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Corrective heelwork training for a dog that pulls

Following on from the history of our domestic dogs, we can understand that they still only think the same way as they have for thousands of years. They sense and so they react. If the reaction is pleasant, they will repeat it. If it is not pleasant, they will not.

Winston and I were fostering a large dog from a shelter that for ease I will call Rocky. One of his problems was he has possibly never been use to walking on a lead. Because of this, he had phenomenal pulling power and to retrain him I was going to have to wear my tactical boots in order to give me some better grip on the ground.

Many owners let their dogs heelwork reach this point but it only makes walking the dog no longer a pleasure as the dog pulls to go where it pleases dragging the owner behind. Normally the reasons a dog will pull is either because of a problem with dominancy or the most common reason is that the dog wishes to go to somewhere it likes because the owner lets it off the lead for freedom and fun.

So why do we allow this and follow the dog. We have so much concern when the dog appears that it is choking to death. We therefore to try to ease its pain we are prepared to follow our dog. This is one major success for the dog and it is laughing all the way, to where it wishes to go.

Corrective training is a little different to early puppy training but the basis is the same. This is for the dog to learn not to pull on the lead because it does not achieve any goals. If you fasten your dog to a wall with its lead and then call it to you, in about three pulls, your dog will just sit or stand with a slack lead. Therefore, in three pulls it has learnt that it cannot pull a wall. This asks the question how many pulls does it take to learn that it could pull its owner to wherever it wishes to go.

Who is causing the dog to sound as if it is chocking to death? It is not the owner so it has to be the dog. Surly if the dog were in pain would it not stop doing this to itself. Certainly if you stand still it stops pulling because it is not achieving its goal and does not wish to hurt itself.

If you look closely you will see that though the collar is pulling on the lower throat most of it is over the shoulders like a carthorse and where the most pulling power is originating from. Some owners will even change from a collar to using a harness. This only gives the dog even more pulling power and yet it is still puffing and panting. The dog expends a lot of energy trying to pull its owner to where it wishes to go so it puffs and pants as we would. Simple logic is if it were truly in pain, it would stop pulling.

An alternative is to try head collars like the Halti or Easy Walker as these turn the dogs head away from the direction the dog is attempting to walk. These do drastically reduce its pulling power because the strain is no longer on the shoulders.

The other alternative is jerking the dog's neck when using a choker, this really does hurt but this is the standard method of stopping a dog pulling. Some people even resort to using spiked collars on their dogs but such methods are a major step backward in the training as the dog realises it is the owner that is inflicting the pain and so it reacts against this until eventually it is forced to submit to the owners will. This method does work but do you wish to give your dog pain to make it obey your commands.

My own lead has two carabineers at each end and so it is possible to attach it to another dog that will induce a calming influence and act as ballast as there are then two of us holding him.

I can also us the lead to fasten the dog up to almost anything whilst I have to leave it to stay in order to train the dog that to pull on the lead is pointless and only makes it more uncomfortable for itself so don't pull. This is the training method promoted by John Rogerson. If the dog can quickly learn it cannot pull a wall or a lamppost, it is learning that when the collar becomes tight it is for the dog to retreat to slacken the lead. It is not for the owner to slacken it in compassion for their dogs heavy, gasping breathing by following it to wherever it wishes to go.

My first walk with Rocky from home I only clipped the lead to his collar and held the middle of the lead with both hands holding it tightly just under my diaphragm. On this walk, he had no privileges. He just had to walk at the end of the radius of my lead and I walked at a steady pace up the middle of the road. I allowed Winston the privilege of being off the lead and he did his own thing. This was a good distraction for Rocky and a privilege he did not have.

My normal walk is a big loop that goes part way up Mount Montgo and back down again. By the time we got to the highest point Rocky was tired and started to reduce the pressure. I do not jerk the lead like a choke chain nor pull the dog towards me. I just treat the lead as if I had fastened it to a wall attached to me.

