Old Trainer

The Old Trainer: Break leash-pulling habit with consistent concentration

Dear Old Trainer: My 2-year-old boxer, Annie, obeys all her commands except when we walk on park trails. She is strong and pulls on the leash all the time. I switched to an expandable leash like you recommend and it makes it easier to hold her, but she still tires me out. I am about to give up and quit walking her. What can I do?

Cheryl, Woodside

A: Don’t give up. Pulling on the leash is a common problem with dogs, but only because people do not realize how easy it is to stop it.

Annie is pulling for two reasons. One, she is so excited to walk with you, and two, dogs love to walk, but they don’t walk at the pace of a human. They trot, the natural gait of all canines.

You have to show Annie it is just as much fun to walk at your pace. She obeys all commands, so all you have to do is teach her a new command. Here is an easy way to do it, one that works with any dog.

Train her in the backyard or some spot with no distractions. Throw a ball for a few minutes before each training session to burn excess energy, then let her drink and calm down. Step one is an exercise designed to short circuit Annie’s concentration on her own interests and refocus it on you.

Order her to sit and tell her to look at you. Move her head with your hand if you need to. She has to look at nothing but you for 5 seconds. When she does it, love on her, take a 10-second break, then do it again. If she looks away, touch her neck, then turn her head back to focus on you.

Do five reps each session, five sessions a day. Love on her each time. The exercise allows you to refocus her attention in an instant if she forgets the rules, so work until she does it every time.

When she does, put the leash on her and walk around the yard. Be relaxed. Make a game of it. If you’re happy, Annie will be happy, and happy dogs learn fast.

If she pulls on the leash at all say, “easy,” and touch her neck. Start again, but the instant she pulls, say “easy” and touch her neck. If she doesn’t calm down, put her back in the sit position, give her a lecture and go back to step one.

Brag on her and pet her and keep walking as long as she does it right. If she pulls, give the command and stop if she does not obey. Don’t take a step unless you get the response you want. Breaking a bad habit is as hard for dogs as it is for humans, so it takes work.

When she is ready, take her to the park. Say “easy” and interrupt her thought process every time she pulls. Be patient and give her lots of love but be firm. If she loses concentration, go back to step one. In a few days, she will slow as soon as she hears the command.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.