A guide to walking your retriever – stress-free
Does taking your dog for a walk leave you exhausted and embarrassed? I know how you feel. I have been there. There is a solution, and it is not as hard as you might think. But it does require some work and dedication on your part. Are you ready to learn how to stop your dog from pulling when you take him/her for a walk?
Why does my retriever pull me when I walk him/her
So, why does your retriever pull you around? The short answer may be hard to swallow. Because they can! Yep, that is why. If you allow your dog to pull you, he/she will. It really is that simple.
But does it really matter why your dog does it? I don’t think so.
How do I stop my retriever from pulling me?
What you really want to know is how can you stop it from happening. And I can help with that. I have been training retrievers for over 30 years. During that time, I have seen it all.
I have trained dogs that literally drag me around the first day. I have also trained dogs that spend the first training session trying to wrap themselves around me to avoid the pressure of a collar and leash. I have trained hundreds of dogs for both on-lead and off-lead obedience. And I can assure you that if you are willing to take a stand, and are willing to do some work, you can train your dog to walk on lead with you and not pull.
How bad do you want it?
Before I get into the basics of how you do this, I must ask you this question. How bad do you want it? Because I often find that owners say they don’t want their dog to pull them but then when I tell them how to stop it, they say, “I can’t do that!”
I am not asking you to abuse your dog in any way, but there is a huge gap between taking control of your dog and showing him/her who is boss and letting them run all over you. If you are not willing to show your dog who is boss, then nothing I say in this article will help you.
Should I use treats to teach my dog?
I am not a treat-trainer. We train dogs for hunting and competition. These dogs do not need treats to perform, they do it because they love it. The only treat our training dogs get is a retrieve. That is what they live for and that is all it takes. But even if your dog doesn’t love to retrieve, our training methods will work.
Dogs are dogs, they are not robots or humans
The other thing we need to address is this. Dogs are beautiful, loving creatures and I have the upmost respect for them. But they are dogs. They think like dogs, reason like dogs, and behave like dogs. If you don’t understand this, then it is easy to attribute behaviors and reasoning to your dog that he/she is unable to do. That is not fair to the dog.
It is vital you understand dogs if you plan to train them. You need to understand their history, where they came from and why they act as they do. Once you understand that, your training can be designed to address that way of thinking and reasoning and you can communicate with your dog in a way that they understand and makes sense to them. This will make training so much easier.
Also, dogs are not robots. They will make mistakes, challenge you, and test you. That does not mean that they are not good dogs or even obedient dogs. It just makes them dogs. The trick is that every time they test you or challenge you, you respond with a consistent correction. Doing this will help your dog understand where the boundaries are and that will make your dog more mentally stable.
Tools needed to stop your dog from pulling
Okay, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of the training.
There are hundreds of tools out there that will tell you that if you just use this tool, your dog will stop pulling. Some may work, but most don’t. I don’t use fancy tools to get a dog to stop pulling. Instead, I teach them not to pull and to respect me. This is a better tactic because it means that my dog is going to listen even if I don’t have a special tool on them. And that is what we all want, right? For our dogs to listen all the time, not just when they have a special leash or collar on.
The products I recommend I believe are a good value or good investment for anyone working to train or maintain training on their retriever. When possible, I include links to the product. Some of these links may be Amazon or other affiliate links in which I am paid a small commission at no cost to you. All opinions and recommendations are my own.
The only other tools you need is a bit of education and I will give that to you next.
Ho do I train my dog not to pull?
If you start working on this when your puppy is very young, like around 12 weeks of age, you will find this process very quick and easy. As you dog gets bigger, it takes more work and more repetition to get the same results.
This is true about almost all aspects of retriever training. If you teach an 8-week-old puppy to not jump on you, it is very simple. Simply knock him off of you every time he/she jumps on you. If you consistently enforce the no jumping rule, you will have a dog that almost never jumps on you except for the occasional test to see if the rules are still the same, even as the puppy gets older and bigger.
Learn more about How to obedience train Labrador puppy.
The same is true with heeling on-lead. Start teaching this with a very young dog, before any bad habits are formed, and the process goes quickly and easily. It requires very little force, and the puppy learns quickly.
If your dog has never been introduced to a chain collar and leash, your first step is to introduce the collar and leash. Put the chain collar on your dog and attach it to a six-foot lead.
