Just try walking an excitable, untrained dog on the bustling sidewalks of Manhattan. When Andrew Kudysch first took Lexus, the golden retriever he rescued from a shelter, on city walks, "she was a puller and a jumper; she did not walk well on a leash," he says. "I didn't know what to do."
Of course, Lexus was just being a dog -- most will pull naturally. But with proper training, head halters, or no-pull harnesses, most dogs can trot along without turning their owners into a frazzled mess.
Gwyn Donohue of Arlington, Va., was hiking along the Potomac River with her dog, Sundae, in January, when the mixed-breed broke loose and fell through the ice about 25 yards from shore.
Sundae pulled herself out after 10 frantic minutes. Fortunately, Donohue had American Red Cross Pet First Aid training and knew what to do.
To raise Sundae’s core temperature, she wrapped the dog in her down vest and used pet waste bags to fashion a belt to secure it. Back at the car, she continued warming the dog...
In the beginning, that requires lots of hard work, patience, and consistency, says Kristen Collins, MS, CPDT, an animal behaviorist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Collins favors a training method called "penalty yards." "If the dog pulls, the second the leash is taut, I'm going to back up three feet and stop," she says. Don't permit the dog to walk forward again until the leash becomes loose, she says.
Head halters can help with training, too, says Bonnie V. Beaver, DVM, professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University and an animal behavior expert. They're gentler than choke or prong collars. The halter, which differs from a muzzle, slips over a dog's snout and works much like a harness on a horse. If the dog pulls, the halter will turn its head down and sideways. "If the head can't go, the body can't go," Beaver says.
Treats for Training
When a dog isn't pulling, reinforce that good behavior with treats, Collins says. The dog learns that "not only do I get to go forward, I get the occasional food reward, too."
However, dole out goodies at random intervals only after your dog has been walking at your side for at least 15 to 30 seconds, she says. Whipping out a treat as soon as the leash slackens might give your pooch the wrong idea, Collins says.
And "don't forget the praise," Beaver says. "[You should] 'happy talk' to your dog so that he knows he's doing the right thing."
As Kudysch devoted more time to training, he found Lexus became even more companionable, he says. "I could let her off-leash, and she would stay right at my side and never let me out of her sight. She was very obedient."
After Lexus died, Kudysch brought home two new Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies. Now 6 months old, the duo are already getting used to being on leash. "A well-trained dog is going to make the owner happy, which is going to make everybody happy," he says.