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Going for Draggies?

Canine Therapy Centre

At this time of the year, most of the calls I receive are from frustrated owners who are being pulled all over the place by their dogs. Some are literally being pulled off their feet. I can only surmise that with the lighter nights and slightly warmer weather here in Scotland, some dogs are being taken for walks more often than usual. It is only to be expected that in the anticipation and excitement of some fun, that all previous training goes completely out of the dog's head.

I recently had a call from one rather distraught owner asking for help with the aptly named "Dino", a 14 stone Newfoundland dog. When Dino sees another dog in the distance, his thoughts are on having some fun, and he is off like the wind. Adam, his owner, has been dragged along the ground on several occasions, doing damage to his back and arms. Adam said, "when Dino takes off he just forgets I'm there at the end of the lead." "He doesn't seem to notice that he is pulling a weight behind him." It was no longer a pleasure to take his dog for a walk, and Adams partner Julie refused to take Dino out as she could not control him on the lead.

In another case that I dealt with, the owner had actually developed stretch marks on his upper arms from his dog, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, pulling so hard on the lead.

Not only is this constant pulling uncomfortable for the person at the end of the lead, but can actually damage the dog's neck and windpipe. Research carried out in the United States has identified that many cases of aggression were due to dogs having neck alignment problems and associated pain. A high percentage of the dogs with these symptoms were persistent pullers on the lead. Once these dogs had spinal realignment, the aggressive behaviour significantly reduced.

Methods for Retraining

In cases like these I recommend the following techniques and tools for retraining, or training a young dog to walk on a loose lead. One is the use of the clicker, a tool for teaching your dog what behaviour you want. This is a small box that goes click-click when you press it. The first step in training your dog is to teach it that each time he hears the sound of the clicker, he is going to get a reward. (Usually a very special food treat.) Once the dog knows that the clicker means "a treat is coming", the trainer can then use the clicker as a sign for a behaviour that is wanted. For example when the lead is loose the dog gets a click and reward. When the lead is tight, just stop walking and give no response. The dog will soon learn which behaviour brings the reward.

"Give us a Clue" By Angela Stockdale is an ideal introductory booklet for getting started with your clicker training. Another good introductory book is "Clicker Training for Dogs", by Karen Pryor.

Gentle Leader

The other method I recommend for persistent pullers, is the use of the Gentle Leader. This is like a halter that would be used to lead a horse, fitted around the nose and up behind the ears. The leash fastens under the jaw to control the head. This is not a muzzle, and the dog can still open his mouth comfortably to pant, drink or eat.

If the dog pulls ahead of you, the Gentle leader brings his head down and turns his nose in towards you. This effectively stops him pulling. It is scientifically designed to direct your dog's entire body by controlling his head and nose, like a sort of power steering. Some dogs take to the head collar immediately, but some will initially resist it because of the unusual feeling around the nose. However once they have become used to this, it is a quick and simple method of training your dog to stop pulling on the lead.

The Gentle Leader, the only patented award winning head collar, was invented by veterinary surgeon Professor Robert Anderson, Director of the Animal Behaviour Clinic at the University of Minnesota. It has the recommendation of top UK behaviourist Peter Neville, and is now used by many behaviourists and dog trainers, instead of choke chains. It comes with full training and fitting instructions and also has internet back up, if needed.

Gentle Leader is not recommended for short nosed dogs, as this could affect their breathing. For these breeds I would suggest using a body harness, like the Walkezee Harness.

For those people who have strong dogs I would recommend the use of a Mikki training lead. This lead can be used in several positions, and can be attached diagonally across the chest, leaving your arms and hands free for dealing with your clicker and giving treats. Being attached across the chest means that when your dog pulls your full body can take the strain rather than being pulled forward by your arm and twisting your back.

Training Your Dog to Walk on a Loose Lead

First teach your dog to learn that the sound of the clicker means there is a treat coming. Do this by clicking and then giving a treat. Do this several times until your dog pricks his ears at the sound of the click and actively looks for the treat. When he does this you know that he is ready for training with this method.

Then fit your gentle Leader and let your dog become used to it as instructed in the training manual supplied.

You are then ready to start working on this exercise that should help retrain your dog to walk close by your side. Remember; always take things slowly and quietly. It is extremely important to be consistent. Your dog will never walk close by you, if you sometimes allow him to pull, and sometimes not.

1 Make sure you have your clicker and treats ready before you start. Do not throw the treats at your dog while you are walking, or you will make him jump up. Always stop, click and treat only when all four paws are on the ground.

Try this exercise first of all in the house without any distractions, and then progress by taking the dog out in your garden (if you have one), before venturing outside.

2 Get ready in your usual way to take your dog out for his walk. You are going to use your clicker to let your dog know when he is behaving in an acceptable way. If he is getting excited when you are getting ready to go out for your walk, just stop everything and ignore him until he has settled down. As soon as he has settled, click and treat. Try not to talk to him so that he can concentrate on the clicker telling him when he needs to know.

3 Putting on the lead - if your dog allows this without grabbing at it, click and treat. If he takes it in his mouth you must just ignore this until he drops it. As soon as he lets go click and treat. (If your dog will not let go, you could spray the lead with No-Chew to make it taste nasty to your dog.)

4 When you have the lead on, just stand for a few moments, until your dog is settled and by your side. As soon as he is, click and treat then walk on.

5 Walk only three steps. If your dog remains at your side click and treat. If he pulls, just stop and take him back to your start position. Do not yank on the lead, do not talk to him, just gently take three steps back. Continue with this until he walks by your side. Continue taking three steps, clicking and treating when he is by your side.

6 When he is consistently walking by your side at three steps, gradually increase the number of steps you take before clicking and treating.

8 When you have mastered the house and garden, you can then progress to carrying out the same exercise on normal walks. Remember your dog will probably be more excited at this and revert back to normal pulling.

9 Repeat stages 4,5 and 6 whilst you are out on your walks. Once your dog is walking by your side reliably, you can now introduce a command word such as "heel" or "close". As your dog comes in to your side use your command word then click and treat. Do not use your command if he is starting to pull away from you or he will associate the word with being in front of you rather than by your side.

With the clicker method, you should find your dog pays you much more attention and be less aware of other distractions around him. At first, try to do your training at times when you know it will be quiet so that you can keep his attention, and then gradually introduce some distractions.

10 Eventually your dog will want to be by your side because he knows this is where he is rewarded. When this happens you can then start to reduce the number of times you treat him with food. You can now keep him guessing as to when his treat is likely to come. Continue to praise him when he is behaving well and remember to give no response to bad behaviour.

Treats - you could use sausages cut in to very small pieces. If you are doing a lot of training make them small. You could also use cooked chicken cut into small pieces. Cheese cut up in to small pea size pieces is another favourite with dogs.

If you are still having difficulties, you may need expert help from a behaviourist, who can provide you with more detailed advice and guidance.

For further information on any of these products, see our website behaviour clinic at www.k9centre.co.uk, or telephone: +44 (0)1875 813213 to speak to our behaviourist. Notes for training your dog to walk on a loose lead are also available on our website. If you know of anyone who does not have access to the internet, they can send a stamped addressed envelope for a copy of these notes.

Carol Martin, 1 Inglis Farm, Cockenzie, East Lothian, EH32 0JT
Tel: 01875 813213. E-mail: carol@caninetherapycentre.co.uk