According to “received wisdom”, dogs pull on their leashes because they’re trying to dominate us. So apparently all those sled dogs have really put us in our place! Anyway, snarkiness aside, as far as I can tell, Spencer has 3 reasons for pulling:
- The Flight response — In our anthropocentric perspective, we assume the dog is trying to get somewhere. When we first started working with Irène (our positive methods trainer), we asked her in perplexity, “If Spencer is actually frightened and not dominant/[insert other standard uncontrollable dog descriptor], then why does he pull out on walks?” I paraphrase, but her response was pretty much “He’s probably just trying to get the heck out of there. He doesn’t know where he’s going. He just knows that he’s uncomfortable here.” Well, that was a light-bulb moment.
- He walks faster than we do — It seems pretty laughable, but he has long legs. Spencer pretty much has to drag his feet to adopt our pace. He does try to respect the length of the leash, but he’s quickly at the end of it. So his solution is to bounce back and forth between walking at a brisk pace forward and turning back to us (either waiting for us to catch up or taking a couple of steps back in our direction) to acknowledge that he’s not supposed to pull. He’s much better at not pulling when he’s on his long lead in the woods than when he’s on the shorter leash.
- He’s on a mission — Have you ever been with someone (or been that someone) who charges ahead to a planned destination, leaving the rest of the group behind? Maybe you know exactly where the right department in the store is. When Spencer is tracking a scent, the outside world does not exist. He’s like a little tank charging along at his predetermined sniffer pace. To give an example, yesterday he was tracking deer in the woods, and he didn’t even notice when two dogs ran right past us! Normally he would have begged to go play with them. It’s a mission of a different sort, but when he’s looking for exactly the right place to poop, he also pulls.
Bonus reason: Apparently it’s instinctual for a dog to pull back against resistance. Again, think about sled dogs. But think also about tug-of-war. It seems a bit circular, but if you don’t want your dog to pull, then you shouldn’t let him pull.
We’re working on that. Spencer’s gotten a lot better about learning where the limits of the leash are and respecting them, but he’s not one of those dogs who spends all his time gazing adoringly at his walker as he goes along either. More about that in an upcoming post.