Why Border Collies pull on the lead?

dogs pulling on the lead

The most 3 requested subjects in helping with training I get is to solve recall, reactivity and pulling on the lead!

Pulling on the lead is the one I find most difficult to teach and there are many controversial about what to use and what not to use!

Let’s start with this concept, dogs are not bred to be kept on the lead. They are bred to run, hunt, herd, play, retrieve, pull a sleight, work of humans but not being on a 1-2 m lead so for most of them, it’s a big ask and it requires sacrifice and self control.

If we add to that the fact that most of our dogs live a less active life then the one their breed and DNA has built them up to have and that the lack of secure spaces in an urban area doesn’t allow the freedom that a young dog would need in order to exercise properly and burn energies, the task becomes even more difficult!

Pulling on the lead can also be related to stress and anxiety. Dogs that are not keen on cars, other dogs, noises or in general the outside world are going to pull to move away from the situation they are not comfortable with or to react to what is causing the distress.

What is best to have on a dog that pulls on the lead? As we have to walk our dogs safely but without causing more distress this is what I would suggest to AVOID as it will cause pain and discomfort:

A slip lead is not the devil’s tool if the dog is trained and doesn’t pull but a dog that is constantly at the end of that lead will get choked by it and this can create pain, frustration, stress and ultimately most of the time more problems.

Choke chains or worse prong collars, can cause so much damage to the dog neck and also to your relationship with the dog. You have in your hands something that can cause lots of pain and this is not the way I like to build my relationship with my dog.

Non-pull harness: harnesses that will tight when the dog pulls, exactly like a sleep lead; the difference is that it will tight around the rib cage. The dog is still very sensitive in that area and some dogs will react by pulling more or by building stress and anxiety due to the pain it causes. It will work with some dogs, but is not something I would suggest to use.

Something that I don’t suggest using without a plan to remove it but that I sometimes introduce as a temporary tool for big dogs or for owners that have disability and struggle to control the dog on the lead is the Head Collar. There are many types of head collars and what I definitely don’t like is the figure of 8 or any head collar that will tight and attach behind the dog ears.

That part of the head where the neck and the head attach is very sensitive and very important for the dog well being. Having something that constantly tighten around that area will cause tension, pain, discomfort and headache. Yes dogs can get headaches but we never things about that. If it touches the ears is ever worst as we all know that is a very soft part of their body.

Head collars that I will use if strictly necessary are usually a similar to a horse head collar. They are big, padded, don’t touch the dog’s eyes and don’t tend to tight too much around the dog head.

In order for the dog to accept a head collar, some training must be done, to desensitise the dog to it and avoid it becoming a battle every time you have to put it on.

The last devil tool I really suggest not to use to walk your dog on the road and definitely not if you are teaching not to pull, is the extendible lead! As much as it seems like a good idea when you get a puppy, by the time you realise it, that lead will have reinforced the dog to pull! The action of unclipping the lead every time your puppy wants to go further away will reinforce the action of pulling.

I don’t hate extendable leads. They have their use in some situations, but definitely not for lead walking!

Which are the best tools to use for walking the dog on the lead or to use with a dog that does pull on the lead and it’s in training?

A flat collar could be a good one if the dog is respectful of it and doesn’t lean on it too much. Make sure is wide and padded as a thin collar will still hurt if the dog is pulling a bit.

Harnesses are my suggestions, but not every harness is a good harness.

I use harnesses that leave the shoulders free to move and that have two point of attachments, one on the back and one on the front. These harnesses have to be used with a double ended lead or training lead. The ring on the front will help the dog to not lean on to the front plate of the harness and pull even more. Of course some training is required to avoid dogs using their strength to lean and pull.

I have two favourite brands I suggest for harnesses:

– the Perfect Fit , that sell also the double ended lead

– the Dog Copenhagen , that doesn’t less a lead with double attachment yet

Whichever tool you use to walk your dog, ask yourself always if your dog is comfortable, it is not too light, too thin, too short.

Martina Miradoli Border Coolie Expert Dog trainer

Hello, my name is Martina Miradoli and I specialise in training Border Collies.

I’ve owned Border Collies for many years and have trained them, along with other herding breeds in every sport and activity available.

This has allowed me to gain invaluable experience and an understanding of these unique dogs and the behavioural challenges that we may have to face as owners. 

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