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Lead training woes

I've tried everything, but my two-year-old Cocker Spaniel goes crazy whenever I attempt to put the lead on her. She tries to bite and dashes around, and it's a real struggle. Then, when we go to leave the house, she barges through the door first and pulls so hard on the walk that I feel like not even bothering. Is there anything I can do to overcome her naughty behaviour?

Sue Gilmore advises...

Well, clearly you’ve tried everything – everything, that is, except what will work to bring your dog under control. You’ve put a time limit on her behaviour and you feel a failure. Now you need to try the right thing first, so from the moment you decide to take her out, be aware of what messages you are sending her. Are you dreading the prospect of another battle to get the lead on her, then another battle to get her to walk on a loose lead? She can sense all this, so your self-awareness is essential in order to tackle the problem.

Decide how you will approach the entire process, which starts with getting her lead. If your dog begins to frantically rush hither and thither when you do so, put the lead away and wait until she is calm before trying again. You can even set aside a short period of time as training, without even intending to leave the home. Throughout this time, focus on remaining calm. Check that your lead and collar are easy to put on your dog. Harnesses take much more time and may leave you vulnerable to her trying to bite you.

Generally, dogs learn quickly that if one behaviour works and another doesn’t, the good behaviour is usually replicated and the dog gets a positive response. You could try using a slip lead for training purposes in the home and once she is always calm when it’s on her, then progress to a lead and collar.

Walking a dog is an unpleasant experience if the dog is so excited and out of control before you even leave the home, so it’s essential that you are both calm, ready to enjoy the walk together. Try very hard not to lose patience or, worse, your temper. The real secret to getting your dog to behave is to review your own behaviour first, which is really what’s causing her to misbehave. So change yourself and you will change your dog, step by step. Your dog will begin to respond to your new quiet attitude and body language. Instead of giving up, change your focus, stay calm and start afresh with a new mindset. I’m sure you’ll soon both be enjoying your walks together.