My dog sucks at walking.
December 17, 2016 4:01 PM   Subscribe

I adopted a dog about a month ago and she is awful at walking. It's driving me crazy. How can I stop the pulling, circling, leash-tangling, etc?

Walking was the raison d'etre for getting a dog. I just got back from an hour long walk in the woods during a snowstorm listening to weird drone music - this is my idea of heaven. But she just cannot be calm.

I've tried the EasyWalk harness, no good. The gentle leader is better for controlling her once she is pulling/acting out, but it doesn't prevent the behavior. I've tried tugs when the leash is tight, or stopping dead and resuming once it's loose but so far the only result is very. slow. walks. When I stop dead, she circles around and gets tangled up.

So I've read various strategies online and in a metafilter recommended book (Good Dog 101, Cristine Dahl) but what I'm asking is what has worked for you? How long does it take to break a dog of this behavior?
posted by hafehd to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Instead of stopping dead, have you tried taking a few steps backward? That sometimes worked to distract my nose-down or otherwise inattentive pup.

Otherwise, work on a 'watch me' or similar command with treats, first in a non-walk environment (but still with leash, etc.) and then work up to short walks.
posted by minsies at 4:13 PM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Clicker training can work well; an easily distracted dog needs have something to focus on. And she'll love you for giving her treats on your walks!

I'm sure there are some online tutorials for just this kind of thing that would be better than what I could outline here... Good luck!
posted by Specklet at 4:26 PM on December 17, 2016

Walking on a lead isn't something dogs naturally know how to do. They are all awful at it at first. You need to think of it as something you have to train her to do, otherwise it's like saying you just got a dog and she's awful at coming when you call her name. There's a whole lot of training methods out there, or you can take her to doggy obedience classes where they will probably include leashed walking among other things.
posted by lollusc at 4:27 PM on December 17, 2016 [14 favorites]

Ok, so first off: How old is your dog? Because younger dogs get more excited; older dogs may have bad habits, etc. To know how to fix the behavior, that's important info.

Second off: How much do you know about dogs? Because dogs are interested in things around them — especially if they're not regularly in contact with that environment — and you may have unreasonable expectations or be misunderstanding your dog's behavior.

Which leads to: What is your expectation? That the dog be focused primarily on you and ignore the rest of the world? That they maintain a heel throughout the walk?

To get to the larger question: Yes, this can be trained, but how much work it is depends on the breed and temperament.

One of the major issues is simply that people, especially novice dog owners, significantly underestimate the amount of effort and awareness that this sort of training requires. If you want to train your dog to maintain a heel or to only walk in front of you directly and ignore distractions, it first requires you to be incredibly attentive during your training — no listening to music and woolgathering. You have to have the laser-like focus that you want your dog to attain prior to your dog attaining it. The second part of this training is to understand the incentives. The only way that your dog will learn that paying attention to you is more interesting or important than paying attention to the wild world around it is if attending you is more rewarding. That means things like constant reward treats and attention at any good behavior as you shape your dog's norms, and you have to constantly be aware of the environment — essentially outsmarting your dog at all times until the dog internalizes this behavior. You have to be ON IT. This isn't easy, but can be done. Finally, you have to be unerringly consistent. Dogs aren't great at generalization, so you have to constantly be recognizing instances of both the behavior your want to encourage and the behavior you want to discourage. You must ALWAYS reward good behavior, even as you can use intermittent reinforcement to vary the rewards and be able to extend out the treat/reward cycle.

To train a dog like this, well, if the dog is a puppy, it will probably take at least a year of constant work. If the dog is older and has some basis built up already for this kind of training, it could take as little as a few months, but if they have bad habits that need to be overcome, it will likely take longer than a year. And again, that's a year of CONSTANT ATTENTION TO TRAINING THIS SKILL.

