Canine Behavior/Trying to leash train a dog that tugs
I have a four month old Jindo who is very energetic and independent. I am currently trying to leash train her and I am having a difficult time. She tugs constantly while we are outside on a walk because she is distracted by all the smells and things around us. She rarely puts any slack in the leash because she runs all around me. I switched from a regular collar to a harness after I started walking her because she kept choking herself. When I try to stop or turn around when the leash is tight, she runs in another direction so the leash never goes slack. When I try to pull her near me or keep the leash short, she refuses to move by siting or laying on the ground. She knows the basic commands such as 'sit,' 'stay,' 'lay,' and 'come,' but she will not follow them while she is on the walk. She also ignores the treats that I offer. She is pretty good with staying by my side when I walk her in the house. Any advice about how to walk her better when we are outside.
Thank you for your question.
There are several things you can do to help improve the walk. You didn't indicate what harness you bought for her, though I am pleased that you did switch from her collar to her harness. Many dogs have injured themselves badly by pulling on their collar. The neck is filled with delicate muscles, tendons, nerves as well as other vital structures including the larynx, pharynx, esophagus, etc. Often the injuries that dogs sustain are not immediately visible; rather they manifest as cervical arthritis later in life or paralysis of part or all of the body as the nerve damage eventually fails to recover.
So, I am very pleased to hear that you've switched to a harness. Now, if you went with a 'classic' harness where the leash hooks on her back and there's not "corrective" quality to the harness, then we have put her in a position to be a little workhorse. With that kind of harness, she can put all of her body weight behind her effort to pull and not hurt herself.
I'm a big fan of the Easy Walk no-pull harness. This harness has a martingale* leash attachment on the chest, which provides you with greater leverage. If she pulls hard, the design of the harness will cause her to turn around to face you. This harness is available major pet stores as well as many of the smaller stores.
*Martingale refers to a loop of fabric (or chain) between two O-rings. The O-rings connect this loop of fabric to the rest of the harness. This fabric loop has a D-ring on which the leash attaches, and when the leash is pulled, the fabric loop pulls the two O-rings together, creating a gentle, but limited squeeze. There is a collar of this design as well. Some people refer to it as a limited-slip collar to differentiate it from a choke chain (infinite slip), because the martingale will not squeeze tighter than the distance between the two O-rings. So, in the Easy Walk harness, the martingale is on the chest, which means when the dog pulls, there's a gentle squeeze *across* the front of the chest which feels a little weird on the shoulders and is generally enough to limit the pulling without causing any harm to the dog.
If you need even more control, you can try the Freedom no-pull harness. This harness has two points of contact - a martingale attachment on the back (a gentle, limited squeeze *around* the chest if he pulls) and a fixed position on the chest. This gives you a bit of correction by the martingale on the back along with the improved leverage on the chest. This harness can be purchased with a special leash that has two leash snaps so you only have to hold one leash. Or you can use two separate leashes if you're choosing to use both attachment points.
If these don't provide enough management while you teach her better leash skills, you can try a Gentle Leader head halter (or similar). These are collars that attach around the dog's muzzle. They are NOT a muzzle. They will do nothing to impeded her ability to open her mouth or bite. They work like a horse bridle on the premise that where the head faces, the body will follow. The only real issue with this tool is that most dogs hate them. You have to make sure you really take the time to acclimate her to it properly (follow the guidelines in the instructions and the video that come with the collar) before you start trying it on actual walks. Also, because many dogs will fight this collar, many people will fall into the trap of yanking on the leash like they do with a regular collar or harness and this can cause serious neck injury including whip lash because you're then yanking her by her head. So if you choose this tool, be sure that you understand how to help your dog be comfortable in it and how to use it properly. This is my last resort tool because so many dogs dislike it from the get-go.
Now, all of the above are tools meant to help you teach her better leash skills. They are not the fix in themselves.
It sounds like you've got a reasonable foundation of your dog being able to focus on you and follow basic commands. And in the no-distraction world of your house, she's able to follow you and walk with you the way you'd like in public. The key is the transition from no distractions to the great big, exciting and interesting world. Humans are impatient and tend to want to jump from learning to count numbers directly to calculus and skip all the in-between steps.
