Love it, or hate it, your dog needs to be walked. Some dogs' are more enjoyable to walk than others. Why is that you ask? It all comes down to training. Overall there is nothing like walking a well behaved dog and enjoying the outdoors.
If you have a dog that pulls, lunges, or jumps on strangers because they are highly aroused, or a dog that runs in circles and gets tangled up with their lead or another dog, the walk soon turns into a disaster. If your dog is one of these walkers, it can make your walk become stressful, and painful for both you and your dog. This will result in lower motivation to do it again or a build up of anxiety before the next walk.
A 2020, UK study found that lead pulling was what owners wanted to change most about their dogs' behaviour.
If you walk a dog that pulls you often, or that suddenly pulls, you could end up with a bad back, shoulders/arms and neck. This could be a serious and long term injury. Ask anyone who has experienced a sore back or shoulder and they will tell you about this pain. In addition, there is the added danger of being pulled over or being pulled in front of a car. But did you know that your dog is actually hurting themselves too, and doing their own damage to their body? This could involve damage to the legs and back and leading to very hefty vet bills,
What happens to your dogs body when they pull!
If you are walking your dog, and they are pulling this can cause them to have the obvious neck and trachea injury. However, more serious and less obvious injuries can occur such as nerve damage, neurological issues, vertebrae issues, paralysis, damage to thyroid gland, ear and eye issues, epilepsy and seizures,
Owners of dogs that pull often report of their dog hacking and coughing, which reinforces that fact neck and trachea damage is occurring. For Brachycephalic breeds such as your French Bulldog it is more problematic due to their compromised airway, and therefore a heightened risk. This is why it is so important to train your dog, and use the appropriate walking equipment.
A study 2019, Pressure and force on the canine neck when exercised using a collar and leash surprisingly found that padded collars applied the highest amount of pressure, due to the design pressure and force around the neck.
Another inadvertent side effect of your dog pulling on the lead is a weakening of the relationship between you, and your dog. Often what happens when your dog pulls on their walk, the walk becomes stressful, and dogs are able to pick up on this anxiety and it only increases the tension. Unwanted behaviours occurs, the walk becomes harder and harder, until the point where the dog is too hard and painful to walk, so the owner will leave the dog at home. Before owners reach this point they will often try adverse, and fear based training methods, which makes only makes the owners have an inverse relationship, and the dog becomes detached. When dogs' are left at home due to being too hard to walk, it often leads to other destructive behaviours such as barking, digging, and chewing things they shouldn't be doing. Studies have shown that those who walk their dog regularly and positively have a stronger bond and relationship, and therefore a high attachment. Walking is one of the fastest ways to bond with your pet. Another benefit is they develop social skills with other dogs and people and most importantly you are being active and healthy at the same time.
What Training equipment is best for walking your dog!
From the moment you bring your puppy or dog home, is the moment you start training. Lead training is crucial, as you want to prevent the pulling right away. Like everything in life... prevention is the key! Don't be fooled and fall into that category, "oh it's only a puppy it will grow out of pulling on the lead". By the time that dog reaches adulthood, it will be a chronic puller, and injuries already formed/forming. Puppies also need boundaries and trust me they can learn these quite quickly.
It is important you fit, and use your walking equipment correctly, as it reduces injury and stress, whilst improving your dogs behaviour, and welfare. When first introducing your dog to a harness, halti or other equipment you are using, it is important you do it slowly and in a positive manner. For example when I have introduced dogs' to a Halti I will never just put it on them, clip them up and away we go. Instead, I play games with them and have lure their nose into the Halti with treats, and never clipping it on them for the first few sessions. Once they are confident, comfortable and happy to play this game I will then clip it on them without a lead and just have them walk around with me, giving them treats every time they are in the heel position.
Desensitisation and counter conditioning protocols can increase acceptance; associating equipment with rewards, in gradual approximations at a tolerable level for the individual dog. Desensitisation process can be lengthy, so please don't rush your dog. This is minimising the stress on the dog, and desensitise them to wearing and walking with a Halter. First few walks keep it very short, and simple. Slowly build up.
Harnesses are great, if you are using the right one, and it is fitted correctly. If you are walking your dog on the wrong or ill fitted harness, one they can pull more. Secondly, the can significantly decrease their shoulder extension. A recent clinical study into canine locomotion has found that the upper part of your dogs' shoulder blades must be able to move freely. However, If your dog is not wearing the correct harness, or fitted right it can restrict their movement causing pain and discomfort, despite the owners good intentions. Most people can have the girth strap too tight (fear of the dog being able to escape out of the harness) which can also cause rubbing and skin conditions from the rubbing. They can also have the front girth strap pulling the elbows closer together cause pain. You want the girth strap to go behind the elbows of the dog, and not behind the rib cage for the dog to be able to move freely and comfortably.