I grew up with dogs, and my mom is a pretty amazing dog trainer. We had dogs that would do this, as well as respond to hand commands when off leash and be able to recognize a broad range of follow, flushing and flanking hand commands. The dogs my parents currently have are smart enough to recognize this stuff, but my parents have basically decided that the discipline required of them makes that level of training not worth it, and they'd rather have a dog that has reasonable judgment and can come when called than one that is constantly working at obeying commands. It's much easier on them, and they recognize the commitment that this level of training requires.

(The other source I have, beyond living with dogs that were being trained like this, is a set of interviews I did with dog handlers and trainers for bomb dogs, who are meticulously trained to ignore distractions, and who are not pets — they have an affectionate, if diffident and professional, relationship with their trainers, and usually only work like that for a couple of years. But again, this means treating that level of training as a job, not as something that you do while strolling through the woods.)

And again, this depends on the level of fidelity and discipline that you want. I will mention that basing your beliefs about proper dog behavior on television or movies, or dog shows, can be misleading, as screen dogs and dog show dogs are worked to that level of discipline, even if the characters in the movie are not treating them with it.

You can have a dog that is perfectly behaved, but recognize that it's requires that being perfectly behaved be the dog's job, and that ensuring the dog is perfectly behaved is your job. It takes a lot of the fun out of having a dog if being a dog's boss isn't the fun part of having a dog for you.
posted by klangklangston at 4:30 PM on December 17, 2016 [18 favorites]

1 - a month is a short time. Pup is very much still learning your cues and expectations. Walking on a leash is hard. Try to remember that if frustration takes hold

2 - consistency in how you train, frequently changing methods on a walk is confusing

3 - shorter walks while training

4 - the ever so attractive treat pouch with high value treats given every few steps when staying in position / loose leash with lots of praise

5 - a few sessions with a trainer. This is all about teaching you how to teach your pup

Good luck! You can do this and will be on your awesome long walks soon I'm sure!
posted by MandaSayGrr at 4:36 PM on December 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

Every time she does roughly the behavior you're going for, even for just like 5 seconds, give her a really amazing treat. As she improves, give treats for more and more specific good walking behavior (like heeling, being attentive to you, etc).

This will work easily and well for general poorly trained dog behavior like pulling.

Have you done a basic obedience class? Heeling and good leash behavior was one of the main lessons in the one I did, once upon a time.
posted by Sara C. at 4:38 PM on December 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Take her to training classes. I waited almost a year to do this with my rescue dog and I wish I had done it much sooner. It was like $100 for 6 classes at Petco and it made a world of difference. You'll be able to see the proper techniques modeled by the trainer, and they'll be able to give you feedback and correct you if necessary.
posted by radioamy at 5:32 PM on December 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Get a big wooden spoon. Dip spoon in peanut butter. Now hold peanut butter spoon next to your side, just a tiny bit above your dog's reach. Dip the peanut butter spoon down occasionally to give your pup a nice lick.

This worked pretty well for us, and our super excitable pup.
posted by meese at 5:34 PM on December 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

As recommended to us by our trainer: a clip on pouch full of tiny bits of string cheese, doled out right into his mouth quickly whenever the dog is doing the right thing in the right place. But mostly: a couple hours with a trainer either in a basic obedience class or one on one. This is not so much to train the dog as it is to train YOU how to work with the dog. The most valuable thing we got from our training class was observations of the counterproductive things we were doing without even realizing it.
posted by charmedimsure at 5:39 PM on December 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

Seriously this will take practice for the both of you. You've only had the dog a month it takes dogs a little while to get used to what you want. Do you walk the dog like this every day? or just on weekends. Also looking at the number of things you tried in the month you've had the dog you haven't really given any of them a long enough time to work.

Also you are hitting the point where the dog is now off it's OMG I'm in a new home & I must behave behavior & into it's learning what it can & can't do stage, this isn't the dog being bad, it's just finding out what the rules are. So the advice to go take a basic obedience class given her is great this is the best time to do it so you can go on like you want to continue. Walking nicely is one of the things they will work on, but the main point of classes like this isn't to train your dog, it's to train you to train your dog. They are also a lot of fun & a great way to bond with your new dog.

