Leash Pulling Mistakes

In this section, we’d like you to bring to a common mistake that actually reinforces leash pulling by the dog. This is a common mistake that I myself recently did – and to be fair, it’s completely not intuitive to implement at all.

image of a dog strongly pulling against a leash

So I’d like to have it here, as a reminder to myself as well as knowledge sharing to you guys ^^. Hence, here we go!

The Incorrect Sequence

When walking my doggo, Stormy, he does tend to get distracted and would sometimes like to go in directions that we’d like to avoid. Sometimes, we just wants to go ahead at a pace that is different than what we wished for.

When these occurs, it’s a natural reaction to slow down and reduce the slack of the leash – hence, tightening the leash per se. In my mind, this would result in a feedback loop where

  1. Stormy is walking ahead too fast
  2. I slow down, and leash tightens – there is less slack
  3. Stormy notices that my movements are slower, and tightening of the least is uncomfortable
  4. Stormy reduces his pace to my pace – a paces comfortable for my walk

This is the expected outcome, but strangely it was rarely the case. It’s so frustrating like – why are you not listening to me!

Image of a meme saying "Why you no listen!"

Stormy normally pulls just as hard, trying to “motivate” me to increase my pace to match his. Despite the discomfort, it seems like his desire to go faster just supercedes any aversive pressure exerted by the least or any feedback communication that tells him that I am not moving as fast.

Dead end? That is until I got a pro tip from Chief Behaviourist from Petcoach – just to brag, she’s also my wife :D.

The Actual Sequence Experienced

Qiai explained that the sequence went like this:

  1. Stormy Walks Fast: Stormy walks ahead quickly.
  2. I Slow Down: I slow down, causing the leash to tighten and discomfort Stormy. This tells Stormy I’m not keeping up
  3. Stormy Pulls Harder: Stormy pulls even harder. He thinks this will make us move faster, creating a cycle:
    • Stormy believes pulling speeds us up.
    • Moving faster feels good, so he keeps pulling.
    • Stormy’s view: Pulling makes me move faster, which is great!
  4. Leash Tightening Doesn’t Work: The discomfort of the tight leash doesn’t stop Stormy because:
    • Accidentally, we reward his pulling.
    • Stormy isn’t clear on what we want.
    • Pulling gets him what he wants—us moving forward—so he keeps doing it.

Images showing the flow diagram of how we are actually reinforcing the leash pulling behaviour

Looking at the diagram for the flows highlighted in blue, we realize we’re rewarding behavior we don’t want. It’s surprising but true that slowing down and tightening the leash actually encourage Stormy to pull more.

Now, what’s the solution?

The Correction

Here’s where I realized the importance of professional advice. The solution is actually simple, but achieving the necessary precision through trial and error alone is challenging (unless you’re exceptionally skilled).

Instead of merely slowing down, the correction involves coming to a complete stop, calling Stormy back, and rewarding him when he stops pulling. After all, the goal is for him to cease pulling, right?

So, the revised sequence looks like this:

Images showing the flow of accurately reinforcing the non-leash-pulling behaviour

  1. Stormy walks ahead too quickly.
  2. I stop completely and refrain from moving forward.
  3. Stormy can’t advance further, and the tightening leash becomes uncomfortable.
  4. Stormy turns around to investigate the issue.
  5. At this point, I call him back using a recall cue such as “Stormy” or “Come.”
  6. As he starts walking back to me, I reward him. This reward could be:
    • Offering a treat
    • Praising him with a cheerful “Good Boy!”
  7. Now Stormy comprehends that pulling on the leash isn’t desired, but walking towards or beside me is:
    • Pulling on the leash leads to a stop, which isn’t his desired outcome.
    • Walking towards me earns him a reward.
    • Walking alongside me allows him to continue moving without stopping, which he prefers.
  8. Once satified that the dog is no longer pulling, the Owner can proceed to advance forward, and the dog would follow
    • When the dog walks ahead too quickly, we repeat the steps from Step #2

With this approach, we achieve two objectives:

  • Clearly communicating the desired behavior.
  • Clearly communicating the undesired behavior.

The Perfect Dog

Now – he no longer pulls. Now, walks are perfect. Calmly walking beside me with unimaginable self control. Simply, amazing <3 …

image of Eddy Murphy saying "Gotcha" to reflect the sarcasm of our earlier statement

Psyched! We live in a non-perfect world, and there are always instances where he pulls (due to different triggers). It’s a continuous effort to keep communicating and re-communicating the desired behaviour to your doggo.

So morale of the story – dog’s are hardwork, and there is not short cut. I learnt it the hard way, but fingers cross this article short cuts the knowledge for some of you guys out here!

Thank You!

This was a short one, but thought I’d squeeze it in – simply because it amazes me how a simple change could improve the effectiveness of your dog handling by 10x.

But obviously, there is more than one road to Rome, so if you guys have other approaches and tricks on how we can handle our furry pal harmoniously – do give us a shout, and we’ll test it out. Also would give us more content for an article hehe!

Thanks a bunch guys!
Peace and Love
Shafik Walakaka

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