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Hours of Operation:

Monday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Tuesday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Wednesday: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Thursday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Saturday: 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

Teaching adult dogs to walk on a leash

Aaah, the weather has finally consistently warmed and what better way to spend a day but walking with your best friend. Unfortunately, many of our best friends may not see it that way. More and more often individuals and families alike are providing rescue dogs with good homes. However, not all of these dogs arrive as puppies and many of them have never seen a leash in their life. Those that have seen a leash may have been tied to a post, tree or some other fixture around the house and will have a very negative association. It sounds like a daunting task but don't despair. Combining some simple training techniques with a bit of patience can result in many wonderful walks with our new best friend.

First, finding the right type of leash is very important. I know that many of us watch the "Dog Whisperer" and the host, Cesar Milan, is a big proponent of a choker collar. I do believe there are certain situations (in the right hands) where a choker collar is appropriate, however, this is not one of them. Not only does the choking effect of a choker collar elicit a panic response that most dogs will fight, but there is also more of a risk of damaging the airway.

Instead, I recommend what is called a head collar. Head collars appear very similar to halters on horses. They do not go around the neck at all, but rather around the muzzle and behind the ears and skull. Very similar to the concept in a horse, "where the head goes, the body will follow," head collars require very little force to lead the dog in the direction you wish it to go.

Examples of head collars include the Gentle Leader, Halti Collar and others. Many of them come with an instructional video. Do expect your dog to resent the collar when it is first put on but they quickly adapt. Owners who jog or bike ride should not use this type of collar in very warm weather as they do restrict panting. In smaller dogs or dogs with very short muzzles a no-pull harness may be more appropriate. This type of harness does produce mild discomfort for the dog when it pulls without putting any pressure on the airway. Examples of no-pull harnesses include the Easy Walk, SENSE-ible harnesses and others.

After an appropriate collar or harness is chosen it is time to get down to training. One saying that was used to describe training of any kind with dogs is, "you get more bees with honey than with vinegar."

That saying refers to the concept that one will get farther with reward and positive reinforcement than punishment. What is an appropriate reward? For most dogs (myself included) food is a great reward. Now, we don't want to be walking a petunia pig by the time we're ready, so food rewards do not have to be large amounts, but rather tasty. Other dogs prefer a favorite toy or just attention from their new owner.

Start by walking next to the dog with your elbow in close to your side (arm extended is not good training for a walk). Stop immediately if the dog starts to pull, get their attention, and reward them when they walk next to you without pulling. Some trainers also recommend changing direction. For example, not only verbally get the dog's attention when they are pulling, but also make a 90 degree or 180 degree turn at the same time.

Please try to be aware of not inadvertently rewarding the dog when they are pulling as it will send mixed messages. When you get the dog to walk (even for short periods) quietly and not pulling, intermittently reward it for appropriate behavior. Food rewards can eventually be replaced by praise and petting.

If you are still having trouble or are not comfortable without personal guidance, contact your veterinarian's office for the assistance of a professional dog trainer.

Soon enough you and your new friend will be out in the neighborhood having a great time without having to worry about evil stares from neighbors or your arm being pulled from its socket.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 13 years and is pictured with his son Matthew, as well as the newest member of the family, Jasmine, a Labrador retriever.

Matthew Kearns, DVM