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I have a 5 year-old black lab (named Maple) who is a Very Good Girl — but only when she’s paying attention. She was gifted to me as a “Fabulous Failure” when she was dropped out of a service dog program for being too “sniffy.”
We love going on walks and runs (she has had her hips x-rayed and I only take her on the relaxed runs), but I cannot help getting frustrated when she pulls to smell things, or heels perfectly for 30 seconds only to stop and smell something or get excited and speed up. I correct her then it’s rinse and repeat.
She’s a small lab, but occasionally she pulls so hard that I must use both hands on her leash. My mom is disabled, and would love to walk Maple more, but this makes it impossible.
When I trail run, I like her off-leash, but she cannot help running off to smell bushes or get lost and yelp for me. When I call her, she will come running right away only half the time — the other half it’s like she’s deaf, I can tell her it’s dinner time and she won’t even perk an ear.
What I’ve Tried:
I give her 2-3 five-minute breaks per walk to sniff things, saying “go sniff!” is her cue after I’ve made her sit and wait so she doesn’t pull. This has only slightly reduced the stubbornness during our walks.
She is extremely food motivated (lol), so I cue her (“Yes!”) and treat her when she comes when called or heels nicely.
Previously I used a harness, but it only enabled the pulling more. Currently I use a flat collar and a 2’ leash, slightly tugging back (like on reins) when she pulls forward and giving her slack when she is nicely by my side, but I end up doing this for the entire walk which is not nice for her or for me.
What I’m Looking For:
I understand she’s a lab and will be hyper, but she does get 1-2 hours of hilly walks or runs 6x a week, in addition to a large fenced yard, weekly hikes, off-leash parks, swimming, and playing with me.
What makes her so stubborn? Is there any way I can strengthen her attention skills? Or ingrain the heeling so deeply that she will do it even while distracted? I have a clicker and Maple has worked with it before. Additionally, I’m starting to think that perhaps treating her after she runs off and comes back isn’t the greatest idea…
Even if you just have your own story/journey to share, I’d like to hear it. I love Maple so much and we have a lot of fun but the distractibility/stubbornness is extremely frustrating and limits where we can go and what we can do.
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