Training Your Dog - Walking on a Leash
Walking your dog should be something both of you enjoy, not an ordeal where you're each pulling in different directions. Although you can correct bad habits, it's easier to start off with good habits. Of course, first you have to teach your puppy to simply walk on a leash in the same direction you're going.
Leash training is often the puppy’s first introduction to formal training, so the way you go about it is especially important. Start by getting him a simple lightweight buckle collar. For very small puppies, a cat collar may be better. Make sure it's not so loose he can get his lower jaw around it. Don't leave him unattended with the collar on, as puppies are adept at getting collars caught on things.
The collar may feel strange to your pup at first, so he may scratch or bite at it. As soon as he stops fidgeting with it, give him a treat. Then lure him with a treat so he gets used to walking with you, still off leash. Soon he will ignore the collar and walk with you as you dole out treats. Practice this for several days, so he associates wearing the collar with following you for treats.
After a few days of this, attach the leash. Traditional trainers often advocate letting the dog drag the leash for a few days, even letting littermates pull one another around by it, but this does nothing to make good associations with it. Instead, keep doing the same thing you were doing before the leash was attached: encouraging your dog to walk with you while you reward him. Simply pick up the leash and lure him along with the treat, rewarding him along the way.
At some point he’ll decide the leash might be something he should object to, so he may freeze, rear up, or flip over. Many traditional trainers think now is the time to drag him along, but that’s not necessary. Just change directions and encourage him again, step by step. If he won't get up, pick him up and set him back on his feet. If he won't take a step forward, try getting him to take a step to the side. If he won't walk at all, carry him close to some place he wants to go---maybe his food dish, his littermates, or even back to the house if he's a homebody. Let him walk there, hand out a big treat reward, and end the session while he still wants more. You may have to repeat this, gradually adding in some direction changes so he's walking at an angle to his goal, but eventually getting there.
As he gets better, then you can ignore him when he’s tugging or dragging, being sure to praise and reward as soon as he lets the leash get slack. Gradually reserve your praise and treats when he's walking nicely by your side. Once he is doing this reliably you can add the cue “walk nice.” This cue tells him he just needs to be near you without pulling, but need not be in a formal heel position.
So far you’ve been practicing walking in your yard or some place with few distractions. Of course, you want your dog to behave when walking in public, where many distractions call to him. This is when all thoughts of walking beside you evaporate, and your dog forges ahead, dragging you along behind.
Pulling is a self-perpetuating behavior. Remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When your dog pulls forward, you pull backward. When you pull backward, your dog pulls forward. If your goal is to train for weight pulling contests, you’re doing just great. If your goal is to have a pleasant walk, you need to make it more rewarding for your dog to walk without pulling.
To cure pulling, secure your leash around your waist so you are like an anchor when your dog pulls. This is assuming your dog can't really pull you off your feet---if he can, don't do this! Otherwise, when he starts to pull, stop and stand in place without giving up ground or pulling back. Just stand there. Only when he lets the leash go slack do you praise and reward. Practice this until he stops pulling as soon as you stop.
Next walk toward something he wants to reach. If he pulls, stop or even back up. The point is not to jerk your dog back, but to show him that pulling gets him there more slowly. When he stops pulling, go toward the goal again. The goal is his reward, but the only way he can reach it is to stop pulling!
In some cases, dogs seem to tune you out no matter what you do, or may be so strong you simply cannot control them. These dogs may need to wear a different sort of collar. A harness encourages dogs to pull the most, followed by a buckle collar, a slip (choke) or martingale collar, and a head halter. If you use a head halter, you need to receive instruction in how to use them properly. . A head halter does not require a lot of strength; it works on the same concept as a horse halter, turning the dog by the muzzle rather than the neck. When the dog pulls, his muzzle is turned back toward you and he makes no forward progress. You must be careful, however, not to let him hurt his neck by too sudden turns.
Consider enrolling in a dog obedience class to help your dog practice walking on leash politely around other dogs. Your dog can learn not to pull---but it does take practice!