Slip leads are great, especially for showing your dog, competitions,, or any quick trip out with your dog, but again if not used correctly they too can do damage to your dog. A lot of people have the misconception "if I put a slip lead on the dog it will stop them from pulling, and also fix any reactive issues". This is a very old school concept, especially when you see them used in adverse training methods. The dogs' learn to fear the lead and you.
No matter what equipment you use, ultimately the best thing for you to do is train your dog how to walk on the lead without pulling. This training should start the moment you bring them home. It doesn't matter if they are a tiny puppy, or a fully grown rescue dog. Put the lead on them in the backyard, our around the house and reinforce (reward) them when they are by your side and looking at you. As they are heading towards the end of the lead redirect their focus back onto you. Remember to start out slow, and with no distractions, and build up from there. This training will build upon, you and your dogs' relation and lead to happy stress free, pull free walking from here on out. *Tip only give treats from the one same side that way the dog will always be ready and waiting on that side you treat from.
Rather than yanking, or correcting your dog stop and redirect their behaviour. I can assure you dogs love to please us, and be told what a good dog they are. Talk to your dog as you walk. I always do, especially Phoenix who can get anxious on a lead. When I talk to him (and the girls) they are most relaxed, and settled. For example I will see some big dogs approaching us, and notice Phoenix's body language change straight away. First thing I do is talk to him to reassure him, and give him direction. "It's ok Phoenix, we will go to the left after this tree" or whatever the direction it may need to be. This does a number of things.
Reassure's Phoenix and calms his anxiety
Give's him directions and cues/commands (reduces anxiety)
stops him from pulling to get away from his fear/stressor.
If a dog has pulled to get to an item, i.e. another dog, tree, pole etc it has won and has realised that all it has to do is to pull to get to what it wants. Therefore, it is so important we are proactive rather than reactive. If you know that something is coming up, that is going to be a test/challenging for your dog to walk past calmly. Regain their focus on you, and show them how to win. Every walk is a different training opportunity. Just like humans, dogs' have their good days, and bad days. If you are out walking your dog, and you can't get their attention/focus, and they are pulling bad, turn around and go home. You don't want to form the habit of them pulling.
*Tip don't walk your dog if you are stressed, anxious, or having a bad day, as this is fed directly through the lead down to your dog, often resulting a bad walk for you and your dog!
Pace is another factor that can affect your dog and it's pulling on the lead. I know I had to teach mine to walk slow, and when I say slow I mean Grandma pace. Yes, that is right, mine were used to one speed, and one speed only.... full steam ahead (not pulling though). This was because every time I would walk them I would take them for a good power walk (cardio), we would literally almost be running at times. Then when I would take my dogs' down to visit my Grandma (in her late 80's and into her early 90's) they wouldn't understand why we couldn't go power walking. This is when I really started to look at just how much the pace you walk your dogs can impact on their lead work. This is when I started to vary my pace on walks. If you go full steam ahead, your dog will do the same. As therapy dogs' it is so important for you dog/dogs' to be able to adapt their speed and walking style to meet the needs of their client.
When I would be out doing a training consult with a client and their dog doing some lead work sessions with them, a lot my clients brought it to my attention (I inadvertently did this), I would slow down my pace, to bring the dogs' arousal levels down, add in a few turns, stop and start. For dogs' that are highly aroused it works wonders when you slow down your walking speed whilst training them. This isn't to say you will walk at a slow pace all the time, it just gives the dog a chance to slow down, think, and learn how to walk nice and calmly without pulling. Give it a try with your dogs!
*Tip slow down the pace, and make sure that you and the lead is slack and relaxed and watch that feed straight down to the dog.
There is nothing quite like it when you walk your dogs past other families and hear them in conversation what a well behaved dog.
Good luck and enjoy the bonding and weight loss method.
Hunter A, Blake S, De Godoy RF. Pressure and force on the canine neck when exercised using a collar and leash. Vet Anim Sci. 2019; 8:100082.
Grainger J, Wills AP, Montrose VT. The behavioral effects of walking on a collar and harness in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). J Vet Behav Clin Appl Res. 2016; 14: 60–4.