From the time I first laid eyes on GhostBuster at the adoption center, I knew I could love him. The question was, could I walk him?
This Lab mix weighed in at 60 pounds, and was easily one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever known. Before I met Buster I was around dogs all the time, but most of my family and friends have dogs that would be categorized as petite to medium. Bichons, Shih Tzus, Jack Russell Terriers — these were the dogs I’d known and walked. If they misbehaved I could scoop them up and march them home like a sack of potatoes, but that wouldn’t be an option with a big guy like GhostBuster.
Before agreeing to adopt GhostBuster I bought a no-pull harness and took him for a practice walk. I knew I couldn’t take him home if I couldn’t control him. Thankfully, it turned out that I could. After our inaugural walk I was confident that I could keep him out of trouble.
While I had researched plenty of no-pull harnesses before bringing Buster home, I hadn’t really researched different styles of walking. I arrogantly and ignorantly thought that years of walking family members’ dogs had made me a pro dog walker. I bought the no-pull harness and figured if I clipped it to his leash I’d be the master of the walk. Walking a dog seemed to be such a simple task that I never considered that I could be doing it wrong.
I started training Buster just minutes after I took him out of the adoption center. I made him sit at the very first street corner we came to, and within days he was sitting at corners consistently — sometimes without any commands. I knew he was very smart, but I also knew he was a little stubborn. By my third day with Buster both my hands were starting to bruise from gripping the leash, and my whole body ached like I’d run a marathon.
By the end of the week my hands felt better, but I was starting to feel like I had adopted two different dogs. There was the morning and noon Buster, who would trot along on a loose leash beside me like a total sweetheart — and then there was the evening and night Buster, a dog who felt the need to pull in the direction of every smell, dog and sound around him.
It was during one of these pull-tastic evening walks when my husband, GhostBuster and I were approached by a neighborhood lady and her dog. Buster and her pooch got busy in a happy little sniff circle, while the woman started a conversation about what was wrong with our walking style. After checking my dog’s teeth (um, hello, who are you again?) the lady explained that she used to be a dog trainer and suggested a martingale collar. I initially dismissed her advice because I felt martingale collars were kind of mean — and because I usually don’t take life advice from random people I just met.
Although the unsolicited advice was weird, I realized I was doing something wrong and could use some help. I told everyone I knew about my dog’s pulling problem, and one dog owner recommended a workshop through a local pet boutique. I was a tiny bit apprehensive when I found out workshop participants needed a martingale collar, but my fears disappeared after I spoke with dog trainer and owner of Fetch Haus, Sabrina Thieme. It wasn’t about pulling on a dog’s throat or choking them — it was just to make sure the pups didn’t pull a Houdini.
“We use the martingale collar because it doesn’t allow the dog to back out and run away during a class,” Thieme said. “We want to keep them safe.”
I could obviously get behind that. I could also get behind the concept of umbilical walking (although my husband didn’t love the idea). I liked having the leash around me like a belt, but at first I felt like Buster was walking me, instead of the other way around. It wasn’t until I attended the workshop that I started to understand the principles of umbilical walking and learned how to correct GhostBuster’s pulling in a way he would understand. I was surprised to learn that it was as simple as turning around, and I was shocked at how quickly Buster picked up on what I was doing.
“As far as pulling goes, that’s when we work on our change of direction, so it’s you that’s teaching the dog to follow versus any sort of tool,” explained Thieme.
By the end of the workshop I felt like I had a good grasp on umbilical walking, and Buster was starting to get some new commands. I knew that I had to work on a lot of things, including not narrating my walks with Buster; I was all “pay attention to me Buster. Look this way buddy. You’re doing good buddy. You’re so good at walking.” I also knew that as a household, our biggest challenge was going to be consistency. My husband couldn’t attend the workshop, and I was afraid we’d be walking Buster two different ways. I knew it would be best for us to be on the same page when it came to training Buster, and I asked our workshop instructor for advice.
“It’s all about finding something that you believe in, that you can be consistent with, so that you can be fair to your dog,” says Thieme. “If you’ve got consistency, regardless of what you’re doing, it allows your dog to learn.”
After the workshop I showed my husband what I learned, and to my surprise, the next morning he took Buster out on an umbilical walk. We’re doing our best to be consistent and fair with our beautiful dog, and he’s coming along great.
Do you think there is a right and wrong way to walk a dog? How do you deal with pulling? Let us know in the comments.
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About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +