How To Stop a Dog From Pulling on the Leash
Dog trainer Karen B. London promises you’re not doomed to be pulled down the street forever.
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Leash pulling can be addressed by using a good harness, as well as using your own movement with changes in speed and direction to be more interesting and better influence the dog’s behavior. You can also exercise your dog before a walk and use high-quality treats to reinforce good leash manners. Other strategies include choosing the time of day when your dog is calmest and taking out-and-back routes so dogs are not so excited on the way back when the novelty of the area has worn off a little.
Finally, training is always one of the best ways to influence your dog’s behavior. Some dogs who pull on the leash do so because they have not been taught to walk nicely with good leash manners, but they can learn to do it even if they are not one of the dogs who naturally walks without pulling on the leash.
How to stop a dog from pulling on the leash
Teaching your dog to walk calmly on a leash without pulling will require patience and practice, but it can be done. There are many options for anyone interested in how to stop a dog from pulling on leash, and often the best success comes from combining multiple ideas. It will take a concerted effort and a commitment to consistency to shift your dog’s gears, but it will be worth it when you’re able to enjoy walking together with a slack leash between you. You’re not doomed to be pulled down the street like you’re waterskiing forever, I promise!
1. Invest in power steering
Changing the equipment you use to walk your dog can make a huge difference in your experience right away. The right kind of harness puts physics on your side so your dog can’t lean in with their full body weight to drag you along. The Freedom No-Pull Harness by 2 Hounds Design is a great option. Some people find bungee leashes helpful because the leash has a bit of give, but for strong, relentless pullers, I prefer a plain nylon, rope, or leather leash.
2. Use your own movement to your advantage
If dogs are allowed to keep going forward, they learn that pulling is the way to get what they want, and they will keep doing it. Don’t ever allow your pulling dog to continue on their merry way. If your dog pulls, there are two options:
Stop immediately and don’t move until your pup lets up and there is slack in the leash. You may have to stop again three seconds later and do the same thing, and that’s OK. Just be consistent about refusing to let them pull.
When they pull, turn and head in the other direction. That puts them behind you, at least momentarily, and your pup will not be pulling.
Both of these training methods require a bit of patience, but hang in there — it’s worth the wait! Whether the dog is pulling or not, be unpredictable, and reinforce the preferred behavior. Making quick turns, reversing direction, speeding up and slowing down all make you more interesting, which means it’s more likely that your dog will follow you, going where you’re going rather than pulling you where they want to go. True, some of your neighbors will find it amusing, but consider it just another good thing you’re doing for the community!
3. Exercise your dog before you walk
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “Isn’t the point of the walk to give my pup exercise?” Yes and no. Exercise is only one of the benefits of a dog walk. Dogs on walks also get to be in a new environment that can be more engaging than being home. They are able to sniff and see other people and dogs.
For now, the goal of the walk is to teach them to walk nicely so they can go on future walks rather than to meet all their exercise needs right now. If your pup is tired when you start out, they’re less likely to pull. That helps them develop good habits and also allows you to reinforce their good behavior so it becomes more likely in the future. Playing fetch in the yard, or even going up and down the stairs multiple times, can take the edge off their energy.
4. Train your dog to have good leash manners
While some dogs naturally walk calmly and politely all their lives with no specific instruction, that’s certainly not the norm. Most dogs need to learn how to do it with loose leash training. So, how to teach a dog to walk on a leash? Bring top-quality treats on every walk and give them to your pup whenever they are doing the right thing: walking without pulling you.
If you want them to walk next to you rather than in front, offer them treats when they are in that position. The treats need to be out-of-this-world delicious — that usually means soft and smelly — to make an impact. Dry biscuits are not going to be up to snuff for most dogs.
5. Set your dog up for success
Make it as easy as possible for your dog to do the right thing so you can reinforce them with those delicious treats. In addition to exercising your dog ahead of time (you can tell it’s important because I’m mentioning it twice!), there are other steps you can take to set your dog up for success.
Choose the time of day carefully and go when they tend to be the least excitable. Many dogs are extra jumpy and energetic mid-morning and in the late afternoon, but may be more manageable closer to the crack of dawn or later in the evening. Walk them on an out-and-back route rather than a circular one. Many dogs pull on the way out but are more contained on the return because they’ve already investigated the route’s sights and smells.
6. Use a longer leash
There are dogs who pull when walked on a leash that is 6-feet long who don’t pull when they are on an eight or 10-foot (or even longer) leash. They may still be six feet away from you or even closer, but they don’t pull.
Other dogs pull no matter how long the leash is — they just race out to the end of it and use the full force of their speed and body weight in an “I’m not into teamwork; thanks for asking” kind of way. You can’t know which category your dog is in until you try walking your dog on a longer leash, but longer leashes for dogs who pull can sometimes be a quick fix. If you don’t have a longer dog training leash, try securely attaching two leashes for an experimental walk, and only buy one if your dog’s behavior is better that way.
Why do dogs pull on the leash?
Pulling on leash happens for many reasons, and most dogs are engaging in this undesirable behavior for more than one of them. Generally speaking, dogs are pulling on leash because that behavior results in them getting what they want, or they are trying to get what they want by pulling. Among the common reasons dogs pull are:
They want to go faster than the current snail-like human pace
They are too excited or too energetic to control themselves
They lean into the pressure on the collar
Pulling has been reinforced in the past because they have previously gotten what they wanted by pulling
They are frustrated by being attached to you
They want to be a bit further from you or ahead of you
What is loose-leash walking, and does it help?
There is a tendency to think that either a dog is pulling on the leash and forcefully dragging their parent along or the dog is walking in a perfect heel position as if they are competing in formal obedience. There’s a beautiful middle ground that every dog parent should aim for, and that’s loose-leash walking.
That means your dog is walking with — wait for it! — a loose leash. That’s it, end of explanation. If you have a dog who walks on leash without pulling, there is slack in the leash, they wait for you, and they pay attention to the speed you are going to avoid creating tension on the leash, you have a dog who is successfully loose-leash walking. That also means you have a dog who is pleasant to walk and who very likely gets to go on more walks precisely because it is a pleasant experience for their parent.
I only teach dogs to heel if their people want me to for any reason, and I teach the dogs in my own home this skill only because people expect me from time to time, as a professional trainer, to have a dog heel. (Also, it’s appealing and pretty to me, like many other tricks are, but that’s highly secondary.) I don’t need a heeling dog, though. All I need is a dog who walks with a loose leash so that nobody feels tension on the leash or gets pulled around
FAQs (People also ask):
How do I know which method will work for my dog?
Most dogs do best with a combo of treats for not pulling and for being in the right position, plus frequent turns in response to pulling. The way to know what’s most effective for your dog is to try both methods.
What equipment do you need to leash-train a dog?
The best equipment for leash training dogs is either a harness that helps prevent pulling or a flat collar, a leash, and a lot of high-quality treats. That’s it!
What if my dog lunges or barks during walks?
Lunging and barking on walks may involve pulling, but there is no quick answer for improving this behavior. For now, turn away from what’s triggering this reaction. For long term improvement, consult with a professional behaviorist or trainer.
Same! Here’s how I got my pup to stop barking and lunging at everything that moves on walks.
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Karen B. London, PhD, CAAB, CPDT-KA
Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.