I was only knee-high to a grasshopper when one early spring morning, my mum and dad bundled my brother and me into our car. We set off to visit my mum’s cousin for the day. Little did we know that our little lives were about to change forever. The visit itself is a slight blur to me, and some of my memories of that day are fuzzy.
The main thing I do remember from that day, though, is that I spend most of the day playing with this gorgeous dog called Castor.
No one could have predicted when we set off that morning that Castor would be coming home with us. You see Castor was a stray, a gorgeous German Wirehaired Pointer and although every effort was made to locate his owners, it was to no avail.
Castor joined our family, and he was great with us kids. Patient, loving but strong and athletic. A true Pointer in every way. I remember wanting to take him for walks in the neighbourhood, but I was never allowed.
The above is one of my earliest memories, and it is not surprising that it involves animals.
As is often the case with rescue dogs, their past is often a complete mystery to their new owners. Just like we didn’t know where Castor had come from, what training he had been enjoyed nor why he was found straying on the streets of Putte. A lot of speculations fly around, and inevitably no value is added by trying to guess what came before.
As owner and trainer of a rescue, we have to deal with the dog in front of us.
The one thing I do remember about Castor, and the main reason why I was not allowed to take him for a walk, was that he pulled on the lead. Even my dad struggled to walk him.
I wish I had known back then what I know now about dogs and how to teach them to walk nicely on a lead. The thing is as a 5-year-old child; there was no way for me to know any of that stuff.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up on your rescue because he or she pulls. No, there are simple and effective ways to teach your rescue to walk with you instead of drag you from pillar to post.
Now, remember that as owners of a rescue dog, you have no or limited information about your dog’s learning history. Therefore, the best thing to do is to start right at the beginning.
To start at the beginning, we need to look at why dogs pull on the lead, and the main three reasons are:
- Your rescue dog has inadvertently been taught to pull on the lead.
- A little instinct called Opposition Reflex.
- Distractions & Obsessions.
So let’s take a look at the first of these reasons:
How to teach your dog to pull on the lead.
When introducing a lead to your puppy, you allow her to walk wherever she wants. You let her decide where she wants to go and you follow meekly behind holding on to the lead.
Your puppy spots a leaf fluttering by and decides that chasing it is a great game. You try and keep up but inevitably as your puppy pounces and darts, the lead goes tight.
Instinctively she starts to fight against this pressure. Feeling trapped, she pulls to getaway. You hate to see her in distress, so you follow. Trying to release the tension in the lead because you don’t want her to hurt herself.
Now fast a few days forwards. Now as soon as the lead goes on, puppy tries to pull away. You put a little tension on the lead as you are trying to teach her to follow you.
Your puppy remembers the pressure she felt on her little neck the first time she had the lead on. She didn’t like it, so she starts to fight. You apply a bit more tension to the lead to get her to come to you, and your puppy responds by fighting even harder.
Congratulations you have just taught your dog to pull on the lead.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
You might recognise Newton’s Third Law of Motion, it is also referred to as “Opposition Reflex”.
This is the term we tend to use in dog training when we talk about this automatic response that causes our dogs to resist pressure with an equal (or greater) force.
Just think about what happens if someone leans into you, you don’t fall over, do you?
Because of opposition reflex, you instinctively match the force that is being put on you by the leaning.
Sometimes the solution to this problem can be as simple as preventing the opposition reflex from happening. This can be by changing from a collar and lead combination to a head collar or even a harness and lead combo. While changing the equipment you use can have a positive effect, it will not solve the problem in the long term.
Obsessions and distractions
This is because dogs can become obsessed with going to the park or beach because that is where exciting things happen. The prospect of being able to play with other dogs becomes such a strong pull that your dog will drag you to the park or beach.
And then we have distractions.
Different environments present different distractions for your dog:
- At the beach, there are lots of distractions. There is water to paddle in, loose sand shifting under their paws, making it irresistible for your dog not to start running and bouncing around.
- In the woods, there are squirrels, deer, rabbits, pheasants to chase, and lots of unusual smells to explore and trails to follow.
Your dog will be desperate to go and explore all these exciting things. In her eagerness to get where she wants to go, she pulls. Because, the way your dog sees it, pulling will get her access to the things she wants quicker.
When you are teaching your rescue dog to walk on a nice loose lead, you need to take all these struggles into account and work on solving each one in turn.
Natasja Lewis DipCABT
Canine Development Coach, Author, Podcaster and dog mum extraordinaire.
For the past 24 years, Natasja has been helping struggling dogs and frustrated dog owners to connect during training through the heart, not the collar and lead. She has written 2 books to date and her latest book “No Pulling Allowed” can be found on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback formats by clicking here now
If you need help or advise turning your Painfully Disappointing Drag into a Delightfully Relaxing Stroll visit her website https://www.nightsabredogtraining.co.uk