Dogs require plenty of mental stimulation and exercise; walking your pup is a great way to do that. However, leash pulling can make walking with your dog from an enjoyable experience to a stressful one.
Many pet owners unintentionally reward their dogs for pulling on their leashes. If you go in the direction they’re tugging at; it teaches them that when they pull, you follow. Some dog owners may tug the leash against them, though this doesn’t work either.
You’ll need to dedicate time to train your dog to stop pulling on the leash properly. It may take time and effort, but it’ll be worth it once you can finally walk nicely with your pet.
Even if you’ve had your dog for a few years, there is still time to train them correctly. Let’s dive into the best training techniques to stop your dog from pulling on the leash.
Aversive vs Positive Reinforcement Training
When you train a dog, you have the goal of increasing the likelihood that your dog obeys your command or hoping that your pup will stop unwanted behaviors. There are two methods of training dogs you will come across: aversive and positive reinforcement training.
Positive dog training uses methods and techniques to associate the commands with positivity. With positive reinforcement, you offer a reward once your dog obeys a command. Additionally, dogs want to make their owners happy, so many will have instinctual motivation.
Alternatively, with aversive dog training (not recommended), you’d use something unpleasant to deter them from exhibiting unwanted behavior. Some examples of aversive training include harsh scolding, smacking a newspaper loudly, or using an electronic collar.
We focus on positive reinforcement in this guide. Studies show that positive reinforcement can be more beneficial than aversive training and tends to be better for a dog’s mental health. Additionally, aversive training may lead to behavioral issues like excessive barking or pet anxiety.
Why Does Your Dog Pull on the Leash?
It’s normal for your dog to pull on the leash. They’re curious creatures who want to explore the world, and most dogs pull on their leashes if something grabs their attention.
When your dog pulls on the leash, you may go in the direction your dog is going to alleviate the pressure they’re putting on their necks. Your pup sees this as a reward; they pull on the leash, and you follow. In this case, your dog believes it’s in control and ends up walking you.
What Is Loose Leash Walking?
Ideally, you want to walk your dog on a loose leash, meaning it’s by your side and not tugging forward while walking. While it would be great to have a dog that naturally avoids pulling, that’s not the case.
Walking on a loose leash is essential for your pup to learn good leash manners. Dogs pulling on the leash can be frustrating and put extra pressure on your dog’s neck.
Although it takes time and effort to train your pup to walk on a loose leash, you won’t need much to get started.
What To Do When the Dog Pulls
If your dog pulls on the leash when you begin walking, you’ll need to stop rewarding their behavior. Here is the step-by-step process of what to do to train your dog to walk on a loose leash:
- Start in a quiet place with minimal distraction, like your backyard or sidewalk in your neighborhood.
- Keep treats in your pocket on the side you prefer your dog to walk on. For example, if your pup wants to walk on the right side, keep treats in your right pocket.
- Hold the leash in your opposite hand. Following the previous example, if your dog walks on the right side, you’ll hold the leash in your left hand.
- Make sure that the leash remains loose while you hold it.
- Take a step forward, then stop. It’s alright if your dog doesn’t need “heel” immediately or stays in that position. Offer a treat near your side to help position your dog.
- Repeat this process a few times to instill and reward good behavior.
If your dog pulls on the leash, immediately stop walking. Say your dog’s name to call them back to you, or use a treat to lure them back to your side. However, wait to give your pup the treat. Instead, take a few more steps before offering it.
Giving the treat immediately will teach your dog, “when I pull forward, I return and get a treat.” Waiting teaches your dog that they only get a reward when they stop pulling and walk by your side.
It can feel like a long process of stopping and starting your walk. However, repetition is essential for your dog to learn. As you teach your dog, you can go a few more steps each time before stopping. Soon, you won’t have to stop, and your dog will walk on a loose leash.
Teaching an Off-Duty Walk
Once your dog learns loose leash walking, you’ll want to teach it an off-duty walk. You will use this when your dog doesn’t need to be in the “heel” position, but you don’t want them to tug forward.
Choose a word or phrase as a command for this type of walk, like “at ease.” It doesn’t matter what you use as long as it’s completely separate from other orders you use.
It’s also up to you to decide how lax you want the leash to be. For example, if you use a 6-foot leash, you may hold the end loop with the rest hanging loosely.
You may also hold it slightly closer to you if you like. However, if you keep part of the leash, ensure you don’t release it and gather it several times. Ultimately, you want your dog to expect the same amount of leeway and understand how much leash is available.
Use your phrase and start walking, allowing them to sniff, look around, lie down, or change sides. The only rule they have in this off-duty walk is they can’t pull forward.
If your pup gets distracted or fixates on something like a squirrel, call your dog’s name and change directions if you can. The closer you are to the distraction, the more likely your dog will pull.
In situations where you want your dog in the “hell” position, guide it back to your side and give your chosen command like “heel.”
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What To Keep in Mind When Training Your Dog To Not Pull on the Leash
Teaching your dog not to pull on the leash can take a little time and a lot of patience. However, there are a few ways to make this process easier.
Stay Consistent With Your Walking Method
It’s crucial to stay consistent when you walk your dog. Consistency creates confidence for your pup and helps build trust with you. In doing so, you’ll teach your dog acceptable behavior when walking.
So, be mindful when you choose how you want your dog to walk. If you begin the above process with your dog walking on the right, continue keeping your dog on the same side.
If other family members will walk your dog or if you hire a dog walker, make sure they understand the walking method too.
Sticking with one method will help your dog know what you expect and make training much smoother.
Walk in a Calm Location
No matter what you do, your dog will be curious about its surroundings. Dog parks or recreational parks have many distractions, like children running, squirrels hopping from tree to tree, and many other people walking past.
