Try this simple experiment. With your dog standing calmly in front of you, gently push backward on his chest or the front of his neck. What happens? Most dogs will lean into the pressure. This natural response has been bred to a science in sled dogs such as the Siberian Husky and in breeds who were also originally used as draft animals, including the Newfoundland. You've got absolutely no chance of controlling one of these born-to-pull dogs with brute strength.
We've all seen even tiny dogs straining at the end of the leash, bodies close to the ground, tongues lolling, breathing with a loud, choking rasp. The same instinct is at work. The trick is to teach your dog how to walk nicely on a leash from the very beginning. You don't have to expect him to walk perfectly on heel, but he should be able to stay with you without pulling, and he should make all the starts, stops, and turns that you do. If you use a jewel-link training collar (don't think of it as a choke collar -- that's not how you should use it), any time the dog begins to pull, give a quick snap and release on the leash and tell him, "Heel" or "Slow" (whichever word you choose, be consistent). When he backs off, praise him.
Another alternative is a head collar -- a device similar to a horse halter. Marketed under the name Gentle Leader, it's widely available through veterinarians and trainers. The collar loops around the dog's muzzle and behind his ears, with the leash snapping on under his chin. Since you control his head with the head collar, all the rest of him can't help but follow. Instead of hitting the end of the leash, feeling the pressure on his neck, and instinctively pulling harder, a dog in a head collar ends up getting his nose turned back toward you, slowing him down immediately. A retractable leash can also help keep pulling under control. Because it expands and contracts with the dog's movement, the dog has nothing to pull against. The brake allows you to control where the dog walks.
If you've got a sled dog or draft breed, don't fight his instinct; instead, harness it and make it work for you. Let your dog pull you on skates or skis, or train him to pull a sled or dog-size cart. He'll get a workout, he won't be in trouble for pulling, and you'll have a new way to haul things.
When to Call the Vet
This type of behavior usually doesn't require any veterinary attention.
We've covered 11 distinct dog behaviors that can get out of hand, and we're certain this should give you more confidence in training your pooch to shed bad habits. Good luck!
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