Q: We have a Belgian Malinois named Maya whom we’ve had since she was a puppy. She’s a puller on walks and we’ve tried many techniques, leashes and harnesses etc. to no avail… When our bodies aren’t 100% and she tugs it hurts! So we’ve had enough and need to get professional help to fix this behavior before it ends up hurting us, especially before winter comes around again. When she pulls on ice it’s terrifying! I turn to off-leash forests and dog parks to get her energy out since walking her on leash is so unpleasant but that isn’t a solution I know… Please help!
A: Thank you for contacting us about your Belgian Malinois Maya. I don’t know if you were aware that I once shared my life with a dog named Maya, a dog that made a big difference in my life and relationships with dogs. I hope your Maya will do the same for you whereby you are better able to appreciate why dogs do what they do, what they really need, and what a Malinois is all about.
First, let’s talk about the problem of dogs pulling on leash – no doubt frustrating for human and dog, not to mention potentially dangerous to us and others around. But let’s also have a clearer understanding of what pulling on a leash means. It is not just about training the dog to walk on a loose leash. It is not only about leash manners. It is not only about a skill that the dog needs to learn. Rather, a dog walking with us nicely on a leash is a dog willing to trust us with their life. Being on a leash means someone else is in control and that person better be trustworthy, wouldn’t you agree? So I see leash pulling as anxiety at having to be under someone’s control, someone who does not have the relationship or trust to exercise that control.
The question is how do we generate that trust? We cultivate it in our way of life which includes many aspects, as I explain in my book, The Way of Life Method, involves our mindsets towards dogs, our management of space and boundaries in and out of our home, our approach to socialization, and especially important for your breed of dog, how we manage a dog’s drives through exercise, training, and sport.
This leads me to the nature of your dog as a Belgian Malinois. While I am not a fan of breed generalizations, what we know of the breed combined with what you mention, leads me to believe that part of the reason you’re having a hard time is that you’re not channeling your type of dog in the right direction. I’ll speak with you honestly – I see no value whatsoever in dog parks but I take it especially hard when I hear of a Malinois being tossed into a park with a bunch of other dogs because we think that’ll get the dog’s energy out. Meanwhile, not only are dog parks stressful and therefore a reason why Maya pulls, but they are also not the kind of exercise that your dog needs.
This is a dog that wants to work with and for you, a dog that wants to mature into the most capable worker that it can be to please you. It does not wish to remain infantile by being thrown into a playground with other dogs, it wishes to mature into a partner for its human. I hope that you will reconsider your understanding of why Maya has been pulling and redesign your way of life to not only solve your problem but also nurture the kind of relationship you both deserve.
To find out more about my own dog Maya, check out her story here: https://wayoflifedogtraining.com/maya-tribute/