May issue

May issue
May issue

Monday, 24 August 2009

Back to basics

Oh how I wish I had a dog that pulled on the lead! Forwards that is, but not backwards! I have a problem with my 10-year-old male neutered Westie, which is really spoiling our walks. He persistently yanks my arm backwards. This is because he has noticed an interesting smell and wants to stop to investigate, but it's driving me mad.
At the same time I walk my eight-year-old female spayed Westie, who walks nicely on the lead and when I am walking with my husband and I take the female dog, the walk is altogether different because she is less interested in stopping. The male dog has recently pulled my husband's arm backwards with such force he really hurt his shoulder. This dog is very strong and sometimes it is unbelieveable that a small dog can pull with such force.
I have tried everything I can think of - standing with him until he has finished and wants to walk again, telling him 'no' firmly every time he wants to stop to sniff, yanking him forwards regardless of what he wants to do, trying to keep the lead slack and gently encouraging him to walk forwards again, and keeping his lead really short, so that he has no opportunity to pull my arm backwards.
Is the male Westie too old to retrain in the art of walking nicely and not pulling backwards? I would be prepared to take him back to training classes if you thought this would be helpful.
Jane Hull, by email


  1. If you want an enjoyable walk, ie a pleasant stroll rather than getting from A to B in a hurry, why don't you take the dogs somewhere where they can be off the lead?
    That way, there's no danger of your arm being yanked backwards or of you getting left behind while you wait.
    My former dog, a male spaniel, used to love stopping and sniffing and it made lead walking very boring for me, which is why I only did it when absolutely necessary - ie for his evening walk around the block.
    However male dogs do seem to love all this sniffing and weeing and because it is part of the way they communicate, it does seem a bit mean to deprive them of it. Also, your old boy might not feel like running around at his time of life.
    A brisk walk, having keeping up with everybody, might not be his idea of fun at all.
    I bet, though, that if you and the other dog continued ahead he would soon catch up with you.

  2. Firstly, take heart. It is possible to teach any dog not to pull on the lead - no matter what their age. This is a physical skill and hard to describe here. A one to one would be the best approach. An experienced and accredited dog professional will help - but please ensure they use kind methods, NO yanking as it damages the dog and will also hurt you! Phone them and ask how they might deal with this problem before you book.
    Terriers can be very strong with all four feet digging into the ground at once. I recommend a harness such as a Halti (not headcollar - the harness), with your normal lead attached to the front ring only. This gives nice control but takes away the 'strength' aspect.
    I have taught a lot of terriers with my loose lead method and it works quickly but needs practice. As they are such determined dogs this will take patience but you will be ultimately delighted and I am sure you will all enjoy walks once more!

  3. Perhaps you could change how you see the walk? Or try to see it from your dog's point of view.

    It may well be *you* spoiling *his* walk by not allowing him to follow his natural instincts which are to stop and sniff at every little thing.

    He can be taught to walk nicely on the lead, but this should really only be used when you need to get from A to B, and there should always be time on a walk to allow him to do this.

    Even if he's allowed to go offlead he may well still lag behind (my terrier is pretty much always behind me when he's offlead) so you might still have to hang about waiting for him, but you will have a happier dog than if his walks are forever doomed to be a 'Quick March' round the local area.

    Try to find time for him to have a lot of sniffing, and consider that if you do want to have a 'proper' walk that you could walk him and your female Westie separately so that he can have his sniffing, and you can enjoy a walk without stopping.

  4. Boys are rather obsessed with sniffing and peeing aren't they? I agree with Julia and Mina's comments, but have something to add which may also be of help: One of my dog-walking customers is a Westie, who regularly suddenly stopped without warning because he wanted to move to the edge of the path for a sniff/pee. Inevitably this resulted in an (unintentional) unpleasant jerk to his collar. I don't let him off-lead (for various reasons) and therefore needed to come up with an alternative solution. I now stop before he does! To maximise my chances of suceess, I walk at the briskest pace he can easily manage, and also walk between him and the side of the path where he wants to sniff - or with him in the middle of the path if there are 'sniffable' things on both sides! When I decide to stop, I make a right-angled turn to the edge of the path (if I slow down too much before turning, or just drift over to the edge of the path, he stops just short of where I'd planned to stop). It didn't take long at all before I could judge how often I needed to stop. If he does stop before me, I don't say anything, I just gently use the lead to get him moving again as quickly as possible. This approach really has transformed our walks together!

  5. A harness is definitely kinder to both of you - the fleece ones made by Dog Games are brilliant, and really easy to put on. But in answer to the actual question - yes, of course you can train him to walk on lead, but it will take time and patience and you will need to walk him alone to do it.
    Dogs do need to stop and sniff, but really need to be taught that there are times when this is acceptable and times when it isn't. I assume he has regular off-lead exercise when he can sniff all he likes?

  6. Have you looked into the possibility that your dog may not actually want to walk? Have a look at the amount you walk him, and possibly get him checked over by the vet to make sure that there are no signs of pain or injury. You say he is 10 so it may be possible that he is experiencing discomfort somewhere. You do not say how long this behaviour has been happening for,and when it started.
    If he has always been very happy on walks I would definitely look at health issues. As a Bowen therapist as well as a canine behaviourist I would always look at the problem from all sides. Of course Bowen therapy may well be indicated if the vet cannot come up with any definitive answers, as Bowen is a great therapy to relieve discomfort and any minor aches and pains your dog may be experiencing.
    It would be very useful to know how long this has been a problem, and your may husband may well also benefit from some Bowen to help the injury sustained to his shoulder! You can get advice and information on Bowen therapy by looking at where you will also find a directory of therapists too.
    Pennie Clayton (Bowen therapist Cert EGCBT)