How to Keep a Dog from Pulling on Leash

How to Keep a Dog from Pulling on Leash

Does walking your dog feel more like your dog is walking you? Does the mere idea of walking your dog If so, this article will give you an insight into why your dog pulls on the leash and what you can do to curb the behavior.

Why do dogs pull on the leash?

The short answer is: they're not born knowing how to walk on a loose leash, and because you haven't yet taught them otherwise.

But let's look at it from the dog's perspective.

For one thing, dogs are four-legged animals and naturally walk faster than people.

They have no idea what the leash is for, and they only want to go where they're going, and if that means pulling you along because you're too slow to keep up, well, in your dog's mind, that's your problem—not his.

Additionally, the outdoors are like a buffet of wonderful, exciting, interesting, and enticing smells for your dog. There are scents to be smelled around nearly every corner—mainly, the smell of other dogs—and sometimes whiffs of food.

It's an exciting world out there for a dog, and yours just wants to experience it—leash be damned.

If your dog isn't darting from scent to scent and just pulls straight ahead regardless of the collar and leash around his neck, he might just be utterly oblivious to the sensation—even if he's half choking himself.

Some dogs pull for other reasons. For example, depending on your breed: bird dog (lab, retriever, pointer, spaniel, etc.), ratter (terriers, pinschers), your dog may have high predatory instincts and will often want to chase these types of prey animals if you haven't trained them to ignore these triggers.

Other dogs are overly protective of their owners (chihuahuas are especially high-strung) and aggressive toward people and other dogs near their owners.

Again, your dog isn't born knowing how to walk on a leash without pulling, so it's up to you to work with them on these behaviors to socialize them into the human world.

The Oppositional Reflex

Did you know that dogs actually have a natural reflex to resist being pushed or pulled and will automatically respond to a push or pull on them with an opposite response?

It's called the oppositional reflex.

You may have noticed this in your dog before and never known why your dog is so stubborn, but it's just part of his biology.

So when the leash gets tight, your dog automatically pulls harder against it. This is the main reason retractable leashes are terrible for teaching a dog how to walk calmly and loose on a leash—the constant tension on the leash only encourages your dog to keep pulling.

So how do you keep a dog from pulling on leash?

This may sound obvious, or maybe not: teach your dog that pulling will not result in forward movement. But how do you do that? Let's get into it.

Training Tools

There are three things you will need to keep your dog from pulling on leash and teach him to walk loosely on the leash:

  1. Collar or head halter.

  2. A long leash—6 ft. length is good, but longer is acceptable too, though you will have to manage the extra slack, so we recommend the 6 ft length.

  3. High-value treats! We like real meat—the good stuff from your own kitchen. Read more about this in this article we wrote: Dog Obedience Training | 6 Tips for Success.

We do not recommend using a chest harness for training loose leash walking.

Tips Before You Get Started

  1. Excited dogs are more challenging to train because they have a decreased ability to focus. If your dog hasn't seen you all day or hasn't been outside in a few hours, take him for some playtime or a brisk walk/jog/run, depending on your fitness/interest. Let him burn off some of that excited energy so he'll be relaxed and able to focus on training and not be so inclined to pull on the leash.

  2. Find a quiet place with no distractions. An empty park, parking lot, your own backyard (if you have one) are all great options. You need somewhere with enough room to be able to walk some distance and make lots of turns.

  3. Have a container full of high-value treats. Don't use the treats you usually give. Either use good high-quality meat you eat at home or some delicious dog-specific treats. Just make sure they are small. About the size of a dime or a little smaller is good.

  4. Have patience and a positive attitude. If you've had a stressful day and you're not in a great mood, it might be better to postpone training until you feel more optimistic. Your dog will pick up on your frustration, and it will be more challenging to remain in a positive, patient frame of mind.

  5. Decide on your command word/phrase. We like "Let's go" or "OK." This is the word you'll use when you want your dog to walk. You don't need a phrase to stop.

  6. Decide which side of your body (right or left) you prefer your dog to walk, and stick with it. Don't change it up during training. You want to be consistent.

  7. It can be beneficial if you've already trained your dog on the Top 5 Basic Commands, so you can reliably command your dog to sit, stay, lay down, and come to you when called (recall).

How to train loose leash walking.

Once you've got your dog collared and leashed up, begin with him sitting calmly by your side. If he wants to pull immediately, simply stand still until he calms down and the leash becomes slack.

Say his name, and when he looks at you, give him a treat with praise.

Begin walking slowly. If he pulls the leash tight, stop immediately and wait for him to calm, calling him back to your side with a treat.

This may be a slow and grueling process as it may take several stops and starts before he gets the idea that he cannot move forward if he pulls.

As you walk, say his name and give him treats at knee or hip level when he looks at you—but only if the leash is loose and he is walking calmly by your side.

Another technique you can use if he insists on pulling is the "stop and cross." When he pulls on the leash, stop walking. Wait for the leash to be slack and give him a treat at your side. Cross in front of him and walk the other direction. This is a very effective way to get your dog to calm down and walk at your side.

Always use treats and praise to reward the behavior you want—walking at your side with a loose leash.

Keep your training session short. Not more than 10-15 minutes at a time. Training loose leash walking is actually one of the easier dog training skills to master because if you walk your dog multiple times per day (this applies especially to apartment dwellers, you will have numerous opportunities per day to practice the skills.

Remember to be patient and optimistic. It takes time to train a dog to learn a new skill—especially older dogs because they had a lot more time to develop bad habits.

Puppies are easier to train into proper habits on the leash but present their own challenges as they are full of energy and excited to be exploring the world around them.

In Conclusion

Don't give up!

Be patient, persistent, and consistent. Create a schedule if it helps you stick to your training regimen. If your dog doesn't already jump at the chance to get out for a walk when he sees you pick up the leash, he will soon look forward to it, if only for the fact that he gets to spend time with his favorite person—you!

Brain Training for Dogs
Brain Training for Dogs