As always, we start with looking at where the reinforcement is for the dog. What does he get out of pulling? Where’s the benefit? Where are the rewards that I need to control?
A dog who pulls on leash is not aware that he is doing anything wrong. In his mind, he is reaching the goal he is in for (walking, sniffing, peeing, perhaps meeting other dogs and people etc.). His goal is to MOVE. He probably feels that going for a walk and having his neck pulled is a little uncomfortable, but is willing to take that downside because the reward is big enough.
A dog who pulls on leash is carrying out a behavior chain. Pulling, pulling, pulling; over and over. When we allow dogs to carry on with a behavior chain, they naturally assume that what they have been doing is right. You would as well: imagine having a police car cruise behind you on the freeway for 50 miles. Eventually he pulls you over and tells you that you were speeding half an hour ago. Why would he not pull us over instantly? Being allowed to drive uninterrupted communicates that we are doing nothing wrong. Only interruption can signal a wrong behavior in a behavior chain.
When a mistake is made, we need to react instantly to let our dogs know about it. And no, I am not talking about leash pops, yelling etc. We don’t want our dogs to dislike us 😉 we want them to stop pulling. We need to remove the reinforcement the dog is in for – in this case the ability to walk into the direction they were heading.
Pair this approach with a clicker to mark and reward the moments when there is slack in the leash, and you will have a numerous opportunities to communicate to your dog what is right and will pay off, and what won’t:
The rate of reinforcement most beneficial to learning is 18 times per minute! That’s a treat every 3 seconds. Remember, the more often you can tell your dog what works and what doesn’t, the faster he will learn.
During the retraining of leash walking it is advisable to stop walking on leash for exercise and recreational purposes. Dogs don’t know when it’s training time, and when it isn’t – if you train loose leash walking for 5 minutes, then let him pull you for 45 minutes around the neighborhood, he will learn that in 95% of the time it’s fine to pull.
Enjoy, and walk your dogs!