Thank you Eileen Anderson for prompting this blog. Two questions in one and a ‘hot’ topic in the dog training world. This, and poor recall are the two problems I am most often asked to help with.
Here are some reasons WHY a dog is pulling:
1. They often naturally walk faster than their human
2. In their enthusiasm they are eager to get to their destination for the ‘good stuff’
3. They are frightened and are trying to escape a perceived threat
4. We are trying to pull them away from something
The term ‘resistance reflex’ is often banded about. The theory being that a dog (horse etc) will automatically pull against a pull or push against a push. However, a reflex is something that happens involuntarily, for example, a knee jerk when the doctor taps our patella. Lead pulling on the other hand is entirely voluntary. The dog CHOOSES to pull or WE choose to pull him/her.
A more probable explanation is that the dog is resisting coercion. Sure, if someone put a rope around my neck I would pull away!
For many owners this is a ‘big’ issue. Prong collars and choke chains were designed to stop pulling. These rely on negative reinforcement (R-), the theory being if the dog stops pulling the pain goes away. This invariably implies, however, that positive punishment (P+) has been applied in the first place. In reality, the dog often learns to cope and the adrenaline rush to reach the park, or wherever, may outweigh the pain. Nowadays, body and face harnesses have been designed as a ‘kinder’ alternative. What do these teach the dog? Nothing, except to comply with the coercion. It’s a sticking plaster remedy to treat the symptom rather than the cause.
So, how can we stop lead pulling? For many the natural solution is to apply pressure by pulling back or, worse, applying a lead ‘correction’ or jerk. But why are we punishing our dog for resisting coercion? It becomes a double whammy. They are being punished for being punished. Furthermore, long term repetition may result in damage to the neck and throat area including nerve endings, tissue including muscles, veins and arteries and the thyroid glands (of which dogs have two). It is testament to our dogs’ temperament that they will tolerate the punishment to achieve their goal; getting to the park.
Encouraging our dog to walk alongside us requires exactly that; encouragement. Correct training will teach the dog what IS required rather than what is NOT required. After all it’s easier to teach a positive than it is to teach a negative. Steve Mann of the IMDT explains this eloquently in his video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Th5z-mnnUE&t=44s.
My recent blog also helps to explain loose lead walking: https://richardthedogtrainer.com/2021/02/01/has-dog-training-become-overly-complicated/