Does your dog lunge and pull?

A question I get asked regularly is how do I stop my dog barking and lunging? How do I keep my dog calm at the end of the lead?

Well the first answer to that question always has to be space. If your dog is barking and lunging, he is too close to the thing (dog, person, car, whatever) that he finds scary or over-stimulating. So try to choose places where you can create enough space for him to watch these things and stay calm. You can then start to reinforce the behaviours you like in that situation (watching, playing with you, walking close, whatever you choose).

But what about those times when we are surprised? When we are caught out without enough space? When our dog reacts to something we didn’t expect? Or when we see a situation coming where our dog will be OK if they stay with us but we know will not cope at the end of the lead?

What we often do in these situations is hold our dog tighter - pull them in to us, make the lead short, hold the collar. But the risk with all of these methods is that they increase, rather than decrease, our dog’s level of arousal. As you restrain him, he may feel restricted and even panicked. He may feel frustrated and you may trigger the opposition response so that he pushes against this pressure.

The alternative to restraint is to find a method of gentle containment. Containment means ‘keeping within limits’. So where restraint prevents movement, containment provide safe limits in which your dog can still move and watch, but with reduced risk of escalating arousal. You can do this by gently holding the harness or teaching a “middle” and using your hands gently on the shoulders, but my favourite way to do it is by using the TTouch Balance Lead.

Before you sigh at the thought of yet another bit of equipment you need to buy, you should know that the TTouch Balance Lead is a technique not a special bit of kit, and that you can do it with any lead that is long enough. I have done a balance lead with leather, webbing and rope leads; from a collar and from many different types of harness; from one and from two points of connection; even with a webbing flexi-lead and, once, a slip lead. The only type of lead where it might not work is a chain lead as this could be painful for the dog. But it is certainly easiest and most effective with a soft, flat lead that is at least 6 foot long.

So what do you do? It is very simple. Hold the lead about a foot from the point of connection with the dog (either harness or collar) in one hand and hold the lead handle in the other. Let the section of lead between your hands hang in a big open loop (like a smile) then lower this over his shoulder and pass it across your dog’s chest. Then bring the two ends together behind his withers. What you end up with is the lead forming a loose loop over his chest and shoulders. He can continue to move within this, so he is not tightly restrained, but he can’t lunge and pull forwards.

If you have two points of connection it is even simpler, as you already have a loop between these points. Simply pass this loop across the chest in the same way.

You can also walk with the Balance Lead and it can be a great way of taking pressure off the neck if you have a dog who has to be walked on a collar for whatever reason. But when using it for containment, more often than not you are stationary. You may be letting someone pass or waiting for a class to start or watching something exciting from a distance. And the balance lead allows you to safely keep your dog with you without undue restraint and without pressure on the collar or harness.

You can see a video of this at https://www.dropbox.com/s/8qy5zsjjhb02dek/balancelead.mp4?dl=0.