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"STOP PULLING!"

Teaching a dachshund to walk on a loose lead...the most boring exercise to teach but with one of the highest benefits to both dax and human.


You wouldn’t think such a small bundle of joy could make walking on lead so uncomfortable would you, but gosh it can be uncomfortable when you have a dog that pulls!


Most of you reading this will have older daxies, and you have probably made that age old mistake of skipping the training for walking on a loose lead when they were smaller, and topping up that training, because….they are small and inoffensive. How wrong could you have been! Puberty hits and its like someone shoved a rocket up their……well, you know!


Teaching lead work is probably the most boring thing you can teach. Why? Because we just want to move forwards, to get to the fun place, or get the walk done so we can get on with our day, so we just keep moving forwards. 


The problem is, every single walk you just keep moving forwards and when they do the same, with a tight lead pulling ahead is practice, of the behaviour you don’t want.  And, you know how the saying goes……practice makes perfect.  The problem is, it’s the perfection of the wrong skill, one that you do not want. 


Pulling is a pain, it makes walks less pleasurable, builds frustration in dogs and owners and regardless of whether you use a collar or harness can cause injury.


One of the most common denominators I see with reactive dogs is dogs that walk ahead of the owners on a fixed or flexi lead and pull.  They are often directly ahead of said owner and there is very little awareness of the human at the end of the lead.  In turn this leads to various unwanted encounters…..launching towards people or dogs (even if just to say hi), snaffling that chicken bone on the floor, and the dreaded roll in fox poop.


There are 100 ways to teach them to walk nicely, and LOADS of videos online using positive reinforcement to guide you. Avoid guidance talking about "pressure," or lead "pops"/jerks/yanks, or similar, that will just create conflict between you and your dogs, and injury! I have listed an easy to do method below, obviously they all differ as do we, so tweaks are made to suit each situation, but the blueprint is there for you to do it.


If you have a puppy, start right now and maintain that training throughout their development, keep topping up that knowledge and go back to basics to refresh the foundations – trust me, it will save you drama later!


But for those of you who have pullers, you need to start again, right from scratch. That may well start from the moment you pick up the collar or harness. I know its annoying, but you need to consider how much practice they’ve had doing one thing, if you want to change it, then you’re going to have to put in the time, work and be incredibly consistent to facilitate that change.


Before you start these are things you need to consider:

  • What equipment are you going to use?

  • What is rewarding for your dog?

  • Does your dog like walks?

  • Is your dog comfortable with the equipment itself?

  • Who's going with you? Do they behave differently with different people? Why?

  • Where are you going to walk? If the environment is super exciting or stressful, it will make it harder for you and them to learn.

  • Set yourselves and them up for success.  Train at a quieter time of day, when you aren’t on a deadline, or give yourself enough time each day to do lots of shorter sessions.

  • Rather than dedicating an hour to a walk, use that time to reteach the walk right from the beginning.

  • If your dog surges on walks (i.e. walks fast then slow), get someone to video it. Sometimes this may be because the pace you are walking at its not comfortable for your dogs, other times it can indicate discomfort.

  • If your dog stops on walks, don’t pull out a treat if they stop, your time and treats are best worth spent rewarding forward movement.  We often accidentally teach them to stop and sit.  (This is of course ensuring there’s not something ahead that worries them). If they are stopping, some can be overattached to a person you’ve left at home too, which needs addressing as a separate issue.

  • Stop rushing, yes a walk is for exercise but its also the only time they get to go out and see the world. Of course its exciting....or potentially scary!

  • Be Patient and Consistent. We all need that when we are learning new skills.


Here’s some tips:

1.         The lead/collar/harness – what is their response? If they get fizzy, or they run away and hide, you need to start here.  If they are wound up or worried before you start a walk it will most definitely set the tone for the rest of the walk.  If they are scared and running away from the equipment, it would be worth your time starting from an easy level that just the appearance or presence of their collar/harness = something pleasant. If they get fizzy, I’d suggest similar but the picking up of the lead, its movement, its attachment doesn’t always lead to a walk, it may lead to doing some on lead training indoors, or just watching tv, think about what the lead actually means to them.

2.        Think about your goal.  We all talk about what we don’t want, but think about what you actually do want.  Be clear and specific.  We can work with that.  For example “I want Zella to walk beside me on my right hand side on a loose lead.”

3.        So how do we do that? Well, I’m going to need an incentive for her to want to stay by my side.  With so many smells, and snuffles in the world, people, dogs, rabbits etc I need a bit of extra oomph to help her learn that being near my right leg is the best place to be.

