So hopefully my first blog on this subject has given you reason to consider the validity of the dominance theory and my second blog explained that one of the actions commonly thought of as a dog showing dominance is actually a dog being, well, a dog! So on to other actions that are supposed to be dominance…
Pulling on the Lead
So often you will hear advocates of dominance theory saying that a dog pulling on the lead is a sign of a dominant dog. It’s pulling you through doors and gates? That’s because in wolves the pack leader always goes first. It’s pulling you on walks? That’s because the wolf pack leader is always in front. As I outlined in my first blog, wolf packs are not groupings of wolves fighting for pack leader status - they are family groups sticking together for the benefit of the pack and their young. The theory about being in front doesn’t hold weight when it comes to wolves any longer - so does it really seem viable that a pulling dog is pulling because it wants to be dominant? I don’t think so, but let’s look at why dogs pull…
Why Dogs Pull
When dogs are puppies, they are often excited by everything and they pull towards these things. Often, because we are so concerned with getting our pups out into the big wide world to socialise them well whilst they are young, we let this slide. Within a few months we are faced with a larger, adolescent dog, who is pulling us towards everything, frequently knocking us off balance and causing us a lot of discomfort. What’s changed? Well from your dog’s point of view, nothing! It learnt whilst it was young that part of the process of getting to see something was to pull towards it. Every time it saw something it wanted to investigate more, it pulled and was rewarded by getting closer to it. A pulling dog isn’t a dominant or bad dog, it is just a dog who hasn’t been trained to overcome its natural instinct to always run towards things it wants to see! Also, it’s worth considering that to dogs, a collar and lead are not ‘natural’, they restrict them from doing what they want to do (see, sniff, greet!) and they would not chose to wear them. So it is down to us humans, who want them to wear these things, to teach them how we want them to wear and act in them.
How to Train your Dog not to Pull
The nicest way to do this is to simply reward your dog when it is walking next to you with a loose lead. The reward needs to be something that your dog loves (food or toy is great) and if you can pair it with a clicker to mark the point at which he got the reward – this point being when the lead is relaxed, not pulled – so much the better. At first you may want to practice this at home, or in the garden, where there is less distraction for your dog to pull towards. Frequently changing directions is a great way to maximise the opportunities for reward, by allowing you to put some slack in the lead when you change direction. Maximising the opportunities to reward your dog on loose lead walking is important. Why? You need to show your dog the actions that get rewards, and the actions that don’t - so when your dog pulls, it realises it gets no rewards from this, but when he doesn’t, he gets loads!
Gradually you can then build up to environments where there is more distraction, not too quickly though, remember you need to keep maximising the opportunities to reward your dog. Dogs do not generalise well, each different environment is new to them and they need to be trained that they also need to not pull in this exciting new environment – for this reason, you may feel like you are going backwards when you take your loose lead walking out and about, but try not to get frustrated. Start again with lots of rewards and your dog will learn ‘oh, I do that here TOO’! With time, walking on a loose lead will be a natural action to your dog.
What do you do in these environments, if and when your dog pulls towards something? Many people (myself included!) have problems with their dog walking fine on the lead when there are no people/dogs/rabbits etc around, but the second one of these is spotted, pulling starts! This is quite normal, when I coach lead walking, we nail it in easy environments first, then we build up by increasing the 3 Ds – distance, duration and distraction, one at a time! It can be frustrating to go back to square one in the face of a new distraction, but with plenty of repetitions and ensuring that you give your dog plenty of chances to get it right, you will soon be on your way to having a dog that won’t pull!
It’s worth remembering that that the reason why your dog wants to pull to those things is that it wants to get to see them, if you allow this, you are rewarding the pulling – continually doing this whilst you are in loose lead training with your dog will set back your training. For this reason, if you are unable to spend time practicing loose lead walking on a walk, it is best to use a no-pull collar or harness (like a Gentle Leader) which will allow you to ‘put a pin’ in your training, by stopping your dog from pulling on that walk. This will not fix pulling when you aren’t using this harness, but it will prevent your dog from pulling when it is on, so you do not have to worry about it getting accidentally rewarded!
Of course it is one thing to know the theory behind training loose lead walking, it is quite another to put it into practice. If this is something you are struggling with, then please do get in touch with me. I can coach you through training your dog to walk on a loose lead and work with you to gradually increase the 3 Ds.
Loose Lead Walking on TV Shows
So, pulling on the lead, a sign of dominance, or a training issue? Well I think it is definitely the latter. But perhaps you are wondering about episodes of certain TV shows where a dog is repeatedly yanked on his collar to walk to heel? It works there doesn’t it? So even if it’s not dominance, the training works? Well, sadly not. Often on some of these shows, a pulling dog is ‘tired out’ in one of a variety of ways, one of them being a run whilst the dog pulls someone on a scooter or rollerblades. Then the training starts, makes sense right? Well, not to me, firstly, the pulling has just actively been encouraged before it is ‘trained out’ – that’s a bit of a mixed message for the dog. Secondly, training a knackered dog to not pull on the lead is easy, it’s too tired to pull, unless it’s really excited by something! Unfortunately given that most owners walk their dog on a lead to tire out the dog, it’s not really such a great fix is it?
Then the owner is shown that to stop their dog pulling, they need to give a tug on the leash, preferably sideways, to ‘snap the dog out of it’. Okay, this works, but not in the way that’s said. The tug on the leash hurts the dog and stops the dog short. Walking recommences, dog pulls, gets hurt, stops pulling. Eventually the dog works out that to avoid pain, it doesn’t pull. I know that advocates of this technique will say it doesn’t cause pain – all I can say is, rubbish. Try putting a collar and lead around your neck and having someone pull on it. It hurts and it will hurt your dog! If you still don’t believe me, ask your vet, they will have seen many cases of dogs injured by this type of ‘training’. The bottom line for me is, if you can agree that pulling on a lead is a natural instinct for your dog and therefore admit that it’s you who doesn’t want your dog to pull on the lead – is it really ethical for you to punish your dog for not doing what you want?
The other problem with this type of technique is that it can cause additional issues. Imagine this. Your dog sees another dog on the lead, it wants to go say hi, so it pulls on the lead. You yank the lead, which hurts your dog. In your mind, you are punishing the pulling. From your dog’s mind, it’s seen another dog and instinct has made it want to say hi, then it got hurt. Repeated enough, your dog no longer gets excited at seeing another dog, it becomes fearful of it, because it wants to avoid the hurt that is often associated with seeing another dog. Fear often gives rise to the fight/flight reflex, so it could even cause dog/dog aggression! Are you prepared to take that risk?
This isn’t intended to be a ‘pop’ at dog TV shows, they are entertainment and should be treated as such! Pay heed to the advice to consult a professional! If you’d like to discuss your loose lead walking with me, then do get in touch via email to [email protected].
So I hope that now I have shown you that pulling on the lead is not a sign of dominance, but a training issue! Next up is eating first, stealing food and resource guarding. I’d love to say I’ll keep it short, but I’m sure I won’t – my blogs are my soapbox moments!
If you have any feedback on this blog, I’d love to hear it, post a comment.
The Inspiration behind this blog has come from:
The Culture Clash – Jean Donaldson
Don’t Shoot the Dog – Karen Pryor