Lead Training

by Kay Bouffard

"Recently I have had more than one puppy person experience lead-training issues with their [dogs]. The lead training starts out well; the person has patience and kindness, and teaches the pup that the lead is not to be feared. The pup begins to move reliably on lead and begins to go on walks with his owner. He’s still small and instinctively sticks close to the owner. All is well.

The trouble begins when the pup grows larger and bolder. He is very excited by new sights and sounds and smells, and the well-meaning owner (thinking he is being patient and kind) allows the pup to pull on the lead. The pulling quickly escalates until the pup pulls so hard that a hanging seems imminent. The owner is confused as to how their gentle little baby turned into a pulling maniac.

Here is some of the advice we’ve given when asked about a pup that was not only pulling but also overreacting to the barking of other dogs she met. I hope this will be useful to others, too.

Remember that the leash is not a training tool, it merely stops the pup from running away. Try beginning obedience exercises like about turns, encouraging him by tapping your own leg and using your voice. Teaching him to sit when you stop will also slow him down. Please be gentle, especially when the teething is at its worst.

Tapping your leg and saying Right here! and praising him when he listens will get you faster results and be more enjoyable training for both of you. An occasional treat when he obeys will help you keep his attention. Praise and a pet should be the standard reward.

It is also not unusual for a puppy to be concerned when another dog barks. If you ignore the noise, he will react less. Asking him to sit at this time will allow you to praise him for sitting even though he may be uncomfortable with the other dog. This is called a redirect.

A redirect enables you to get his mind off the unpleasantness. When he obeys your command, your praise turns it into a positive experience. This also develops a relationship whereby he will look to you for direction when he is uncomfortable. You can’t change how he thinks about something, but you can change what he thinks about! He will learn to trust that you will be there to take care of him, and he can relax.

It is very important to get the pup’s attention focused on you before he reaches full size and strength. Otherwise, these behaviors may take all the fun out of walks for both of you.

Special leads and collars may alleviate the “symptom” of pulling, but they cannot take the place of training. We can walk our own [dogs] and they do not even consider trying to drag us anywhere. This is not a miracle; it is the result of voice and lead conditioning from puppyhood. The pup naturally looks to the alpha for guidance and will readily walk properly on a lead while training. [Ours] is a sensitive breed and respond well to physical and verbal cues.

Be a good pack leader—reassure your dog that you are in control with both your voice and body posture, and train your dog to follow you.

CREDIT: Reprinted from the September, 2007, issue of the AKC Gazette with the permission of the author, who is the breed columnist for the Belgian Tervuren."