As we came down the hill Rocky started to walk closer to me enjoying the pats and cuddles with lots of praise but then he would suddenly shoot off forward again pulling on the lead. This was Rocky testing to see if I would let him pull me and he found I would not. I just walk steadily along the road showing no reaction.

In the afternoon, we repeated this walk and I again the walk remained up the middle of the road. I found it very useful using Winston as it made it very easy to teach Rocky to stand still when vehicles were passing.

After three days of this type of walking, Rocky was gradually reducing his pulling power. This meant I could now hold him with only my left arm and keep it stiff as if attached to a wall. On occasions, he would try to unbalance me by swinging in front of me from one side to side. When Rocky on occasions reduces his pulling, I can relax my arm and then give him lots of praise or just to stroke him.

If I stop walking, he will relinquish the pressure on the lead. This proves that he knows it is he making the collar uncomfortable for himself, not me. It is only when I walk, he thinks he will go where he wants and I should follow him. Rocky eventually learnt that even if he wishes to go in a different direction to me then I keep going in mine and Rocky has to follow. As he begins to recognize that he can go nowhere other than where I go he then we had longer periods of him walking by my side for which I give him titbits and lots of praise. At this point, I needed to give him some privileges as a reward but I would like to let him walk for short distances off the lead but was uncertain he would run off. Luckily, good fortune was at hand.

One evening instead of eating his evening meal and with the gate still open, he went instead for a walk. It was dark and we looked everywhere. He had been living in the cellar of a Chinese restaurant and the staff at the shelter had been making him rice based food to try to settle his tummy. It could be that Rocky did not like dried dog food with milk, two eggs, a little tinned dog meat, with a splash of sunflower oil and had therefore gone off to the Chinese for a Number 27 with boiled rice. After returning to the house a number of times following fruitless searches, we drove into the garden and there was Rocky waiting for his meal except Winston had eaten them both. Winston does not let good food go to waste. This gave me the trust I needed that he would stay with me so for the next walk I would try him for short periods off the lead.

The next day I attached both ends of the lead to his collar, knotted the lead in the middle so it became a short handle should I need to hold him, and allowed him to walk freely with Winston. At this Winston then started to bark and mouth at Rocky's jaw to show him that Winston is in charge of the dog pack and that Rocky must not go in front of him. This kept Rocky close to me if only to keep clear of Winston and his constant barracking. Occasionally I had to say to him "Winston give it a rest" but he was keen on laying down his right to command the lower ranks. Still in using Winston, Rocky soon learned that when I clap my hands I want them both to return to me for ginger nuts as a reward: works a treat.

To further the training I did have a problem in that both dogs would not get in together in my little car. On Monday, Winston got in for Rocky's ginger nut I had tossed in for him and Rocky only placed his front legs into the car so I had to lift him in and then shut the tailgate.

For this next step in the retraining, I took them to the Arenal for some socialisation walking. Still using my lead, I now clipped both dogs together. Winston now walked along with Rocky between us and I could still manipulate the amount of pressure on Rocky's collar by stiffing or relaxing my arm so Rocky backed up and stayed along side of me.

When dogs passed by Rocky wanted to investigate but attached to Winston as well, he could not pull us both. It is certainly advantages using a trained dog to teach the other one what he is suppose to do but it is not a necessity. It simply speeds up the learning process.

Places like the Arenal are ideal for training as they are full of distractions but go nowhere. Once the dogs have once walked along its length they are turned round and walk back again so the dogs give up pulling as there is no where to go. When Rocky is walking without pulling at the Arenal all that I need to do next is to move to other areas where there are more distractions but where he still does not pull. If Rocky does start to pull me, I simply turn round and walk in the opposite direction.

It is important that you show your dog that you are in charge of where you go for your walk not your dog. Once you have that control then you can relax as even though your dog does know where you are going it has learnt that you will not tolerate any pulling or you will go in the other direction. Take away a dogs reason for pulling and it will stop. Therefore, it is up to the owners to identify the dog's reasons why it is pulling and retrain appropriately.

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