It takes two to pull. If a dog leans on the leash and drives ahead, the person on the other end will either run to catch up or back off. The first encourages the puppy to keep pulling on the leash, while the second leads to a tug of war.
But there is a better way.
Belaying, a climbing technique that involves tying a leash around a cleat or other object to secure it, can also be used for walking dogs. It’s gentle on the most exciting pups as well as the hands that hold the leash. The trainer Grisha Stewart is a pioneer in applying these advantages in her well-known BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) approach.
BAT uses positive reinforcement and leash skills to help anxious dogs feel more secure when researching triggers. Securing can improve leash-handling skills with a few simple pieces of equipment and plenty of indoor practice in shortening and letting go.
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Unlike older, aversive leash training modes, which use a leash pop to correct a dog’s sudden climb, belaying is a “least intrusive” approach that encourages the dog to behave better. Think of slow stops and less jerking on the leash.
At the center of the new method are a small metal carabiner and one or two O-rings (or a similar climbing device). Instead of the line slipping through your hands, it is passed through the device, which absorbs the friction that causes the rope to burn. The basic movements for the handlebars are securing – pushing the line through the device – and braking with a gentle stop.
Good tools to get you started
Dynamic climbing rope (more stretchable than standard ropes … see below)
Lock the carabiner
Belt: Skijöring, CaniX
Super powerful belay devices: Beal Birdie, ATC, Figure 8 Descent
Panic Snapshot (horse training device, allows the user to quickly detach the leash from a belt while holding the leash in hand)
Round lines, which slide the easiest, are best suited to the various devices. A 15-foot leash is used in BAT sessions, and for those familiar with BAT, securing tabs will feel most similar. A strap can be used with a shorter line. However, Stewart recommends that the line be at least ten feet long to allow sufficient braking time.
New solutions for dogs that pull
By testing her ideas with other trainers and different types of dogs, Stewart has developed two methods of securing them: belt and grip. Check out this video for detailed instructions on how to use these two new methods to divert a pulling dog.
This is good for large dogs. The dog’s traction is completely moved away from the handler’s arms, while the hands remain free for other tasks. A carabiner can be attached to a waist belt, and there is a variant that doesn’t tie you to the dog. To brake with the carabiner, the handler creates a V-shape with the leash.
A simpler version is the leash – basically a handle with a clasp attached to a ring attached to the leash. This leaves two handles – and hands – in play. The ring should be just big enough to slide easily. A second ring can be used as a brake that you create by looping through the leash handle (a tip suggested by leash designer Trisha Case of Trailblazing Tails).
How to brake
Sit back and lock the ring. To loosen, maneuver the line forward so that the ring falls. Tying a knot in the leash will prevent the ring from hitting your hand. For strong pullers or nervous types, a second ring is a good option, but Stewart recommends watching a dog closely so you can apply the brakes before the dog locks up. The line should be brought out far enough to allow additional time to stop.
Cueing direction changes, stop
Hand in hand, slide the leash toward you when you tell the dog to change direction or stop. Slow stops, essential to keeping dog and human in balance, are achieved by pushing while letting out just enough leash to gently brake.
What if you have a shark on the other end? The dog does not need to be wrapped. Just shorten the leash by walking up the leash, then reinforce the heel or some other calm behavior, Stewart suggests. Offer treats or praise for the slowdown. And try to stay far enough away from triggers to prevent reactivity.
For larger dogs
Larger dogs that pull, especially those with whiplash-like reactions, may require maximum braking power. This is where a hip belt and a high-performance belay device come into play. A regular belt (or even two hooks connected together) can be used, but a Skijöring or CaniX belt is ideal as it will sit lower on your hips and stay in place instead of riding under your chest.
With a snap hook attached to the harness, you can attach a super powerful belay device such as a descender in Figure 8 or ATC to make the line slower. The dog is quickly stopped by pulling the elbows. The best, albeit the most expensive, of these belay devices is a “Beal Birdie”, a climbing device with an auto-stop that does its job even when your hands are not on a leash.
It all depends on you and your dog. Some will prefer the travel light style found with the tab; others will advocate the protection of first class climbing equipment. There are many ways to combine these tools and techniques, and now that climbing is left to the dogs, new improvements are sure to be added.
Have fun belaying!