Do you ever feel like sometimes an answer is presented just when you were asking the question? It happened to me recently. It had come to my attention that I didn't appear to be explaining one of the techniques I use in teaching loose leash walking very well.
As I was pondering how I could improve my explanation and better help more students Denise Fenzi of Fenzi Dog Sports Academy noticed someone leading their young horse. She noticed that when the horse got excited and started pulling, the handler guided the horse into walking in a circle. Once the horse settled a bit, they carried on in the original direction. Denise wondered if this technique could have applications in teaching dogs to walk calmly on lead and started trying it with her dogs and other dogs. The reports back were encouraging - it seemed to help a lot of dogs walk better.
Why? One possibility is that some common loose leash walking methods such as "Be a Tree" and "Penalty Yards" involve stopping, or backing up when the dog pulls. It is possible that some dogs find this stop in motion frustrating, leading to more straining forwards. Walking in a circle still allows the dog to move, so those dogs that feel so full of beans that they need to move their bodies can still move.
I had found that many dogs simply don't bother to notice if you stop when they are pulling - they just keep straining at the end of the lead. So I typically had people call to their dog and turn to walk the other way rather than simply stopping. Once their dog was moving with them, they could turn back towards the original direction again. This tended to produce more back and forth movement, and not be perceived as a circling option. Coupled with rewarding the dog when the leash is loose, it does work. But I think that introducing some circle work first will work better. I've already had a student tell me that circling was the best thing they learned in class! So I'm very excited to include more circling work in my classes.
I find that it is a great approach for casual walks or trail walks in which you don't mind if your dog moves ahead of you and explores a little, but you don't want your arm pulled off! I've been working on loose leash walking with my young dog using this method, and I've found his walking is improving. I've also noticed that it helps if I walk at least a small circle rather than turning in place. Timing my circles, especially in the beginning was important. If I started circling because he was pulling to sniff a particular spot, then I tried to time it so that he could reach that spot coming off our circle while his leash was loose - and then let him sniff it. This way pulling me to good spots didn't result in him reaching them, but walking on a loose leash did. The number of circles we need to do on a walk has dramatically decreased since starting this.
So if you're looking for ideas to help your energetic, pulling dog, consider this option. For more tips you can read Chrissi's blog here: