This is an actual Question from a client, Zara, who has been having trouble walking her 1 year old rescue dog, Lily. Lily is a Chihuahua cross, and Zara has only had her 6 weeks. For the first 2 weeks, Lily had kennel cough and had to be isolated. Then she was desexed and again had to be isolated and crated. Now that she’s well enough to go for walks, that’s where the problems have started.
For confidentiality, I have changed the names of the dog and her owner.
Here is my initial Assessment. Zara initially approached me via email, and I have responded in kind, with a couple of suggestions for her to try first, before arranging to meet up for a practical session.
How do you indicate to Lily that it’s time for a walk? What is her reaction when you indicate this to her? If she is bouncy and excitable, what have you tried to do to calm her down? Does it work?
Most dogs are naturally excited about going out of the house – all those tantalising smells, sights and sounds! The mere clink of her lead being brought out can act as a trigger for Lily’s excitement and anticipation. Chihuahuas can be quite vocal when excited.
When you say she does not listen to commands once out of the house, what kind of commands do you mean? Do you carry any treats with you? Is Lily food-oriented, or what is the thing she likes best? Most dogs are food-oriented, however some are toy/play oriented. Bear in mind there is a threshold in their brains for these “incentives”, and if the stimulus around them is overpowering, no amount of treats or invitations to play will get through to them once they’ve gone past the “Red Zone”. In that case, the only thing you can do right then is to remove Lily from the stimulus, i.e go back into the house, put away the lead and carry on with your usual activities. And try again later, once Lily has calmed down.
What sort of lead do you use for Lily? Have you tried a dog harness? Many small dogs have fragile tracheas, and constant pulling on a lead attached to just a collar around the throat can lead to collapsed tracheas, a serious condition for which there is no cure apart from expensive reconstructive surgery.
There are dozens of harness designs on the market, for dogs of all sizes. For a small dog like Lily I’d recommend one that’s padded across the chest, to protect her ribcage as well and take the pressure off her throat.
You can also try a Halti or Gentle Leader on Lily. This is a strap that goes across her nose and attaches to her lead. When she pulls, the strap tightens towards you and her head will get pulled towards you too, stopping her from pulling forward. Some dogs are head shy, and putting it on may prove difficult.
Another harness is the Balance Harness, which clips on the front of the dog’s chest instead of at the back. When the dog pulls forward, the lead will pull it to one side, stopping it from going forward.
All these harnesses are not a cure-all but just aids to help you with training your dog to walk nicely and not pull.
Teaching Lily to come to you consistently whenever called i.e Recall, is very important, and will help you when out walking with her. We will cover Recall later.