The excitement of a dog at the start of a walk is contagious. Pet lovers are greeted by their pups with howls, wiggles, play bows, doggy style dances, kisses and more. In the initial moment, that first step into the great outdoors (or the Cambridge Common for some!), feelings that include joy, stimulation, freedom, curiosity emanate from our canine comrades. Ready to have some fun many dogs begin to run even when their human companion is not! Hence dogs pull. Makes sense. Dogs are clearly not meant to be on leashes. If we could let our dogs run free the moment we leave home we would, yet reality and common sense remind us quickly that this is not possible, especially in chaotic cities and bustling towns. Although there are many fantastic dog parks and fields where we take our dogs to run and play off leash, a walk is often required to get us there. So the challenge, at times then is to make a leash driven walk one that is safe and fun for everyone, humans and canines alike.
Internationally renowned trainer Victoria Stilwell illustrates a few basic, yet clearly effective, strategies that prevent pulling in her recent article and video entitled “Loose Leash Walking” (which can be found on her website (https://positively.com/dog-behavior/basic-cues/loose-leash-walking). Stilwell demonstrates that, by simply not allowing dogs to pull, insisting consistently on walking only when the leash is loose, many to most dogs can learn to coordinate their walking speed to match that of their human companion.
Both Stilwell's "stop and be still" and "reverse direction" techniques are powerful methods to teach your dog to be mindful of your needs just as you are steadfastly mindful theirs. With the “stop and be still” technique, pet owners and caregivers simply refuse to walk when their dog is pulling. Then the “reverse direction” technique, as is also illustrated by Stilwell in her video, seems to serve as a reminder to dogs that they must be just as in tune with the speed, direction, and body movements of their owners, as we are with theirs.
During a training session Stillwell will change direction repeatedly in a short span of time, reinforcing to her canine trainees that they will need to follow her body, without pulling the leash, in order to get where they want to go. Rewards for following her lead, which may include praise, toys, or treats vary, depending on each dog’s unique interests. You can view this fantastic video and article, along with other useful pieces on Victoria Stilwell’s website (https://positively.com).