DEAR OLD TRAINER: Flash, my 3-year Bouvier, really improved when I took your advice and got serious about training. He is good at “sit” and “stay” and only barks now when someone approaches our house. His one problem is on our walks. He gets so excited he pulls like a sled dog and ignores me. Can I train him to calm down?
Rita, Boulder, Colo.
A: Yes. This is a common problem, easily solved with a little training. Flash doesn’t realize the rules he learned about barking and sitting apply to the daily walk. He forgets everything except having fun.
Arnold Rothstein, gambler, bootlegger, and the man who fixed the 1919 World Series, advised his protegee, Lucky Luciano, “never allow your principles to stand in the way of your self-interest.”
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His interest is having a good time and pulling you along is a lot more fun than listening to the leader of the pack. It is now a habit. Your job is to break that habit and replace it with a new one — walking at your pace.
You do it the same way you taught him to stop barking — interrupt his thought process the instant he starts to pull, then praise him when he relaxes. You know it works because it already worked.
Throw a ball for Flash for a few minutes before each training session to lower his energy and remind him training is fun.
Let him catch his breath and get a drink, then order him to sit and to look you in the eye. Move his head with your hand if you need to. He is not allowed to even glance at anything else for five seconds.
If he peeks at anything else say “look at me” and tap him on the neck with your fingers. Do it every time he looks away. Love on him when he does it right. Do five reps each session, five sessions a day.
Be relentless in making him concentrate, but brag on him and pet him every time he does it right. Once he is focused on you, add the leash — an expandable leash, never a short one — to the exercise. Be relaxed. Make a game of it. Bouviers love to learn and if you have a good time, so will Flash.
Walk him in the yard with the leash set at six feet. When he pulls on the leash say “easy” and disrupt his thought process by touching his neck. Start walking again, but the instant he lunges say “easy” and touch his neck. If he doesn’t calm down put him back in the sit position and give him a lecture.
As he improves, give a slight tug on the leash as you say the command to teach Flash the tug will replace the touch on the neck
Be patient and loving, but don’t take one step unless you get the response you want. Flash is willing to do it right, but breaking a habit is just as hard for a dog as it is for a human so it takes work. Extend the leash as he progresses until he obeys when the leash is completely extended.
Then take him out on the trail. Say “easy” and interrupt his thought process every time he pulls too hard. He’ll soon be a pleasure to walk.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.