The main advice I can give is patience & practice are your best friends here. Decide on a training method & then stick it out. Make everything routine & consistent and you will have the best results.
posted by wwax at 6:35 PM on December 17, 2016

Look. My dog was the world's worst fucking walker in the world when we got him, to the point where I felt like his level of crazy actually posed a physical danger to me. He just could. not. walk. in a straight line. He was constantly bounding in front of me, trying to walk in a wild zig zag. And he pulled like crazy. The pulling was absolutely out of control. He pulled like a fucking madman when there was absolutely no external stimulus to be interested in, and walking is ALL external stimulus. If he saw ANYTHING AT ALL--a human, a cat, a car, a small animal, a fucking leaf, or worst of all another dog, he turned into a bucking lunatic who pulled so severely I was afraid he'd dislocate my shoulder. He had never been on a leash before and he was a fully grown dog and he just did not know what was going on.

Now he's walking like a charm, but it took months. And, okay, he still pulls and zig zags and bucks occasionally--mainly when he sees another dog and he ABSOLUTELYMUSTSAYHIOMG but this is relatively uncommon and either way I can generally drag him past.

I see the advice about food, and it SOUNDS good in theory, but when I tried it with my dog it was just.... not feasible, especially for one person? If I had the treat ready to go my raging lunatic would spend the entire walk RIGHTBYMYSIDE, madly banging his body against mine and trying to get it out of my hand. IF I put it away, where he couldn't see it (this is also unfeasible, since he could smell it, but let's assume for a moment that I was actually able to hide it completely) I wasn't able to give it to him in time. He'd be good and I'd try to get it out but the moments of good behavior were SO fleeting that by the time I dug it out he had found some external stimulus to FLIPTHEFUCKOUTABOUT and then OMGFOOD and he was at my side trying to get it out. He's not a violent dog at all but when I first got him he didn't know how to be gentle, so giving him food out of my hand involved a lot of OUCHGENTLENO and then my hand would throb and then after I gave it to him OMGSQUIRREL so he was bounding toward the squirrel while gobbling down the disgusting meat thing I pulled out of my pocket and I wasn't prepared to hold him back. We gave up on the food quickly.

Here's what worked. Our rule became ABSOLUTELY NO WALKING, NO EXCEPTIONS AT ALL if the leash was not loose. That's it. We got no where. At first we didn't get out of the driveway. Then we would make it about 100 yards before we were just... done. But dogs are simple creatures, and he learned fast. Don't listen to dominance theory--dogs are far simpler than that. They learn by association. My dog had never been on a leash before, but he quickly associated the VERY TIGHT ROPE THING with WALKING TO FUN PLACES. So we took away the tight part--the rope thing had to be LOOSE if he wanted to walk to fun places--and the association changed. He learned that he had to S L O W THE FUCK DOWN in order to make the rope thing loose in order to get what he wanted. He also learned that if he tried to walk in front of me while on the rope thing, FUN WALK also stopped. So he stopped walking in front of me. It wasn't fast-- it took months. But we got to the point where we could walk somewhere, we just couldn't walk far because it took forever. Slowly, he pulled less. Now he basically gets it but I still stop if he starts to pull and he does this hilarious thing where he walks backwards REALLYFAST so he can keep walking. I still need to enforce it constantly but I can generally walk this dog with one finger now. He's great.

You said she turns into a tangled mess. That's okay. Untangle her and then IMMEDIATELY start walking again, before she can pull again. Keep this up every time. Do not waiver.

The suggestions about a training class are also excellent--you need to help him learn to control himself, and that's what training does. It would probably also help to get him tired beforehand. Play, then let him CALM DOWN (so don't take him out RIGHT AFTER playing--let him rest first) and then go.

