Q&A: My dog always pulls on the leash during walks; what can I do?

Question

We have a handsome Bassett mix that knows the basic commands and is always happy to please us-however, we have been unable to teach him to walk on leash without pulling. At 60 pounds and with his low center of gravity and strong scent drive he is a double handful on leash. How do we help him to be a better citizen while leash walking?

- Jonelle

Answer

Hi Jonelle -

Teaching any dog to walk politely on leash can be challenging, but especially with those dogs that have a low center of gravity and a super high drive to use their superb scenting abilities (i.e. a Bassett mix!). Also, consider that when you take most dogs out for a walk, they are probably pretty thrilled to get out of the house and to investigate all the wonderful smells, sights and sounds. So, you are essentially competing with a pretty distracting environment for your dog’s attention. With that said, you need to consider that on leash manners can be one of the more challenging skills to achieve. Therefore, prepare yourself for each lesson and plan to put in some effort in order to have more enjoyable walks in the future. There is no quick fix for this, but with plenty of practice and patience your Bassett mix will learn the benefits of walking politely by your side.

The first step is to choose your dog’s attire. For some dogs, a well-fitted buckle collar is fine. But, there are other tools that may give you more gentle leverage and can be especially useful in the installation phase of training. In particular, front clip harnesses are generally preferable over those which connect to the leash from a ring placed just behind your dog’s shoulders. Traditional or back clip harnesses tend to actually encourage pulling as they more evenly distribute your dog’s weight as they pull. That’s why these sorts of harnesses are used for sled dogs and carriage horses, they make it easier to pull. You might also consider a head halter. While these look like muzzles to some, they are not. They use the same concept of the types of head halters used to lead horses. If you gently control the head, it is easier to control the body.

In addition, you should outfit yourself with a treat pouch. This will allow you to have easy access to rewards you will use on walks as opposed to carrying something in your pocket which may take you time to retrieve.

It may sound a bit odd, but walking sessions should ideally begin inside of your home. Teaching your dog a foundation of understanding what it is you want when the leash is connected in an environment with as few distractions as possible is a baby step in the right direction and sets your dog up for better success when you start working outside.

The first sessions should be at your dog’s mealtimes so that he is highly motivated to pay attention to your lessons. Have his food in your treat pouch and start by asking him to sit at your side. Say ‘yes!’ when he does and offer him a piece of his food. Then, take a step or two forward. If the leash remains slack, say ‘yes!’ again and offer another piece of food. Repeat a few times and then try to take a couple of extra steps in between when you stop. With repetition, the words ‘yes’ will become a marker for your dog that what he was doing at the moment he hears it is the right thing and will result in a reward. 

Try adding in some changes of pace, some turns left and right, and plenty of stops so your dog can practice sitting at your side. With practice you should be walking about your house with your Bassett mix right by your side with a slack leash. 

When you head outside for practice sessions, consider reserving the most special treats he gets for these lessons. After all, you want to use the most high value rewards in the most distracting environments. Play the same walking games you played inside of your home and be sure to reward for even a few steps with a slack leash. Note, food rewards should be chopped into very tiny pieces so that you can build learning muscles with lots of repetitions and without fear of your dog gaining wait or becoming full.

When out for walks, consider that being allowed to take in a good sniff at specific spots can be used as a reward for walking nicely. So, instead of allowing your dog to drag you from sniffy spot to sniffy spot, have him walk nicely by your side for a bit and then say ‘OK!’ and allow him to enjoy putting his scenting abilities to good use before you two head off for another stretch of walking nicely together.

Woofs,

Andrea

About Andrea Arden

Andrea can be seen on Animal Planet's shows Dogs 101, Cats 101, Pets 101, America's Cutest Dog and America's Cutest Cat. She is the author of numerous best-selling books on animal behavior and training. Andrea is thrilled to be a part of Pets for Patriots' efforts to help its members successfully adopt and share their lives with shelter pets! Read more...