In other words, I expect that you're going from zero distractions to far too difficult without first helping her learn to focus with minor distractions, then a bit more, then a bit more, then a bit more.... If you have a back yard, I would practice there just as you have been in your house. Ditto for your driveway. If you live in an apartment building, I'd practice in whatever the off-street parking area is - whether it's behind the building or under it. Just practice exactly as you have been in your house. Then try just in front of your own house/apartment building. When you can walk back and forth in front of your own property without any pulling, then you can try including a neighbor's property front, then another, etc.
There's no rule that says you must walk a particular distance to make it a proper walk. Doing this training is brain work and 15-20 minutes of walking like this just in front of your house - but requiring her to think and work with you - will likely be just as exhausting for her as pulling you for a mile or so. It's not the quantity of the walk, it's the quality of the lesson.
Now, there some exercises you can do with her to help improve her walking.
First, she should get all her meals during the walk. This way we do two things. We avoid over feeding her by giving her meals in a bowl and then plying her with treats. We also dramatically increase her motivation to work with you because she's actually hungry at the start of the walk.
Note, if the world is overwhelmingly exciting, you might need to replace her regular kibble with a nutritionally complete, but more enticing alternative. There are some prepared dog foods that come in a sausage roll. These are highly palatable and easy to dice into bite-sized bits for use during this kind of training. Or you may be able to just throw in a few special goodies to keep her interested, like slicing up some string cheese to add to her regular kibble so that every now and then, she's getting a bonus prize.
The walk should start with her calm. She should be in a Sit by your side and the leash should be slack - essentially looking like the letter 'J'. While in this position, give her a treat for being calm. Tell her "Let's go" and start walking. If you're using a clicker, you can mark the forward movement if she doesn't launch out of the gate directly to the end of the leash. If you're not using a clicker, you can use whatever word you generally say that tells her when she did the right behavior "Yes," "Good," or "Click" (I say "click" because it's unique and not part of my regular vocabulary). As soon as you mark walking near you, offer her a treat or 3 or 8 - one at a time in quick succession, not as a fistful.
If she pulls ahead of you at all, stop walking. Stand perfectly still. Wait for her. Wait at least a full 90 seconds. Give her time to look back at you (or better - to move back toward you). If she checks in with you, tell her you like this and invite her back to your side. Once she's by your side, begin walking again "Let's go" and mark/treat while in motion.
At the beginning of this process, you will be rapid-fire marking and treating. You may go through her entire breakfast portion of kibble in 5 minutes. So that walk will be mighty short. But as you practice, she'll be getting the idea that it's extremely worthwhile to stay close to you. Once you find that she's staying closer and is actively looking up at you to see if there's another treat coming, then start to spread them out a bit more. I'll do this by first marking/treating every time the dog checks in with me (looks up at me). I'll do that for the first 2-4 walks. Then, I'll only mark/treat every other time the dog checks in. At first, she'll look at you for several seconds, then she'll glance away and immediately look back at you - as if she believes "maybe Mamma didn't see me look up at her. I'll do it again..." Mark and treat the second look. Do that for 1-2 walks. Then adjust again so that you're only marking/treating every 3rd time she checks in.
At this point, you can begin to switch up the criteria a bit. You can decide to treat once per driveway as you walk down the street (then every other driveway, and so on) - whether she checks in (looks up at you) or not, so long as she's in the space bubble you've decided is acceptable.
Tricks to help her learn to focus on your: When I get ready to walk after a stop, I say "Let's go!" in a chipper voice. Don't wait for her to start moving. She's waiting for you. So, once you say the words, begin moving. In fact, I start moving WHILE I'm saying that command.
When I change directions, I say "This way" and make my turn. You can specify "Right" and "Left" but that's more thinking than I want to do on a walk. So I just use the generic "This way". The dog learns to check in with you at that moment because your pace is going to change as well as your direction.
If you're turning AWAY from the dog, you'll speed up your pace a bit as you say "This way!". You should at first lure her through the turn by holding out a treat in the hand nearest to her at her nose level, just a bit away from your knee and lure her right through the turn. As soon as you're through the turn, pull that treat hand up to your chest, take 3-5 steps and then mark/treat for coming through the turn and staying by your side.
