A reader emailed me asking about on how to stop her 17-pound Yorkie/schnauzer mix Apricot from “squealing,” whining, barking and yanking on the leash during walks.
Since this is such a common problem with dogs, I thought I’d tackle the topic in a post in case some of you would be willing to weigh in with your own experiences.
Of course, everything will be general advice and should be used for brainstorming. What works for one dog will not necessarily work for another dog.
Here are some of the main points from the reader’s email:
“… as soon as we go past our driveway (with his leash on), he turns into a different puppy – he pulls, yanks, squeaks, squeals, high-pitched barks, I have tried lots of walks with him, running with him, playing in the backyard for energy release before walks, I tried the tight leash, the loose leash, etc….. it’s to the point where I dread taking him for walks …
“… the problem is the leash which brings the ‘anxiety’ or the ‘anxiousness’ that causes Apricot to just want to ‘run’ as soon as the leash is on him and when he has to ‘walk’ he can’t he pulls, yanks, squeaks, and squeals.”
Here’s a picture of the dog we’re talking about. He’s the puppy on top.
My thoughts on how to stop the dog from barking and whining on walks:
It seems like Apricot is a high-energy, young dog who doesn’t know what to do with all his energy. When the leash is on, he gets anxious and frustrated because he wants to go-go-go!
The leash itself, in addition to being out in an exciting place, seems to be what brings out the anxiety/frustration. Apricot is pretty good off leash, according to his owner. He typically doesn’t bark or squeal when the leash is off and he generally stays close. When the leash is on, he starts the barking and yanking.
The owner has tried using treats, switching directions, choke collars, prong collars, a harness and different leashes.
My suggestions to stop the barking and whining:
1. Try a Gentle Leader.
I am not against prong or choke collars, but when I’m dealing with highly anxious/vocal dogs the corrections sometimes have no effect or they make things worse. Using a Gentle Leader on a strong, anxious dog helps me stay more relaxed. I don’t have to worry about giving corrections. The Gentle Leader comes in a size small, which should work for a snorkie.
2. Find a routine.
Dogs love routine, and I find that they do settle down a bit if you can make life predictable for them. A routine could involve getting up at this time every morning, eating at this time every morning, heading out for a walk at this time, going in your kennel at this time, playing at this time, etc.
3. Try a dog backpack.
Dog backpacks come in small enough sizes for little dogs. I’ve found that dog backpacks really help some dogs focus on something other than moving ahead. It’s not a quick fix, but it often helps. Use a small amount of weight in the pack such as paperback books or some kibble in a Ziploc bag. Pictured is a reader’s dog named Chip.
4. Feed the dog with puzzle-type toys.
Dogs that appear anxious and overly excited out on walks are often hiding that anxiety all the time, we just don’t see it. When you’re dealing with an anxious dog, anything you can do to drain that energy throughout the day will pay off in the long run. One easy way to do this is to only feed the dog through Kongs (aff link) or other puzzle-type toys. Don’t even use a bowl for food at all. This will mean your dog is always working for her food, using up some of that pent-up mental and emotional energy.
You can also cut back on the dog’s meals so you can use the remaining food when you’re working on training. While the dog may be too anxious to care about food on a walk, you can still use the food to work on training in less challenging areas.
Playing tug with a rope toy is another easy way to drain some pent-up energy.
5. Make the time for group obedience classes.
I know time and money are tight for a lot of us, but if you can swing it I would make group obedience classes a priority. The reason for this is because they are valuable for teaching the dog to work and focus while in the presence of other dogs. It’s hard to create these situations in “real life.” But if you take a class, you’re all working on similar goals.
With a vocal, anxious dog, you would want to speak to the instructor ahead of time so he or she knows about your dog’s issues.
He or she should be able to give you some additional tips for both on your own as well as in the class setting. And if the instructor does not seem tolerant of your dog’s barking/whining (I’ve seen it happen), then hopefully you can find a different class with a different instructor!
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6. Work on general obedience every day.
A dog with strong obedience skills has better self-control and will be more likely to listen to her owner in challenging situations.
Achieving this takes time and patience, but starting out small with realistic goals can go a long way. This will transfer over to better behavior on walks and better behavior in all public settings. Some basics all dogs should learn include sit, down, stay, come, heel and watch.
- Work so the dog will lie down and stay for 30 seconds in the living room while you’re standing right there
- Work so the dog will stay for 30 seconds while you walk across the room
- Increase the time to 1 minute
- Practice sit and stay on a leash in the house
- Progress to working on this on the driveway or in the backyard, etc.
7. Stay calm and focused on walks.
For me, the hardest part about walking an embarrassing dog is keeping my own frustration under control.
I have to remind myself to stay calm and relaxed. I have to stop and think about my own posture. Am I tense? Am I frustrated? (It helps to take a deep breath and laugh at the situation).
Then, I do what I can to keep the dog focused and quiet. I switch directions when the dog pulls. I walk in a zig-zag pattern. I talk to the dog in a high-pitched voice, encouraging eye contact.
I bring highly valued treats like hamburger or bacon to reward the dog if he happens to look at me and accept treats.
And, for the record, I almost always recommend keeping an anxious dog at your side on walks at all times. Hold the leash the way I’m holding Ace’s leash in the photo below. Ditch retractable leashes for now.
8. Add running to your walks.
If possible, run with your dog for the first 10 minutes or so to help drain the initial energy.
9. Practice eye contact exercises.
“Watch” or “watch me” is a command all dogs should learn, and it can be really handy on walks, especially when you see another dog and switch directions. “Watch” can be used to get the dog to look at you rather than turning around to check out the other dog.
Patricia McConnell writes about this in her book Feisty Fido, which is a book I highly recommend for any dog with “excitement” issues outside, not just reactive dogs.
10. Only walk towards other dogs when your dog is calm.
This only works if your dog is happy and excited about seeing other dogs (vs. fearful).
You could set up a scenario with a friend and another dog where she is standing 30 feet ahead and you are walking towards her with your dog. Pre-determine how much excited behavior is acceptable and what is not. Then, if your dog reaches the “unacceptable” level, simply turn around and walk the other way.
Once your dog is calm, reward her with pieces of hotdogs or bacon and then turn around and walk towards your friend again. The second your dog pulls or whines (or whatever), you would turn and walk away. And so on, repeating this as often as needed.
Note that this takes a lot of patience, and will be very challenging for some dogs. It’s easy for the dog and the owner to get frustrated, so if you sense that happening, it’s best to just end the session, keep on walking away from the source of “excitement” and reward your dog for calm behavior going the opposite way. Then quit while you’re ahead.
OK, so how about the rest of you?
Examples? Ideas? Experiences? Have you ever owned or fostered a dog that was constantly vocal on walks? Let me know!
For more tips on how to stop your dog’s pulling on the leash, get my ebook: “Ultimate Guide: How to Stop My Dog From Pulling on the Leash.”