Taking a walk with the family dog should be enjoyable for both the dog and pet "parent," but the experience can be quickly spoiled when leash pulling becomes an issue.
Most dogs pull on their leashes because their owners have unwittingly trained them to do so. When the leash becomes tight, our natural instinct is to either pull back, which can cause some dogs to pull even harder, or to speed up, which sends a signal to the dog that pulling will get it where it wants to go even faster. Some dogs pull at their leashes, and may even lunge, bark and become aggressive, only when another dog is nearby.
A dog that pulls at the leash under most circumstances needs to be retrained. In most instances, the following procedure works well. When holding a leash, a person's arm should be relaxed and bent at the elbow. As soon as your arm starts to straighten, stop or head off in a completely different direction – right, left, backwards, it doesn't matter. Your dog will soon realize that you are in charge of determining where and how fast the two of you get to your destination. Dogs will quickly learn to keep an eye on their owners while walking on leash so that they don't "miss" a sudden stop or turn. The owners of dogs that are generally well behaved on leash but act aggressively when another dog comes into sight need to learn how to focus their pet's attention away from the approaching animal. In these cases, a head collar, rather than a traditional neck collar, can be very helpful when used appropriately.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008