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I have a ~47 lb Husky/GSD who is probably less than 1 year old, and was given up by an animal hoarder. Initially he was very skittish, and shy, but he has made a lot of progress.

My goal is to eventually take him and his 2-year-old Husky/Cattle-Dog friend Reggie out for walks together, but George has developed a problem with pulling as his self-confidence increased.

I have looked online at various dog-training advice, and I have been training him not to pull by stopping every time I feel a distinct tug on the leash. I ask him to come, sit, and look, in that order. If he refuses, I step backwards and pull him back with me. Once he passes all of these tests, I give him a treat, and we start walking again.

He has made good progress with this, but George has started to very very gradually increase the strength of his pulling, from just enough to keep the leash taut, to being hard enough to eventually give my hand some discomfort.

I don't care if he pulls a little bit, but I don't want my hand to hurt, and he builds up his pulling strength so gradually, that I'm not sure how to provide consistent correction. It's hard to tell at what point his pulling is strong enough to eventually make my hand ache. I could correct him whenever the leash isn't at least a little bit loose, but I am worried he may not be able to tell, and will be confused by the corrections.

How can I train George to stop pulling hard enough that my hand starts to ache?

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This is quite a common issue that tends to happen with dogs, especially as they reach the one year old mark. Huskies in particular tend to pull, that's why they make great sled dogs! I would start by ensuring you are using adequate equipment. I recommend a regular flat collar (I like leather ones, they aren't as likely to break, something like this) and a 6ft leash. I would also recommend having treats on you; you could use George's breakfast or dinner to teach him what to do.

Pick an ideal position you would like him to walk in. This can change, but it helps if you have an idea when you start. As an example, I would like my dog's shoulder to be in line with my legs when I am standing still on the left hand side. Where you would like him to walk is entirely up to you, but I would define it. When you are out walking and he finds that defined position, the treats come out. Teach him that food is available when you walk in that position. Use the hand above that position (I use my left) as a reward hand, and the other hand as your leash-holder. Hold the leash so there is some slack but it isn't going between his front legs.

When you go for a walk with him, start teaching him the moment he walks out the front door. If he pulls ahead, stop, turn around and walk in the opposite direction. You could give him a verbal cue (ah-ah) when he walks ahead to mark the wrong behaviour, but it is not always necessary. The trick I learned to boost his understanding is to have a treat ready in your food hand for when he finds the position. Let him eat the food while you are walking; the reward should come when he is walking in that position.

It will take him for him to learn what you want. There are a few other things I would do to ensure he learns as fast as he can.

  1. Plan a duration, not a distance. When teaching him how to walk nicely, you are going backwards in your training every time he is able to pull. Everytime he pulls you will need to turn around. This means that you may be on a half hour walk but not get to the end of your street. This is ok! This is where the learning is happening. I plan to go for a half hour walk, and we get as far as we go. The only condition is no pulling.
  2. Be fun! This is one most of my clients struggle with. The idea is for George to see walks as time for you and him to hang out. When you go walking and he is doing good, tell him! I mindlessly chatter to my dog on a walk, which helps to build engagement. If he knows you're paying attention to him, he will be much more inclined to pay attention to you. You are the most important person in George's life, so tell him when he is doing good.
  3. Start easy. Dog's learn best when minimal distractions are around. Start in your backyard, where is familiar and all his focus is on you. As he nails walking in the backyard move to the front. Slowly increase the length of the walks. You could even do a few random turns, just to keep him on his toes. Don't start off at your local park, as it would be similar to asking a child to learn complex maths at the playground. The easier you make it, the higher your chance of success!
  4. Don't 'say hello' to other dogs on walks. This one can be hard, but I try to avoid dog on-leash interactions. To George, this is the chance for reinforcement away from you. He is very likely to then pull towards every dog he sees. If he has canine friends he adores, meet off leash. Reduce the chances of him finding that outside reinforcement. Sometimes off-lead dogs may run up to you. This can always happen, so be prepared. I usually carry a tennis ball or something, and when a dog off lead runs up to me I throw the ball. They usually go after it. If not, it depends on the situation, but that's ultimately what you're training for!

Loose leash walking will take weeks or months of repetitions to learn. It is hard to learn, but it is the most rewarding. The expectation is that he knows he is not allowed to pull. He will learn, you just need to be consistent! I have taught hundreds of dogs this, and I promise that you will get there with time and consistency.

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