WE PLANT THE "SEEDS OF IDEAS" IN DOG OWNERS MINDS - THESE IDEAS EVENTUALLY BLOSSOM INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DOG BEHAVIOUR - Sally Hopkins
WE PLANT THE "SEEDS OF IDEAS" IN DOG OWNERS MINDS - THESE IDEAS EVENTUALLY BLOSSOM INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DOG BEHAVIOUR - Sally Hopkins

WHY DOGS PULL ON A LEAD

Environmental Photos

This web page gives some explanations as to why dogs pull on their lead when it is attached to -

  • its collar
  • its harness. (See also the section on Harnesses in this website which recommends various styles of harness that are comfortable and effective).

See also the excellent book by Turid Rugaas"What do I do when my dog pulls?"

 

I am going to use an example of the Memory Flow chart (below) to show how a dog's mind works while walking on a collar and lead.

 

The dog is going for its first walk on a lead which is attached to its collar (this can be any type of collar as the consequences will be the same).

 

TOUCH
The dog can feel the pressure of the collar on its throat as it pulls on the lead.

 

BRAIN ASSESSES EVENT
Because this is the first time the dog has encountered the restriction of a lead on its collar, there are no environ photos stored in its memory to trigger a behaviour. Therefore, the dog's brain has to assess whether the event is rewarding, threatening or irrelevant.

 

MEMORY FLOW CHART

 
 
 

Pulling makes the
handler move faster*
  1. The pressure and choking sensation in its throat is
    unpleasant and painful. *
  2. It has to compensate its loss of balance* by distorting and straining some of its throat, neck, back muscles*
  3. Because its head is restricted, it cannot stimulate its mind or relax by sniffing the ground. *
  4. It cannot control its body posture to give the correct calming signals to other dogs or its handler.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
VERY
REWARDING
UNPLEASANT
or
IT IS VERY
UNPLEASANT
  • The walk finishes
    faster. *
  • All the threatening
    effects of the lead &
    collar disappear
    when the lead is
    removed. *
  • It reaches a
    pleasant destination
    (eg. Home, car, off-
    lead walk, training
    or work area, or
    stimulating
    environment) *
         
SHORT-TERM
MEMORY
     
REINFORCED
The unpleasant side-effects of the
collar become even
more stressful for the dog each time it is taken for a walk and it pulls on the lead *
 
 
Either STOPS PULLING
ON ITS LEAD or it
becomes a
 

"GOOD"

"BORING" ENVIRONMENTAL PHOTO
stored in
LONG-TERM MEMORY

"BAD"

ENVIRONMENTAL PHOTO stored in
LONG-TERM MEMORY

     
THE DOG'S LEAD IS ATTACHED TO ITS COLLAR ON ITS NEXT WALK
         
ITS BRAIN MATCHES THE SENSATION IT FEELS ON ITS THROAT & NECK
WITH THAT OF THE "LEAD PULLING PHOTO" IN ITS LONG-TERM MEMORY
         
TRIGGERS THE
DOG TO PULL ON
LEAD TO GAIN
REWARDS LISTED
ABOVE
TRIGGERS THE DOG TO
IGNORE THE SENSATION ON ITS THROAT & NECK
AND CARRY ON PULLING,
THE CONSEQUENCES .....
 
TRIGGERS THE DOG TO
BECOME STRESSED AND
PULL ON LEAD
 

© 2004 Copyright of Sally Hopkins - www.dog-games.co.uk

MEMORY FLOW CHART

As you can see from the flow diagram above, the sensation of the collar pressing against the dog's throat and neck (ie. the environmental photo) triggers the dog to repeat the behaviour it did on the first occasion.

 

The dog does not have the mental capacity to understand that the unpleasant sensations on its throat and neck are the result of it pulling against the lead, and that if it stopped pulling the pain would disappear.

 

* Stress very big contributing factor as to why so many dogs pull on their lead (see also Leash stress). This is because all the reasons listed on the chart above with a * next to them cause the dog's stress levels to rise. These high levels of stress produce chemicals in the dog's brain and body which inhibit the dog's pain sensitivity and make it pull even more, despite the obvious discomfort that the dog is in. It is a vicious circle that is hard to break, but can often be done by -

 

changing the environmental photo that the dog has while walking on a lead.

This is done by attaching the dog's lead to a comfortable and well-fitting HARNESS, which -

  • Stops the painful throat and neck strangulation sensations and therefore the environmental photo and trigger that the dog has built up a strong association with.
  • Changes the dog's center of gravity by evenly distributing the dog's weight around its shoulders with the PADDED STRAPS OF THE HARNESS (see the Harness  section of this website which recommends various styles of harness that are comfortable and effective).
  • Beware of using harnesses with thin straps or straps with harsh edges, these types can cut into the dog's skin when it leans against these shoulder straps - the discomfort and pain will have similar effects to that of a collar.
  • Does not damage or distort the dog's throat, neck and back muscles because the dog is not trying to pull its head and neck forward when the lead was attached to the dog's collar.
  • A very experienced animal chiropractor friend (who has been working with all shapes and sizes of dogs for over 10 years) has confirmed that a large proportion of the injuries to dogs that she treats are caused by dogs continually pulling on their collar and lead. She strongly recommends the use of well-fitting comfortable harnesses which do not cause these very painful symptoms.
  • Enables the dog to lower its head while walking with a harness and lead and use its amazingly sensitive nose to exercise and stimulate its brain and working instincts. Because the dog needs to be calm and unstressed to concentrate on the scents around it, it will consciously make the effort to lower its stress levels so that it can really "read the newspaper" (see Smell for a detailed explanation about dogs amazing abilities to use their noses).
  • Another benefit of using a harness rather than a collar is that it gives the dog far more freedom of body movement and posture to make Calming Signals to other dogs (and humans) that it meets. This is particularly useful for dogs that seem to be either "aggressive" with other dogs or "victims" of unprovoked aggression when meeting other dogs on a collar and lead. The underlying reason for this type of behaviour is often caused by the dog being unable to display the correct greeting and claming signals when approaching other dogs. When the dog is walked on a harness it is able to communicate more freely and these behavioural problems soon disappear.
  • But I think the biggest benefit of walking on a dog on a harness is that the dog's long-term stress levels drop dramatically due to the removal of all the stressful causes and symptoms of walking a dog on a collar and lead (see items marked with a * in the flow chart at the beginning of this web page).

 

This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).

 

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