It takes two to pull. When a dog leans into her leash and barrels ahead, the person on the other end will either run to catch up or pull back. The first encourages the pup to keep pulling on the leash, while the second results in a tug of war.
But there’s a better way.
Belaying, a rock-climbing technique that involves fixing a running line around a cleat or other object to secure it, can also be used to walk dogs. It’s gentle on the most excitable pups as well as on the hands that hold the leash. Trainer Grisha Stewart is pioneering ways to apply those benefits in her already well-known Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) approach.
BAT relies on positive reinforcement and leash skills to help anxious dogs feel more confident as they explore triggers. Teaching your dog to walk without pulling on the leash will require a lot of patiences and practice, but it can be done. Belaying can boost leash-handling skills with a few simple pieces of equipment and lots of indoor practice in shortening and letting out the line.
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Unlike older, aversive leash training modes that use a leash pop to correct a dog’s sudden surge, belaying is a “least intrusive” approach, nudging the dog toward better behavior. Think slow stops and less jerking of the leash.
Central to the new method is a small metal carabiner and an o-ring or two (or a similar climbing device). Instead of the leash sliding through your hands, it feeds through the gadget, which absorbs the friction that causes rope burn. The basic moves for the handler are belaying—sliding the leash through the device—and braking with a smooth stop.
Good Tools to Get Started
Dynamic climbing rope (stretchier than standard rope leads… see below)
Belts: Skijoring, CaniX
Super-strong belay devices: Beal birdie, ATC, figure 8 descender
Panic snap (horse training equipment, allows user to quickly release the leash from a belt while keeping the leash in hand)
Round leashes, which slide the most easily, pair best with the different devices. A 15-foot rope leash is used in BAT sessions, and to those familiar with BAT, tab belaying will feel most similar. A tab can be used with a shorter leash, but Stewart recommends that the leash be at least eight feet to allow enough braking time.
New Solutions for Dogs That Pull
By testing her ideas with other trainers and different types of dogs, Stewart has come up with two belaying methods: belt and handle. In this video (also embedded below), you will find full detailed instructions on how to use these two new methods to redirect a dog that pulls. At around 2-mins, Grisha shows how to put the two rings on.
This is good for large dogs. The force of the dog’s pull is moved entirely off the handler’s arms, while hands are left free for other tasks. A carabiner can be hooked to a hip belt , and there’s a variation that doesn’t tie you to the dog. To brake with the carabiner, the handler creates a V-shape with the lead.
A simpler version is the leash tab—basically, a handle with a clasp that attaches to a ring added to the leash. This keeps 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, which you create by looping the leash handle through it (a tip suggested by leash designer Trisha Case of Trailblazing Tails).
How to Brake
Lean back, locking the ring in place. To disengage, maneuver the line forward so the ring falls. Tying a knot in the leash will prevent the ring from hitting your hand. For strong pullers or jumpy types, a second ring is a good option, but Stewart advises watching a dog closely so you can engage the brake before the dog bolts. The line should be fed out far enough to allow extra time for stopping.
Cueing Direction Changes, Stop
When cueing the dog to change direction or stop, slide the leash hand-under-hand toward you. Slow stops, which are important for keeping dog and human in balance, are accomplished by squeezing down while letting out just enough line to brake gently.
What if you have a thrashing shark on the other end? No need to reel the dog in. Just shorten the line by walking up the leash, then reinforce heeling or another calm behavior, Stewart suggests. Offer treats or praise for slowing even a little. And aim to stay far enough from triggers to prevent reactivity in the first place.
For Larger Dogs
Larger dogs who pull, especially those with whiplash-like reactions, can require maximum stopping power. This is where a hip belt and a heavy-duty belay device comes in. A regular belt (or even two collars hooked together) can be used, but a skijoring or CaniX belt is ideal, as they sit lower on the hips and stay put rather than ride up under your ribcage.
With a locking carabiner hooked to the belt, you can attach a super-strong belay device like a figure 8 descender or ATC to feed the line through more slowly. Pulling in your elbows will quickly stop the dog. The best, albeit the costliest, of these belay devices is a “beal birdie,” a climbing device with an autostop that does its job even if your hands are off the leash.
It all depends on you and your dog. Some will prefer the travel-light style found with the tab; others will embrace the protection of top-notch climbing gear. There are many ways to combine these tools and techniques, and new tweaks will surely be added now that climbing has gone to the dogs.