To learn how to put the chain collar on correctly, refer to this video. This is VERY important. A chain collar is only effective if used correctly.
Your dog may jump around, pull, and try and get away. Be prepared to hold on tight to the lead. If your dog is having a severe reaction to having the chain collar and leash on, your only goal today is to stand still and hold onto the lead. Let your dog wear him/herself out but at no time should you take the collar or leash off while your dog is carrying on. Do not reward him/her for throwing a fit!
Once your dog settles down, say “Good dog” and give him/her a pet or scratch on the head. If at any time your dog starts resisting again, stop moving and do not pet him/her.
If your dog knows the SIT command, it can be helpful to tell him/her to SIT. That may stop the temper tantrum, but if it doesn’t just let the dog wear him/herself out.
When you get your dog to SIT and calm down, you can take off the collar and leash and that is the lesson for day one. You will need to repeat this each day until your dog stops throwing fits when you put the collar and leash on him/her.
Starting the no-pull lessons
Hopefully most of you have had your dog on some type of leash and collar, so the above scenario does not play out.
How to use a chain collar to stop your dog from pulling
A chain collar works so well because it allows you to snap or jerk the collar and give your dog a correction, but then it automatically loosens and there is no pressure on the dog’s neck. It is important that you understand this, because just pulling a chain collar tight on your dogs’ neck is not good for the dog and will not teach your dog anything but to pull against you.
Also, as stated above, make sure you are putting the collar on correctly. Chain collars get a bad rap, but mostly because people do not know how to use them. Used incorrectly they can hurt your dog. To learn how to put the chain collar on correctly, refer to this video. This is VERY important. A chain collar is only effective if used correctly.
So, as you start walking with your dog, try to keep the leash loose. Let it hang down a little bit between you and the dog. Do not hold it tightly right next to the collar. Give your dog some room to make a mistake.
As your dog starts to surge ahead, give the leash a sharp jerk and say “NO, HEEL”.
It is important that you give your dog some leash so that he/she learns that it is his/her responsibility to stay in the heel position. If you are holding the leash tight and your dog is pulling against a tight collar and leash, he/she will think it is you, the owner’s, responsibility to keep him/her at the heel position.
The second thing you need to understand is that your dog wants to keep going in the same direction. That is why one of the best ways to stop your dog from pulling is to change directions often. As soon as your dog starts to get ahead of you, turn around and start heading the other direction.
This works very well for getting your dog to pay attention to you. You may, however, not make it very far on your walk that day. We have had clients tell us they never got out of the driveway on day one. But that is okay.
You can turn away from the dog when you change directions or turn into them. Over time you should practice both options but turning into your dog usually takes more work but has more of an impact. I suggest you lift your knees high as you make the turn, kind of like a marching band move, so that your knee collides with your dog.
This will not hurt your dog; it will surprise him/her. The first few times you will likely struggle to get your dog moving in the right direction, but as the dog starts figuring out that it is his/her job to pay attention to your legs, it will quickly improve.
Other drills to work on for better heeling
There are a few other drills I work on to get my dogs to pay attention to me and walk at heel without pulling.
This is a drill where you walk your dog in a large figure 8.
The point of this drill is to alternate turning into and away from your dog.
This is a variation on the Figure 8 drill that I created. I find it to be more effective because you get a lot more turns in.
You simply walk down a path or road and instead of walking in a straight line, you walk from one edge of the path to the other edge of the path, pivoting at each edge. Your dog really has to pay attention and move with you. You don’t cover a lot of ground this way, but the dog learns quickly.
Final thoughts on how do I stop your Lab or retriever from pulling?
If you really want to be able to walk your retriever and enjoy the walk, not feel stressed, then you must be willing to do the work needed to get there. You must be willing to learn how to teach this concept and you must teach your dog that you are in control. Once a dog understands what you are expecting of him/her, they often quickly learn and respond.
This doesn’t mean they won’t test you occasionally because they will. They are dogs, not robots. And we wouldn’t want them any other way. But if you take the time to learn how to use a chain collar and leash and start implementing these drills, you can quickly solve the pulling problem once and for all.
If you really want your retriever to grow and progress this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I am here to help! You can email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give us a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving!