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You’re out on a pleasant walk through the countryside, the sun is out and life is good, but every 5 seconds you’re pulled in every which direction by your old, but surprisingly strong dog. The problem is even worse if he sees a dog on the horizon, or a stranger approaching. Are you finally ready to concede it’s time to get a handle on his pulling? After all, it’s better late than never!
Walking with a dog who can’t control themselves on a leash is simply exhausting. You simply can’t relax on a walk when it’s really him walking you. Plus, you may have aged along with him, and your shoulder sockets and arms simply aren’t as resilient as they once were. You don’t want to be pulled to the ground just because a dog crossed the road 100 meters away. Solving this issue will give you the calm and relaxing walks you deserve!
"Heel" is one word that could save you considerable aggravation and make the relaxing dog walking fantasy you once had many years ago a reality. Unfortunately, teaching your dog to walk calmly on a leash is never straightforward. His senses are sent into overdrive when he leaves the house and comes across so many varied and often unpleasant smells.
The problem is worsened if he is old. Puppies respond to training quickly, but older dogs' bad habits have often cemented over the years, so you have an uphill battle ahead. Having said that, with patience and consistency, you could have a calm and well-behaved dog trotting alongside you in just a few weeks, if you follow the methods below. It’s important to finally get a handle on his behavior on a leash, not only for your sanity, but also to prevent a serious accident ever taking place, such as him leaping across a busy road.
Before you get going with training, you need to ensure you’re fully stocked on doggie treats. You can use pre-made treats, or you can simply break his favorite food into small bits. You will also need some quiet space, free from distractions.
A secure training leash and possibly a harness will also be essential. Aside from that, bring all the patience you can find and an optimistic attitude. With all that, you're ready to get to work.
Now you’re fully stocked on essentials, it’s time to put him on a leash and address that mischievous behavior.
The Training Leash Method
Swap your normal leash for a training leash. These short leashes allow you to correct behavior quickly and effectively. So secure him to his new leash.
Keep him calm
He may be uncontrollable on a leash because he associates the leash with walking. So use the training leash on him at home for 10-15 minutes each day. This will dissociate the leash with the excitement of a walk.
Tackle pulling before you even leave the house. Take him out the door as if going for a walk and if he goes crazy with excitement, turn around and re-enter the house. Repeat this until he is well and truly bored and can leave the door in a calm manner. Repeat this process every time you start a walk.
Come to a standstill
Stop suddenly as soon as he pulls. Stop in your tracks and don’t budge until he calms down. I hope you’re feeling patient because it may take quite a while to get anywhere, but consistency is key, so persevere!
Reward him when he does walk calmly. As he slowly realizes from all of the above steps he needs to remain calm to get anywhere, he will stop acting up. To speed up the process, reward him with treats whenever he does travel any distance calmly by your side.
The 180 Method
Secure him with a training leash, or his normal leash. Then open the door and take him outside to start the walk.
Hold the leash firmly and wait for him to pull. You are waiting for him to pull so you can straight away correct the behavior.
When he does pull, turn around and walk in the opposite direction. This quick jolt will tell him if he does pull, he won’t get to travel in the direction it wants to.
Repeat this process. Even if it means you are constantly walking back and forward, only taking 5 steps at a time, this corrective action will eventually show him that you are in total control of the walk.
Be patient, and reward positive behavior. Slowly he will catch on that walking calmly is the only way he is going to get a walk. When he does cotton on and walk calmly, be sure to give him a treat and praise him. Positive reinforcement is always effective in dogs.
The ‘Heel’ Method
Put a leash on him and head for the door. If your dog is big as well as old, then it could be worth putting a body harness on. This will put less pressure on his neck when you pull on the leash.
Start walking as you normally would. Hold the leash firmly and wait for him to use up the loose leash.
Say "heel" in a loud and firm voice. The second he pulls, give the command and give the leash a gentle but noticeable jerk and then stand firmly still. He will eventually walk back to your side.
Reward him with a treat and praise. By doing this when he returns to your side, you are incentivizing him to always return to you. Plus the ‘heel’ cue will signal to him he has gone to far and needs to turn back.
Practice makes perfect. All you need to do now is keep up with the training and be patient. It may take many weeks and hours of slow and disjointed walks, but your old dog will eventually break his old habit. As he gets much better at walking calmly by your side, slowly cut down on the number of treats you give him.
By James Barra
Published: 11/03/2017, edited: 01/10/2023