Starting in an active location sets your dog up to fail. When your goal is to teach your dog to remain calm, you want to choose the same environment to help them learn.
Choose a quiet time of the day when there aren’t many people walking down the street or go to a park during the week at a time that it’s not overly busy. Find a spot where you and your dog are alone, free of anything that may spark their interest.
As your dog learns the routine, you’ll be able to go to busier locations. However, crowded parks can be stressful if your dog still needs to learn impulse control.
If your dog is easily distracted, starting indoors may be more manageable. Being inside your home allows you to train in a space where you know nothing will distract them. There won’t be any noises, cars driving by, smells, or other people grabbing your pup’s attention.
Pay attention to the areas of your home where your dog begins acting excited, like the front door or the garage. Stay away from these areas first to avoid stealing your dog’s attention.
However, once your dog gets the training down, practicing control in those locations is a good idea. Teach your dog that just because you go near the door or open it that they’re going for a walk or can throw a tantrum.
Try a Chest-Led Harness
Another method is using a chest-led harness. Chest harnesses feature a ring that attaches between their two front legs by their chest. This gives your dog the opposite effect when they try forward; they tug at the leash, slowing them down.
Using a chest harness can be valuable if your dog is stubborn or has difficulty following the training. Some harnesses have rings so you can attach their leash on the front or back, allowing you to transition when you like. Here is one of the most popular chest-led harnesses.
Use Treats To Encourage Your Dog To Follow You
While you don’t want your pup to become reliant on treats, using treats can be especially effective for food-motivated dogs.
Their favorite treats give dogs more motivation to please their owners. So, if they realize they get a tasty reward when they obey, they’re more likely to repeat the action.
You may also use a toy if your dog is more toy motivated. Once your dog shows signs that it’s learning to walk without pulling, lessen the number of times you offer a treat.
Instead, you may use positive praise like “good heel” or “good girl” in a happy voice when they do a good job.
Understand and Use Body Language
Because dogs can’t vocalize their needs, they often use body language to communicate. It’s helpful to pick up on signs that your dog is distracted to remove them from the situation more quickly.
Some examples include:
- Perked ears
- Intense staring
Additionally, you’ll want to communicate with your dog using body language when you teach your dog commands like “heel” or “at ease” and associate different hand signals for each phrase.
Dogs can learn more quickly when they have several means of communication to work with. Each time you say the specified word or phrase, use a particular gesture so your dog associates them. This especially comes in handy for dogs who get distracted easily.
Try Clicker Training
Clicker training is a tool for positive reinforcement dog training. Aptly named, the clicker makes a clicking sound, which you use when your dog obeys a command. Over time, your dog will associate the click with positive action.
Clickers are an excellent tool if you don’t want your dog to depend on the treats. You may start using the clicker and treats together or gradually switch from a treat to a clicker. Here is one of the best reviewed dog clickers.
Not All Methods Will Work for Every Dog
We discussed several training methods in this article, like clickers and chest harnesses, that may help the training. However, it’s important to note that not all methods will work for every dog. Each breed and individual canine has different motivations and temperaments, so it may take experimentation to determine a working strategy.
If you struggle to leash train your dog using one of the methods, don’t feel like you’re a failure if it doesn’t work. Research your dog breed or use your knowledge of your dog to choose a training method to start with.
After a few tries, you’ll have an idea if the method is successful or not. If your dog doesn’t respond to the clicker, move on to trying a hand gesture or vice versa.
Be patient with your pup as they learn, especially if you have an older dog. Your dog may have years of pulling habits that it will need to unlearn.
Stay consistent, and your hard work will be worth it. If you want help from a professional, we found a great FREE training workshop to help you in the comfort of your own home!
How Long Does Leash Training Take?
Leash training can take a few days to a few months, depending on the dog’s breed, temperament, environment, and age. So, there’s no generalized timeline to say how long your dog will take to learn to stop leash pulling.
However, we can confidently say that the more time and effort you put into leash training, the more quickly your dog will learn. Do your best to teach your pup how to walk on a loose leash several times a week or more if you can.
You may notice your dog improving before suddenly pulling on the leash again. That’s okay; continue the training, and your pup will pick it up in no time.
Struggling With a Dog That Pulls on The Leash?
Teaching a dog or puppy to stop pulling on the leash can be a lot of work, especially if this is your first time working on it. Thankfully, there are tools you can use to help you train your dog to be calmer and more obedient.
When I first got my dog, I was young and needed to learn how to train my dog correctly. If he pulled on my leash, I’d either go in his direction or gently tug on the leash to guide him back. Needless to say, this wasn’t a successful method to get him to stop pulling.
After watching the free workshop, “How Your Dog Can Become As Obedient As a Service Dog,” I learned how I made many common mistakes many pet owners make. For example, I didn’t realize that I was offering the treats at the wrong time and offering them too much altogether.
Additionally, I used to loudly exclaim when he didn’t obey a command, which never “clicked” with him. What I did is common among pet owners as we learn from what we saw growing up or watch outdated training.
Many pieces of training teach basic commands like “sit” and then leave out behavioral issues like leash pulling or excessive barking. Not only is my dog a more obedient dog when walking on the leash, but I’ve been able to work through other behavioral issues.
The K9 Training Institute focuses on non-aggressive training techniques and teaches you alternative methods to using treats. You’ll learn from lead animal behaviorists to get tips and tricks that they use to train some of the most well-behaved and obedient dogs in the world.
Not only will you learn how to stop your dog from pulling on the leash, but you’ll receive techniques to stop other behavioral issues like excessive barking and jumping on strangers.
Check out the free workshop and learn how your dog can become as obedient and calm as a service dog.
Additionally, check out our guide on how to get your dog to stop biting.