Stop Choking the Dog!

I am sitting at a local restaurant just watching the world go by as we wait for the food to arrive. I spot an older man with a youngish Golden Retriever. It appears they are both going for a walk. The dog is in close proximity of the owner and occasionally moves away from the man. Every time the dog does this, the person pulls on the leash automatically – without even thinking or interacting in no other way with his dog.

Arg! It is so ubiquitous – people literally choking their dogs because the dog has not been taught to not pull on leash.

Just imagine what a dog must feel when it is being led or pulled back with the collar around the neck.

You can get a sense of this by placing your hands carefully around your neck. Now, if you have not had enough awareness of what it feels like to the dog with this gentle and calculating move, put some pressure. Not fun, right? And this is what we do to dogs all the time! It is actually even worse for the dog than us just placing our hands around our own neck because we can exercise control of how much pressure to use and we are not going to go beyond what feels acceptable. Our dogs do not have that option.

It literally makes me sick to my stomach when I see someone obliviously walking and basically dragging their dog along – not even looking for one split second to see what their dog is doing or to invite the dog to move along. And this is how we treat [wo]man’s best friend?

Bad news for dogs everywhere because they did not get the memo about our expectations of them to walk nicely with us – without pulling or else…

Dogs pull on their leashes for a variety of reasons.

1. In their world leashes are irrelevant! In other words, it is not normal dog behavior to walk at our speed or to remain always close to us. Their noses invite them in so many directions; that is how they make sense of the world.

2. Their center of gravity is just behind their front legs making their bodies sort of propelled forward- as in ready to go!

3. No one has taught the dog not to pull.

4. The dog pulls, i.e. leash is taught and people continue to walk, or more accurately, being dragged by their dog reinforcing the dog’s pulling behavior.

It is such an unnatural behavior for dogs, that if they don’t learn not to pull before they turn a year old it is going to be a long and arduous process once the person decides to teach them the skill. Not impossible though.

There is one technique that I discovered while working with a very strong puller; a Lab mix. I was amazed at how readily this lovely Lab gave me eye contact as I stood behind the taught leash. The technique is simple enough to explain and I think it will provide people and their dogs with some relief.

As you are standing with your dog on a taught leash, you will proceed to take a few steps to the side. You are still behind your dog but now your dog can see you via peripheral vision. As your dog catches your movement, invite him to move along.

Most likely your dog will come towards you, and as he does, the leash is now loose. If we really take stock of our dog pulling we can make sure we do not reward by continuing to move; which in essence is why your dog is pulling in the first place.

The second suggestion I have for working with compulsive pullers is to interact often with the dog during the walk. See it as being in-the-moment therapy! Or spending time with a dear friend.

In my view, one of the virtues that dogs possess is that their mere presence and our interactions with them can be a constant reminder for us to slow down and bring awareness to how we comport ourselves. It is as if they are holding a permanent mirror – reflecting us back.

If we care enough and take the time to pay attention we can begin to treat dogs with more kindness and respect, and as a result, our walks will become a practice in cooperation.