. Actually the "good boy/girl" is more to make sure you don't carry negative emotions with you after the episode.
Think of waiting as giving the dog time to understand what you are communicating ("no, we are not going in that direction"), and time to choose to cooperate and get out of the conflict. Try to understand if pulling at that moment is because the dog needs to do something, and be ready to change strategy and follow through.
Leash walking should be something that brings us together, not an unpleasant exercise in dominance and control.
Following the dog won't take anything away from your relationship; in fact, it will make you discover how good it feels to share.
Text Alexa Capra 26 april 2021
Photo Alexa Capra
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