By Tim Falk
Published: 01/21/2022, edited: 01/21/2022
Walking a big dog can sometimes be a big challenge. Even the gentlest of giants can be a handful on the leash, and controlling an excitable or poorly trained large breed can leave you with a very sore shoulder. In some cases, it can even be quite dangerous for you and for the dog.
Regardless of whether you’re the pet parent of an enormous Newfoundland or a sizable Saint Bernard, or you're a professional dog walker looking for ways to manage your larger four-legged clients, it’s essential that you know how to walk your big dog safely. Keep reading for simple tips and advice on how to do exactly that.
The reason why dogs pull is simple: it gets them where they want to go, and quickly.
No matter how much your dog may love you, being tethered to you by a leash isn’t always conducive to having a good time. As far as your dog is concerned, humans walk very slowly — and your sedate pace is stopping them from sniffing new smells, meeting new dogs and people, and exploring the world around them. Their natural response is to pull.
Unfortunately, this behavior is quite easily reinforced. Your dog can quickly learn that pulling on the leash gets them closer to that enticing new smell, dog, person, or adventure, and it soon becomes a habit. And if that dog happens to be a large or giant breed, this can make walking them an unpleasant and stressful experience.
Happily, you can train dogs of all shapes and sizes not to pull on the leash.
If you’re going to walk any dog, you need to have the right equipment for the job. This is especially true for big dogs who, when they have their heart set on getting somewhere in a hurry, can be very hard to stop.
Start with a leash that’s strong and sturdy enough to hold a big dog, but that isn’t going to give you any nasty burns if the dog pulls suddenly. A leash of around 6 to 8 feet long is a good starting point, but retractable leashes reinforce your dog’s pulling behavior and should be avoided.
For some dogs, an ordinary flat collar is all that's needed, but there are plenty of other options available. Head collars can be a great tool for controlling dogs that are strong pullers. However, we never recommend using prong, choke, or other training collars that cause pain to stop a dog from pulling.
Many pet parents of large dogs prefer harnesses because they provide more control. A harness can also distribute the force of
pulling across your dog’s chest and shoulders rather than concentrating
it on their neck.
Before we explore some tips for training a large dog to stop pulling, it's important to reiterate that this
isn’t a skill most dogs will pick up overnight. A patient and
consistent approach is vital. But if you’re willing to persevere, you’ll
be rewarded with a much better-behaved walking companion in the long
The best time to start training polite walking is as soon as you bring your new puppy home. That’s not always possible, of course, but the good news is that this is a skill you can teach to dogs of all ages.
The bad news is that loose-leash walking isn’t always an easy skill to teach, so you’ll need plenty of patience if you’re going to achieve success.
The basic approach is to start by rewarding your dog when they stand or sit beside you — they don’t even need to be on a leash for this part. Give them a treat and praise for doing the right thing, then start walking around and keep rewarding your dog for staying by your side.
Once they’ve got the hang of it, introduce the leash into your training sessions. Walk further, change direction more often, and keep rewarding your dog for staying by your side. You can start phasing these rewards out over time as your dog’s on-leash walking skills progress.
What do you do when your dog starts pulling? Some trainers
recommend stopping on the spot as a way of teaching the dog that pulling
won’t get them anywhere, then rewarding the dog when they stop pulling
and return to your side.
Another option is to walk in the opposite direction to whatever the dog is trying to pull towards, reinforcing the fact that pulling won’t get them where they want to go.
It’s also essential to think about what could happen in a worst-case scenario, such as if the dog breaks free while out walking. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to make sure your dog has a reliable recall. That way, you can rest a little easier knowing that if they do happen to pull free of your grasp, they won’t stray too far.
Of course, if you’re a dog walker with Wag! who's searching for ways to manage your bigger canine clients on walks, you obviously won’t be able to make leash training part of your daily routine. But you can still work training into each walk you have with your canine clients, putting into practice the techniques outlined above.
Repetition of these key training tasks, along with using the right equipment, can make walking a big dog a whole lot easier.
Another important point to remember is that you should only ever walk 1 big dog at a time. This will allow you to focus all your attention on managing your strong four-legged friend, especially if they’ve got a pulling problem. Managing more than 1 dog on a walk can be challenging at the best of times, and even more difficult if you’re walking big dogs.
You’ll find more useful info in our guides on how to train your big dog to walk on a leash and how to train a large dog to not pull, so there are plenty of resources available to help you get started. Tiring your dog out a little before a walk could also make them less likely to pull, so check out these top activities for first-time large dog owners.
Need help teaching your dog the basics of loose-leash walking or refining their leash manners? Book an in-home dog training session with a 5-star trainer on Wag! today and make walks with your big dog a much more relaxing and fun experience.
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