Friday, May 3, 2013

How Yoda (has almost) Mastered the Walk

One of the key things in being a good dog owner is providing your dog with lots of opportunities for exercise, especially going on long walks which cater to your dog's instinctive need to migrate by walking together with her pack. Daily walks allow your dog to release mental and physical energy but also provide your dog with positive attention from her favourite people and a chance to bond with you doing something she loves!


If your dog pulls while walking, the best way to go about un-teaching leash pulling and re-training to heel is to exercise your dog first by running and playing together in a yard. Then, once your dog is calmer and more focussed, you can treat the walk as a training session until your dog learns to walk properly. Short, fun walking training sessions using lots of loving positive reinforcement are always most effective and leave your dog with a fond memory of it.

When we first adopted our Yoda, she was a major leash-puller. Her whole life she had probably associated  pulling with getting somewhere faster so we had to teach her that when we walk, we walk her, rather than the other way around.

How we stopped leash-pulling

But what if you are city-folk like us without a fenced-in yard to exercise your dog and can't go to the dog park? Other than playing inside the house or outside with a training lead, you really have no choice but to go for walks. So, how do you ''do the walk'' properly?

I admit the first few days walking Yoda were a bit challenging. Ok. Challenging.

Being a pit, she is incredibly strong and tolerant of pain, so she had no problem strangling herself at the end of the leash after every single step. 

Pulling = Stopping

  • We started out taking short walks only around and in front of our duplex so she could get accustomed to the new environment bit by bit. If we took a step and she pulled at the end of the leash, I froze. Basically pulling on the leash = me transforming into a tree. I would wait until she looked back at me and loosened up on the leash and then I used some positive reinforcement by giving her a small treat or praise and then I'd start walking again. Two steps and she was at the end again. Repeat. It took about a 4 days for her to realize that loose leash = moving and pulling = stopping

Walking ahead = Stopping

  • At that point, I upped the ante ante and began walking up and down the block. I also refined the walk training by requiring her to stay closer (within a 2 foot box next to my left leg - like a loose heel) in order for us to keep walking. Whenever she happened to be by my side, I would give her a treat. If she walked ahead *prior* to there being tension on the leash, I would either stop and wait for her to come back to my left leg or do an about turn and walk the opposite direction. Again. And again. It took another 2-3 days for her to stop walking far ahead.

Pre-walk routine

  • We then added a pre-walk routine before leaving the house. I never allow Yoda to exit through a door before me, but for the first few days as soon as I would walk out, she would bolt out past me. I changed my approach. I used a non-marker sound in a calm assertive way (like ''psshhh'') to signify that I wanted her to calm down and asked her to stay back and sit while I put on my shoes and opened the door. I then stood at the door looking around and held the leash close and asked her to sit. We stayed like that for about 2 whole minutes. It allowed her to practise some impulse control and look for my signal before starting off. 
  • We now do this pre-walk routine and she actually anticipates it and sits in her spot calmly waiting for my sign even if the door is open. I find this sets the stage for the walk and it has greatly improved our walk experience once we are outside the house.

Combining our prep routine and the heel training, walks quickly became enjoyable! By the second week we started walking around the block and she was more or less consistently walking by my side or just slightly ahead. The problem came whenever she saw a squirrel, a cat or another dog and she would pull at the end of the leash again. 

Use of a head collar

I started using some redirection and distraction methods to recall her back from the end of the lead when she was too engrossed by a squirrel etc. (such as running in the other direction or catching her attention with stinky liver treats) but I was a bit concerned about any possible injury to her windpipe in the meantime while she is still learning to walk on the lead.

I decided to use a Halti as a training aid along with positive reinforcement until her walk becomes solid.

I read about harnesses, but pits are so strong and they can just get accustomed to it. We were recommended to use a choke collar or a prong collar, but I *refuse* to use a choke collar on my dog!!! I decided to give the Halti a try since it is not a punishment based leash and it was a safe option on my dog. I am sure the Gentle Leader is equally effective, though there are some differences between the two.

All I have to say about the Halti is that it is AAAAAA-mazing! She immediately stopped running to the end of the leash despite any distraction. The leash (litterally) gently turns her head to the side so she knows that if she moves forward past me her head will turn to the side so she chooses to walk back closer to me. 

Killer Training Combo

With a super combination of the Halti, clicker training, lots of treats and consistent  stopping if and when she pulls, within 3 weeks Yoda is now walking long distances over many kilometers LIKE A CHAMP perfectly by my side without any pulling, yanking, dragging or wayward sniffing. She also consistently makes eye contact at the sound of a kiss and comes to sit by my side whenever I stop.  

I have even started some walks without the Halti, continuing to use the clicker and start-stopping and although at first she thinks she is a free bird, within 30 seconds she remembers that ''ooooh yeeeaaah'' I expect her to walk beside me and then she does not pull anymore. :) 

It's only been 3 weeks and for a dog that was probably never exercised, let alone walked much at all, she is improving in GREAT strides (pun intended)! It is only upwards from here! BOY, am I PROUD of her!!

How did you get your dog to stop pulling and walk by your side? I would love to hear your stories!


  1. Nice! Now... (1) looking at how many morning heads are barely put of bed, still in pyjamas or slippers being pull by their dogs, it's clearly their dog walking them

    (2) I wish all dog owners would do what you did. Regrettably, many humans would first require retraining in both proper human-human behaviour and in animal care. Those are also the people who will neither read nor care nor learn from your advice/experience.

    (3) it's become clear that properly trained dogs are more intelligent than humans. The story I keep telling is that of me walking on the Lachine canal path. A woman walking her dog without a leash was coming in the opposite direction, walking on her right, the dog was walking on its left putting it in a conflicting path with me.
    Approximately 7m in front of me, the dog, without signal from its owner, moved to its right, walking in front of her owner until we passed each other.
    Behind this pair, 4 humanoids were walking together occupying the whole path. As they came close, their stupidity basically forced me to either divert to the grass or ram straight into them. I almost wanted to go back to the woman with the dog and ask her if she could train these four twits to walk properly like her dog did.

    1. LOL! for sure the dog without the leash on is super well trained in order to be allowed to walk free (either that or the owner is reckless, but let's assume it's the former). a well trained dog is definitely alot more considerate than most ''humanoids'' as you call them lol!
      Also, having a pitbull, many people have negative preconceived notions about her because of her breed. Dog racism if you will. If you see any other dog misbehaving, whatever. If you see a pitbull misbehaving, ban them, kill them, put them to sleep, it's a pit!! I am intent on teaching her well so she can be a good lesson to uneducated people and show them by example. I think this will be the topic of my next blog post

  2. I never said thank you for linking to my Halti/Gentle Leader post. Thank you! Your dog is so, so cute! Yoda is a very fitting name. I'm sure she's walking very well these days.