One final point--it's only been a month. You need to give this more time. Find something and stick to it and don't waiver, ever. You also can't go into these walks expecting, well, an actual walk. He's already shown you he can't do that, so you need to lower your expectations a bit. The walks will be slow but that's part of training a dog. You'll get there.
posted by Amy93 at 7:03 PM on December 17, 2016 [15 favorites]

Trainer. It took my 5 year old rescue 1 month to learn the lead basics, but I invested early in training classes. It then took her 3 months to not suddenly snort and sit whenever I tried to take her where she didn't want to go. At first, if I insisted, she would literally roll on her back and stick all four legs in the air. Good times. The trainer helped with that too, but it took longer because I seriously believe her to be a dog-donkey mix.
posted by frumiousb at 7:06 PM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is pretty duh, but I have to make sure my dog gets enough off-leash time so that his regular leash walks are calm. We have a few spots where he can run and I can stroll and it's just the best.
posted by pintapicasso at 8:42 PM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had fantastic success with the 'reverse direction' loose leash walking technique. You can find a short description here. Charlie didn't take long to suss out that if she wanted to continue in a particular direction she need to be by my side. Any darting forward resulted in us walking the other direction.

The version my trainer taught me didn't involve a 'we're turning around now' command, and no scolding, and no praise either. It was a pretty straightforward setup and it made our walks easier within a week. If she pulled ahead, we turned around. Period, no exceptions. The first day we spent a decent bit of time on a single block because as you can imagine, she pulled constantly. It was nothing but a series of about-faces. By the end of the week it was sorted out, and she's been good since.
posted by komara at 9:31 PM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

You don't mention how old your dog is.

"How can I stop the pulling, circling, leash-tangling, etc?"
A different leash/collar make already help. In the worst case, a "choke collar" but there are other, milder options. We had to take care of a Boston Terrier for a few weeks with similar issues. My GF explained the problem in a pet shop, bought a different collar and the dog walked much better.

"I just got back from an hour long walk in the woods during a snowstorm listening to weird drone music - this is my idea of heaven. But she just cannot be calm. "

On hour walk in the woods and your dog was not calm? Few dogs would. I don't know where you live but is the dog not allowed to run free in the woods? It will run around like crazy but always follow you and back home it will be dead tired.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:51 PM on December 17, 2016

Maybe a shorter lead would help. When my dog was on a shorter lead there wasn't enough lead to get tangled in and he was right beside me where I could give him direction.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:31 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dog training takes a bit of skill and a huge amount of patience. It's not for everyone. A friend of mine recently got a rescue dog that had had no training but spent a few weeks at a foster home where he was trained to walk on a lead and some other obedience things. Although the dog is a bundle of energy he is a pleasure to walk. If training is not your thing maybe you can find someone who will train him for you?
posted by night_train at 3:01 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

The second the leash tightens, you stop dead. The second the leash slacks, start walking. Repeat. Repeat again. Repeat again and again. (This means quite a few really not-fun walks.) But it will work. Wish I'd discovered this several dogs ago. (Shorter version of Amy93's post.)
posted by Mayree at 12:40 PM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Go to a positive trainer. Training to walk on a 4' loose leash is easy enough (be a statue as recommended above), but you need a dog trainer to train YOU how to interact with the dog. Life is easier when you know how to shape for the behaviours you want.

The trainer may also have you use a Gentle Leader or similar halter as a training tool, but please don't use these without supervision.
posted by Nyx at 2:20 PM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

We adopted two rescue dogs, both of which were terrible on the leash, in different ways. There's a lot of great advice here, and I tried many of these methods.

I think the best advice I can give is to be patient, be flexible, and try different approaches. Dogs will respond differently to different rewards, methods, and so on. Don't get stuck on the one true method that *must* work for your dog. Give him/her lots of chances and ways to please you.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:32 PM on December 19, 2016

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