Dear Lisa: I recently adopted a 7-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog. He is approximately 64 pounds. He knows sit and down but he tends to jump up a lot, and I also have no control when he is on a leash. I would like to be able to take him for walks instead of the other way around! --Taken for a Walk
If that 64-pound Bernese Mountain Dog puppy is taking you for a walk now wait until he is a 100 plus-pound adult! According to the American Kennel Club's The Complete Dog Book, the Bernese Mountain Dog is an extremely hardy dog, thriving in cold weather. This working breed, originally bred for draft work and pulling carts on the farms of Switzerland is a "willing and quick learner" and is "self-confident and exceptionally faithful."
It takes both the dog and someone on the other end of the leash to create a pulling problem. It's not really the leash that is the problem but the lack of attention your dog is giving you. He is more interested in getting on with his mission in life and that leash is just in the way. He's basically ignoring your requests to walk quietly on the leash. However, you have to ask yourself, "Have I asked him not to pull? Or am I doing all the pulling?" In order to communicate to your dog you need to get his attention first.
Building on his ability to sit, take him inside the house where you can work on teaching him to pay attention. Put him in a sit (heel position) and then stand next to him with his collar and leash on, as if you were going to begin a walk. Select a word (I use 'Ready') that will mean "Look at me I have something to tell you." Once he looks you in the eye after saying 'ready' give him a treat. Repeat this process over and over a few times a day with multiple little treats and soon he will be looking toward you and intent on listening knowing a treat may soon follow.
Once you have his attention, a few more in-house activities may help with his jumping around and pulling during the walk. Teach him a word that signals it's time for walking or heeling such as "let's go." Starting from the heel position say 'ready' to get his attention and then say 'let's go' and begin walking. After one or two steps with a slack leash, give him a treat. Repeat this exercise a couple of times a day. As he learns to put a few steps together without pulling and he gets praise and treats add more and more steps and before you know it he's walking around the house on a slack leash. Use a short, four-to-six foot, leash for best control. Now it's time to move outdoors.
Before you leave the house ask him to sit, put on his collar and leash, ask him 'ready' and 'let's go' out the door. If he starts to pull against the leash, give him a little tug towards you and then let the leash go slack. At that moment of slackness tell him 'Good Boy' and give him a treat. If he continues to pull, just stop. Proceed with a few steps and each time he pulls just stop. Soon he'll learn that pulling doesn't get him his walk but a slack leash gets him his walk and a few treats. Be insistent. Bring treats with you on your walk for rewards and extra incentive if needed to get his attention. Remember to give lots of praise for proper walking and before you know it you and he will be on your way to developing a great walking routine.
If you have a question, send it to Lisa at AskLisa@AKC.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions she cannot offer individual responses.