Enthusiastic large dogs love their walks, and on the whole have no natural inclination to stay at a leisurely pace by your side whilst you enjoy them too.
If you are tired of having your arm wrenched in its socket, then you will need to dedicate some time to thoroughly dealing with this problem.
But it’s important that you maintain the positive bond that you and your Labrador share, whilst doing so.
We have taken a look at the various training and management solutions you can implement along the journey.
1. Teach the Clicker Heel
If you have a secure area to practice, then the clicker heel is a wonderful way of teaching your dog to walk to heel. Without a lead in sight.
All you need to do is reward him every time he walks within a large imaginary circle around you. Then you start moving, at first slowly and then at a faster pace, around the garden. Once he understands the game, you reduce the size of the circle that he is being rewarded for entering.
To find out more about this method, take a look at our Clicker Heel article.
Shaping is a popular method of positive reinforcement training, which involves rewarding your dog for small alterations in their behaviour that are more like the desired behaviour.
The clicker heel method mentioned above is an example of shaping. But it could also be used when your dog is on the lead, to reward closer approximations of the desired heel position.
If your Labrador is more interested in treats than the surrounding countryside, then you can use this to your advantage.
Holding a bit of food against your heel is sufficient to encourage a hungry Labrador to take up the correct heel position, even if it is only very briefly.
When he is in the desired position, you can give him his reward.
This can form a great foundation for good heelwork, as it shows your Labrador the behaviour you are aiming for.
You simply need to build up the duration that you expect him to stay nicely by your side for before giving him the treat. This will need to be built up very gradually over time.
If you dog does on occasion join you at your side when out on the lead, you could consider capturing this behaviour. Capturing involes marking and rewarding yoru dog for the correct behaviour, when he chooses to carry it out. Your mark and reward will tell him which action made you happy, and the reward will make him more likely to do it again.
Of course, not everyone wants to train with treats, and there is another way to progress heelwork without them.
5. Don’t Reinforce Pulling
It sounds simple, and in principle it is.
Your Labrador pulls on the lead, because in the past it has achieved something that they want. When they pull, they progress with the walk. To them the behaviour is entirely logical, as it creates the desired outcome.
So in order to stop them from pulling, they will need to learn that now the opposite is true.
This method can be time consuming, and certainly will prevent you from having a relaxing stroll with the family whilst you are implementing it.
Only walk forward when your Labrador’s lead is loose. As soon as he starts to pull ahead, stop and wait.
Depending on how ingrained the behaviour is, this method can take a while to work, but it will. Because they will realise that it isn’t going to get them anywhere.
6. Reinforce Loose Lead Walking
Just as you should stop progressing whilst your Labrador strains and pants ahead of you, you should keep up a nice pace whilst they are moving correctly. Remember, rewards don’t have to be treats. The experience of progressing with their walk is rewarding to your Labrador in itself.
Whilst you are moving forwards, they are being rewarded for their behaviour. Which in turn is increasing the likelihood of it being repeated.
7. Be Consistent
There is no point in trying to tackle heelwork half-heartedly.
Once you have decided to train your dog to walk to heel, you must never again let him pull when he is wearing his collar and lead. Whatever method you are using, you will need to follow it on every single occasion.
This is where management devices come into play, because some people will come across situations where they need to restrain their dog whilst they are still learning to walk nicely to heel.
Harnesses are increasing in popularity in recent years, and you can get some very effective ones now. The best type is probably the double attachment harness, where a lead attaches to both the chest and back.
They will help you to manage a strong pulling Labrador, but they won’t cure the problem. The moment the harness is off and a traditional collar and lead are back on, your Labrador will pull as hard as they did before.
9. Head Collar
The other management device you can use to cope with leadwork, is a head collar. This works by turning your dog’s head to one side every time he pulls.
In principle this device is helpful, but it does come with some pretty major downsides. Most dogs don’t like wearing them, and the constant head turning can be distressing to some more sensitive Labs.
Like the harness, we recommend that you only use head collars as management tools whilst your training is in progress.
Labradors are not great generalisers. This means that you can teach them something at home or in the garden, but take them out in the wide world and they won’t realise the same rule still applies.
Set your Labrador up to win, by proofing his lead work.
This means start in an area where it is easy for him to get it right, like in your enclosed, empty garden.
Slowly build up his new skill, first taking him to a new area with no other dogs, wildlife or people to distract him.
Add in distractions one at a time, to help him to understand what you want of him.
11. Time and Patience
Remember, that although management solutions like harnesses and head collars can help you to cope with a strong pulling Labrador, real life trained solutions take time to achieve.
Don’t worry about how long the process is taking, just make sure you take it slowly step by step.
Set yourself and your Labrador up to win.
It’s not a race, and what you achieve in the end will be well worth the wait.