Canine Behaviour: Put your best foot or best paw forward

Karen Wild column EMN-140715-124751001
Karen Wild column EMN-140715-124751001

Walking your dog can be one of the biggest pleasures of ownership.

However, many owners admit they no longer walk their dogs because it is unpleasant - for you and the dog - to be dragged along!

Some owners I work with are terrified that their dog will pull them over and injure them. I have heard stories of bruises and broken ribs caused by a dog suddenly lunging forward whilst the hapless owner clings desperately to the other end of the lead.

It is no longer reasonable to excuse your dog from pulling by handing him to the strongest family member who can proudly admit 'I can hold him!' as if it is a macho accolade. I am only 5ft 2 inches tall and have had to learn the hard way how to handle even the biggest (and sometimes not very cheerful) dogs, and it is mostly a case of skill, not strength!

I always recommend a 'strength harness' at first, to remove the dog's power. A dog can be powerful even if it is a small dog! A harness with a front attachment such as a Halti harness works really well indeed. A headcollar can also be good, or both harness and headcollar together, but of course the dog has to adjust to this and it may take time. This is when you call a professional in. As we humans are tall, we topple more easily if we hold the lead higher than waist-height. Think of water skiers and how they can suddenly overbalance. It is the same if your lead is held too high, with arms outstretched!

The remedy for this is to hold the hands low so that they are nearer the dog's centre of gravity. Keep your hands close to your body so that if the dog pulls, they are not pulling your arms away from your body! Instead they will need to pull your entire body forward, a much more difficult task.

You need to learn to steer your dog without hurting him (or you), too. Owners often attempt to 'lift' their dog out of the way, meaning that the entire dog's bodyweight is in their hands. This might feel acceptable if you are strong or have a tiny dog, but think what pressure this is causing on their throat! Better to 'circle' your dog away from things you do not want to be dragged towards.

Then, reward your dog well for walking at your side. Never yank or jerk the lead. This is a pain lesson. You really need to hurt your dog for it to work. Hence the awful choke chains, or barbaric prong collars and shock collars. DON'T! They are an admission that you are a bad trainer, so never slip down that slope. Welfare law is not on your side.

Your dog already knows how fast you are moving, and can learn to follow your foot movement very quickly. If you are struggling, contact me for help, because we can often improve things quickly. If we can't make things perfect, at least you know you have put your best foot forward without hurting your family pet.