4.        I need to think about my equipment too.  I prefer collars, many like harnesses, but whatever you use, make sure it is fitted correctly, doesn’t rub or restrict their movement.  (I've added a link to a blog I wrote on collar v harness at the bottom.) Leadwise, I use a soft or biothane 5ft fixed length lead or I use a biothane double ended lead so I can practice other activities.  But for areas with limited space I stick to a shorter lead.  Extending leads can increase pulling and frustration behaviours, whilst admittedly despite my dislike for them I accept in some scenario’s they have their benefits, I would use a long line (attached to a harness) for free movement/exploration. There’s plenty online about the use of extending leads, the only time I use one is when I have Fudge out on his wheels and Chelly is with us.  He hasn’t learnt how to jump a longline in wheels!

5.        So training, there’s loads of approaches, I use the easiest I can find as its bloody boring.  With a young dog I don’t worry about calories but with an older dog I will use their meal calories for training.  I will grate up some carrot, cheese, add in some pea’s and some lean meats, and sometimes some tiny pieces of hotdog for good measure.

6.        I will start training in the house, then the garden, and then I will start approaching the front door, the path and then surrounding area.  My focus is not the destination, my focus is teaching the dog where I want them to walk.

7.        Think about how you hold your lead.  Don’t just hold the handle with your arm outstretched. 

If you want them to walk with you, help them get it right.  Shorten the lead up so its short but slack, this will help prevent them surging ahead and you needing to wait an age for them to drop back.  Create opportunities for them to give you what you want.

8.        We always return to the place that has the highest reward – that’s what you need to do.  (Think about your favourite Auntie – why is she your fave? Or your favourite shop? Why? What keeps you going back? Where does your dog go for their meals? Or when they get a treat? What do they do without even being asked? Why? Yep, you got it!)

 

a.        My right ankle is the target. (This is to give me a target to focus on rather than the dog, so I have it clear in my head of exactly what I want.)

b.       Standing still with my dog on lead I will drop a treat next to my right ankle. (You could even start without the lead, but make sure you practice on lead in the same way.)

c.        They eat the treat as I step away, and drop a treat again.

e.        I repeat this a few times until the dog gets the idea

f.          Then I start being more fluid – drop a treat as I move to the next step or 2.

g.        Then the dog starts to get it and starts hanging around my right ankle waiting.

h.        Everytime they eat a treat, they move forward and look up waiting for the next drop rather than surging forward (note it doesn’t cause them to scavenge as they know the food is coming from you, in fact you could say it has the opposite affect).  Note: I am not asking for eye contact…..its very hard for a dachshund to stay close and make eye contact, I don’t care if they look at my hand, remember your goal – “walk on your right side on a loose lead” (don’t over complicate it!)

i.          Good girl or boy I say, and drop

j.          Notice, I’m not dropping at every single step, but I am dropping when the dog catches up with me and hangs around that position.

k.        We do that for a while, and then I may encourage them to have a sniff (which is a reward in itself).

l.          Then we repeat the above, this time, as the dog comes up to my right ankle I add a cue word, e.g. “right”. I’d suggest using a new word btw, so you start fresh.

m.     I then start adding curves and turns, and changes of direction so they really get that staying by my right ankle is what gets them the reward.


I might use a sniff as a reward after several repetitions, this also gives them a break as training is tiring.


Notice, through all of this, we are not heading anywhere specific, we are just out training, I’m not trying to get anywhere.  If you do that you set your session up for a flop!  Just go out with the intention of training loose lead walking rather than going to the park. Set yourself up for success as well as them!


9.        Once they’ve got this and when you say “here” they are walking next to you, you can start increasing the steps between the rewards.  I prefer being intermittent with the reward rather than predictable.  But initially they will get more, and as they get in the habit of staying close I will start fading it out, but in harder scenarios I help them out.

10.   Then, its just about practice and consistency.  Remember when they are “fizzy” you need to address this, they are more likely to pull ahead so help them out here.


You can apply similar principles to them walking on the otherside, walking further away from you, and remaining closeby off lead. The cue you use will apply on and off lead and is incredibly useful for them to enjoy their time out with you, and you them!


The important thing is consistency and practicing the behaviour you want them to do.


You can even use toys, remember you want to reward where you want them e.g. by my right ankle, so I will play tug there rather than ahead of me, walking and statically.  Treats are just easier for us to dispense and quicker to create an opportunity to get another reward in.


Once you get the hang of it, verbal praise mixed in with extra incentives will help.  Long term verbal praise should be enough, the other things just help us to communicate with them better.


The more you practice the more it will become habit. This is the type of habit we want! (The walking nicely, not the puddle!)


Please avoid any sharp yanks or jerks to their lead, all ethical debates aside it is well documented repetitive stress causes injuries, and in a breed where we are already worried about their spines we do not want to increase the risks of other health issues or injuries caused by poor training.


Here's a link to a blog I wrote on whether a harness or collar is best, linking to the available research on the subject: https://www.perfectlypolitedachshunds.com/post/the-controversy-of-collar-vs-harness-and-ivdd


I hope this blog helps you find harmony together and you enjoy many walks and adventures together in the future.

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