What the pecking order is, is very important to a dog. There are many ways in which the dog tries to establish order and become the leader, and one of the many ways is pulling on a leash, trying to dictate the pace and direction of our walks. In a pack, the leader is in charge of where the pack goes and how they get there (migration). It is important that we establish ourselves as a leader in a way that speaks to the dog by not allowing the dog to pull on a leash.
When training your dog, having a great foundation in basic obedience is the key to success, and this all starts with walking your dog on a leash. There are a couple of things to know before even hooking your dog up to a leash.
- You need some type of correctable collar. A harness and flat collar encourage your dog to pull, and there is no correction for the dog choosing not to follow you.
We start with a properly fitting choker, until we get the dog walking with us and looking at us. Then, we typically move to a properly fitting prong collar, that even it though looks like a harsher correction, is much safer than a choker, and has no potential for physical injury.
- You need the right type of leash. We typically recommend a six-foot leash, that way you have some room but you don’t spend the whole time wrapped up in the leash.
Now that you have your dog hooked up to the right kind of collar and leash you can begin playing a game of follow the leader with your dog. So, when starting out we are going to have good leash control. That means, your right hand holds the loop of the leash and then holds the leash one more time. The left hand holds the leash further down towards the dog and both hands are on the leash with the knuckle side facing out. See picture below:
It is important that you use movement and DO NOT HOLD THE DOG in place. When dogs pull in front of us our natural instinct is to pull back, but this becomes a fight between you and the dog. Instead of pulling back you are going to give leash and turn and walk the other way. The dog will run into the end of his leash because he was not paying attention to you and thus a self-correction occurs.
You then continue with the game, walking the dog on the leash, trying to catch him not paying attention. As soon as the dog is not paying attention to you, you go and turn the other way. Eventually, the dog will realize that every time he is not paying attention to you, his leader, he runs into the end of his leash. The result: your dog will begin to be aware of you and where you are at all times.
Start in a quiet area without much distraction and keep the first couple sessions short and high energy, three twenty minute sessions are better than one one-hour session. As you begin having success with that, begin increasing the level of distractions, until you have a dog that is looking to you at all times no matter what’s going on around you. By establishing this basic principal you begin to show yourself as a leader and have set a solid foundation for further training.