One of the most common problems I witness, and indeed encounter as a dog trainer, is pulling on lead. Ironic that this is probably one of the easiest issues to deal with. However, combine this with lunging and aggression, it’s a very different story! The usual reaction of the owner/handler is to punish the dog with a lead jerk in an attempt to pull the dog back. Let’s ‘think dog’ here. The dog finds it self rewarding to pull and has taught himself that if he pulls he gets to his destination (sooner or later). It’s a self fulfilling prophesy. He does not have the cognitive ability to think it through; ‘if I stop pulling, I avoid the lead jerk’. The jerk becomes secondary, a mere inconvenience and he learns to deal with it. In a worst case scenario, he looks upon the handler as a challenge and/or someone to be avoided, leading ultimately to a deterioration in the dog/human relationship!
Firstly: simple pulling. Suffice to say there are as many solutions as there are dogs – there is not a one-size-fits-all solution and that we should teach what IS required rather than what IS NOT required. It’s easier to teach a positive rather than a negative! There may be one of many underlying causes, for example, poor or no training, poor leadership, lack of communication (encourage the dog to ‘check in’ with eye contact and a reward every few yards, all the time talking to him), lack of empathy, relationship breakdown; a plethora of reasons. The point here is that often we aim to treat the symptom rather than the cause. Whilst not wanting to dampen the dog’s enthusiasm, we can, without harshness, teach the dog that pulling achieves the opposite – a walk home! Ironically, the worst time to train for walking correctly is not when on an exercise walk, but on a shorter, training walk within range of home.
There are many Youtube videos showing this. Alas, there are also many awful videos. I would suggest Zak George, Victoria Stilwell, Chirag Patel, Steve Mann, Nando Brown and Ian Dunbar. Some of Ian’s videos, however, go way back and may be somewhat dated – draw your own conclusions. If it looks or feels wrong then it IS wrong!
Secondly: all this becomes serious when pulling culminates in lunging and aggression. Here we must ABSOLUTELY understand the cause so we may treat this rather than the symptom – lunging. We must train for and encourage an alternative and correct behaviour. The aggression may be fear based, stress/anxiety related, territorial or dominance. Each must be addressed accordingly through desensitisation and counter conditioning ideally by a professional, impartial behaviourist.
Here is a video with Victoria Stilwell addressing the problem of dog-on-dog aggression:
Pulling on lead and conditioned punishers is further discussed here: