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CANINE CONNECTION: Train your dog not to pull on its leash

While at a stop light today, I watched a petite older woman being dragged into the crosswalk by her exuberant dog.

While at a stop light today, I watched a petite older woman being dragged into the crosswalk by her exuberant dog.

The young dog was wearing a body harness, complete with padded shoulder straps - the ones designed for competitive sled dogs that make it really comfortable to pull. The dog was having a blast heading in the direction, I surmised, of the park. The owner, however, did not look amused.

Last week I covered the training steps necessary to walk out the front door with a calm, focused dog. Now it's time to attempt a walk around the block.

Throughout the entire walk, your goal as a trainer is to maintain a loose leash at all costs. Make sure you have your pockets full of delicious treats for your dog. Cooked human-grade bacon or liver is my go-to treat for this training exercise.

With a calm and focused dog, step out the front door, then encourage your dog to follow. This has nothing to do with dominance; it is simply to ensure your dog waits its turn to exit and doesn't trip you or run over anyone in the process. Your dog will learn through consistency to never run out an accidentally open door because humans always lead the way.

Once outside, ask Fido to sit. For consistency's sake, I always have my dogs on my left. I hold the leash in my right hand and the treats in the left. Give Fido a treat followed by the command "walk nice," then take the first step. Don't allow your dog to begin to walk before you do. This has nothing to do with alpha anything. It is a basic training technique to teach a dog to focus on the movement of your body.

With the treat in front of your dog's nose, lure him from sitting into following at your side. Give him the treat while you are in a forward walking motion and continue the walk. Most dogs begin to communicate with their owner at this point, but most humans don't see it. Fido will look over his shoulder at you briefly to check in before he walks ahead. When you see this, say "Good dog" and reward with a treat. To clarify, walking ahead is fine, pulling is not.

For dogs that don't check in, you've got a tougher task. You will have to create a visual circumference around you. I use a half leash length as a reference. When my dog walks ahead of me past the half leash length, I will make a "cluck, cluck" noise to get its attention. If that doesn't work, I will give a gentle tap on the leash to say, "Hey, pay attention!" While this is happening I will also turn to the right, heading in the direction I was coming. Fido will quickly change gears to catch up and the moment he does he gets praised and a treat. Keep feeding Fido treats as you turn back in the direction you were headed. Praise Fido and allow him to step ahead on the walk. Remember, during this time you are maintaining a loose leash.

Continue this sequence for the duration of the walk. Don't allow Fido to pull you towards bushes to check out the social scene, but rather lead him to a spot you choose then give him a full leash and 30 seconds to get the social update. Then start your walk the same way you did when you exited the front door.

Yes, this challenges the patience of both dog and owner, but it works if you stick it out. If you can't, there are plenty of no-pulling tools available at your local pet sore. Good luck!