Hi there, Pibbles & Me readers!
My name is John and I’m a big dog owner (a Vizsla mix named Kya), outdoor enthusiast, and world traveler. I’m also the founder of EzyDog—a dog adventure gear company out of the US.
Today, I want to talk about the less appealing quirk of many big dogs: pulling.
If you own a big dog, you’ve probably had one of those moments…you know the ones…where you’re walking your big dog through the park and suddenly, out of nowhere, something catches her eye. Her pupils dilate, her muscles tense for the spring, and you only have a split second to think oh dear before you feel that wrench in shoulder as she takes off in chase of a squirrel or a cat or a leaf blowing innocently in the wind.
When I think back on those moments, I imagine myself like a cartoon in slow motion, opening my mouth to shout a slow, long NOOOOOOOO before being dragged comically behind an extremely happy and focused dog who thinks she is a hunter (though she is so not).
Yeah. You know what I’m talking about.
We’ve all had our share of aching shoulders after those walks and when Brenda and Pibbles invited us to guest post over here, I thought that for big dog lovers, there’s no more appropriate topic. Which is why I’m going to share a few of the tactics that have worked well for me and the EzyDog team when we’ve taken on No Pull training (be it for dogs who bolt or dogs who constantly pull).
Hope they’re helpful!
1. Have some special training gear. Designate a certain harness or dog jacket or clicker (or combination of those things) for training time. Make sure your dog associates the harness (or other stuff) with Dad (or Mom)-Means-Business time.
We borrowed this tactic from service dog trainers, who often use dog vests/harnesses to indicate to the dog that it’s “work” time and take them off when the dog is free to frolic and enjoy some “play” time (or at least according to books we’ve read).
One of our team members in particular (though she has a small dog, so perhaps she can’t be trusted) uses this method religiously. When the harness is on, it’s work time. And her dog most definitely knows it.
2. Choose a short, strong leash that won’t pinch your hand.
The longer the leash, the less control you have, especially in a pulling situation. So for at least the first few months of training, keep it short and controlled. Get your dog used to walking directly beside you and walking properly.
3. Have a distraction on hand.
When your dog gets that look in her eye, you’ve got to snap her out of it before she bolts. We find that our different dogs respond to different things (treats pulled out of a pocket, a ball, a favorite toy), but that picking your dog’s favorite [fill in the blank] and using it to redirect her focus can help you avoid bolting behavior.
4. Be consistent.
Dogs don’t do well with context, so be consistent in your training and pick times and days when you will be able to focus on your dog and patiently work with her.
5. Get plenty of exercise.
If you burn off some of those Massive Energy Stores that dogs seem to have, it can help make your walks a lot calmer. Different dogs respond to different tactics, but we’ve found rowdy games of fetch in the backyard or trips to the dog park help our dogs burn off their energy. And, if we keep up with our walks every day, that helps too.