If you're turning TOWARD her, you'll slow your pace down a bit. Lure her through this turn as well (this will take more practice as it's harder for the dog). Hold the treat in your hand at her nose level, but rest your wrist/back of hand on the back outside edge of that thigh. You want her nose just behind your leg as you turn toward her or she'll trip you. As the other turn, lure her right through it, then pull that treat hand up to your chest as you come out of the turn, take several steps and then mark/treat for walking nicely with you.
After a dozen practices of a turn, you can try that turn without the food lure and see if your change of pace is enough to tell her which way to turn and where to be relative to you. She'll pick up the AWAY from her turn pretty quickly. The TOWARD her turn may take more work. If she fails to be in the right spot, lure the turn for another 6 or 8 trials and then try again without the food lure to see if she's figured it out yet.
Change speed frequently. If you want to speed up, say so. I say "Hurry!" and then begin to trot. Mark and treat while you're trotting with her. If you want to slow down, say so. I say, "Slooooowwwww....." Mark/treat while walking slowly.
When you're ready to stop walking (e.g. at a corner, or just practicing), put your treat hand to your side and stop walking. If she was in the right place (next to you), this should be essentially throwing your treat fist in her face - not actual contact, but her nose will find the treat temptation). As soon as she is aware of your hand, pull your hand back to your chest and wait for her to Sit by your side. Once she does, mark/treat the stop. If you're going to cross the street, I usually tell the dog, "Cross" as we head into the street. This will help differentiate "let's go" - along the sidewalk - from "cross' - moving across the street to the other side.
Take your time. It's not how far you walk, it's how well she's paying attention to you. You may need to first drive her to a quiet location with limited distractions where you can practice outside of your house, but not so exciting as the neighborhood. Perhaps friends with yards will let you use them for 20 minutes. Multiple different yards allows you to help her generalize the concept of walking near you always.
You may also want to use a hands-free leash. This is a leash that uses a waist belt so that you're not handling the leash. It allows your hands to focus on managing treats and clickers. More importantly, taking the leash out of your hand decreases the process of pulling. There's this thing called "opposition reflex". It's the natural instinct to pull against pressure. So when she pulls the leash in your hand, your instinct is to pull that leash back, which triggers her instinct to pull harder which triggers your instinct to pull harder.... So, taking the leash out of your hand altogether, interrupts that conversation and makes it easier to adjust her overall walking habits. Also, by putting the leash around your waist, you are then using your core body weight and will have much more control over her. If she pulls ahead of you, simply stop walking (ideally before she reaches the end of the leash). When she hits the end of the leash, it's a "dead-stop" and similar to if she were tied to a post. Dogs don't generally pull and fight against a post because there's no back-and-forth. It has no give. So by having the leash at your waist, then you set yourself up to be that post and prevent that pulling conversation. Now, if she gets to the end of the leash and you continue to walk while there's tension in the leash, you are continuing the conversation. So you must be fully present during the walk and stop moving before she reaches the point that the leash is tight.
Forward motion is the biggest reward she can get. So, if she only gets forward motion when the leash is loose, and never gets forward motion when the leash is tight (especially combined with treats only happen when the leash is loose and never when the leash is tight), she will quickly pick up the idea that to get where she wants to go, she actually needs to slow down a little.
Don't forget to give her plenty of opportunity to sniff stuff. This is her walk, after all. And that's how she takes in the world around her. So, be sure to stop and offer her the chance to sniff around every few trees or bushes. If she charges toward something with an urgent need to investigate, turn her around and move her back. Try the approach again. The first few times, it may take you several attempts to get there. But keep turning back and re-approaching until you can get her there on a loose leash. Then giver her time to sniff that area. Help her learn that she'll get to sniff all the good stuff if she approaches politely.
Give her at least 10 seconds at each sniff spot. I rarely have a dog balk about moving on if I've given them a proper chance to investigate. So I give a dog about 10 seconds to sniff. Then I say, "Let's go!" in that same cheery voice and start walking. This is about 98% effective in preventing the dog from fighting moving on.
Buddy System hands free leash:
Or you can attach a carabiner to the handle of your current leash and attach that to your belt loop. But beware that belt loops aren't all that sturdy and so can rip at the seams if she pulls hard enough...
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist