Has walking your dog turned into a constant tug of war with your furry family? Use these tips and resources to teach your dog how to stop pulling the leash.
If your dog has a tendency to drag you down the sidewalk while walking, you are not alone! Pulling on the leash is one of the most common ailments among dog owners.
The outside world is very exciting for your dog. Between the interesting sights and smells, the tendency to encounter other dogs, cats, and wildlife while out walking, and the fact that they generally walk faster than their humans, it’s no surprise that dogs who are not taught otherwise pull when they reach the end of their leash.
Fortunately, with patience, consistency, and clear communication with your dog, it is easy to teach your dog to walk well! While the following steps are simple, they can take anywhere from days to weeks. Be prepared to follow your dog’s pace and praise and reward success. You need to teach your dog that it is more worthwhile NOT to pull on a leash than to pull.
That’s how it’s done.
Teaching a walk with a loose leash:
Before you begin, make sure your dog is wearing a properly fitting collar (with tags!) And that you are using a fixed-length leash, not a retractable leash that is no longer than six feet. Attach a treat bag to your belt loop or waist and make sure it’s filled with quality workout snacks.
1. With your dog calmly by your side, begin to take a step forward. Your dog should stay close enough to you, either by your side or slightly in front of you, that their leash stays loose and forms a U-shape from the collar to your hand.
2. As soon as your dog reaches the end of its leash and starts pulling, stop walking. DO NOT allow him to move in the direction he is pulling.
3. When he stops pulling and the leash returns to its loose U shape, praise and reward him. Then start walking forward again.
4. Repeat as often as necessary until your dog understands that pulling is preventing him from achieving his intended goal.
That’s it! Sounds too easy, right?
For some dogs and their owners, it can take an entire week to reach the end of the driveway without stopping. Patience and consistency are required here – and also where many animal parents fail. Remember, dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarding to them. So if you allow your dog to go for a walk even once, he will keep trying until he learns it will never be worth it.
While the most important thing is to clearly communicate what you want your dog to do, there are a few tools you can use to help prevent pulling on the leash while exercising your dog.
No-pull harness: While some harnesses actually encourage your dog to pull, others are specifically designed to prevent it. Dogs have what is known as a “counter reflex”, which means that they automatically bump into pressure that is exerted on certain parts of the body. You may have discovered this while trying to teach a puppy to sit – if you press on their buttocks, they will not sit down as expected. Instead, they press against your hand! It is important to take this natural reflex into account when choosing a harness.
Certain harnesses, such as those used in sledding or pulling sports, are attached to the dog’s back and put pressure on your dog’s chest to encourage them to push against that pressure. Instead, look for a draft-free harness that attaches to the dog’s chest. This way, if the dog reaches the end of the leash and pulls, it will be diverted and will no longer be able to move in the direction it is pulling.
Head harness: Head harnesses can be a little intimidating, but they are very effective at stopping pulling on the leash, especially on larger and stronger dogs that are pulling. Head harnesses, like the Halti, are pulled over the dog’s head instead of around the neck or chest. When a dog wearing a head harness reaches the end of its leash and starts pulling, its head will be rotated so that it cannot pull any further forward.
The biggest problem with this type of leash is that if he snaps forward or you pull back too suddenly, you can injure your dog. They are effective in initially laying the foundation for proper walking etiquette, but your dog should be weaned from a head halter once they have learned to walk well.
Other tools: Parents of dogs who pull excessively on the leash may be tempted to resort to aversive tools to stop the pulling. Tools like choke chains, prong collars, and electronic collars work by punishing a dog for pulling. If used improperly, these tools can cause your dog pain and suffering and do little to teach appropriate behavior. Many dog owners find that their dog can walk well on a leash when they wear one of these specialized collars, but revert to pulling when wearing a traditional collar, which suggests that they haven’t learned what to expect from them when taking a walk becomes.
Remember that while the tools above can be helpful in stopping pulling on the leash, they are not a substitute for exercising.