Does walking your dog cause you anxiety and frustration? Are you wondering how to stop a dog from pulling on the leash? Training your dog to walk without pulling is one of the hardest parts of owning a dog.
Because dogs that pull on the leash can be exasperating to walk, they often don’t get the exercise, dog training, and socialization they need to live a full and happy life. With a little mindset shift and some basic training techniques, you can train your dog to walk nicely by your side, no matter what distractions you encounter.
Why Does My Dog Pull So Much When We Walk?
A pet who pulls excessively on the leash is no fun to walk
While dogs have been living and working with humans for thousands of years, they come with a totally different set of instincts and behaviors that make loose-leash walking incredibly difficult.
You may be focused on getting from point A to point B, but your pet is on high alert, using his exceptional senses to take in the sights, sounds, and smells around him. He naturally curious about the world around him, and he will instinctively pull toward external stimulus, whether it’s another pet, a dropped sandwich, or a passing squirrel.
If your pet succeeds in pulling your toward this stimulus, he is essentially being rewarded for pulling by getting to whatever it is he is pulling toward. Even if this behavior only works occasionally, your pet will try it over and over again, reinforcing the negative behavior and making your daily walks together very frustrating.
How to Stop a Dog from Pulling Using Positive Reinforcement
Keeping food rewards in a small training pouch will help with dog training
Your dog’s daily walk is probably one of the most exciting parts of his day, and while a strong leash is essential for safety, it can be frustrating for your pet, who is eager to sniff, run, and explore. The good news is that no matter how hard your dog pulls on the leash, he can be taught to walk politely by your side using humane and rewarding methods.
What is Positive Reinforcement Training?
The premise of positive reinforcement training is to offer a reward for actions or behaviors that you are looking for, essentially teaching your dog that if you they do what you ask, good things happen. A reward can be a treat, toy, praise, or playtime. It can even be moving forward on a walk, or being allowed time to sniff and explore. Offering rewards for desired behaviors will help establish positive routines, deter pulling, and reduce frustration on both sides.
Using these methods to train walking politely on a leash will teach self control and decision making without violating your pet’s trust in you. Because he trusts you and your methods, he will readily repeat the behaviors that you’re looking for in many unpredictable and distracting situations.
Step-by-Step Guide to Loose Leash Walking
Sometimes moving forward is its own reward. Leash manners take time to teach.
The very first step to train your dog is to NEVER let him succeed in pulling you. You must commit to this first — pulling will no longer have the effect that he desires. If you allow your dog to pull you toward something, you reinforce a negative behavior that you are trying to change.
You will be using rewards to teach the behaviors you want to see. The types of rewards you use will depend on how he responds to them. If he is motivated by treats, then you will have a pocket full to dole out at just the right moment. You also have the ability to allow your puppy to move toward something he desires. The biggest reward is you — be sure to show your puppy you are pleased by offering plenty of praise for a job well done.
Tip: Your pet can feel tension through the leash, so if you are distracted, frustrated, or angry while walking, your pet will know it and respond accordingly. Practice walking with your pet when you are relaxed and prepared to focus on loose-leash walking.
Step 1: Find a quiet place to practice with few distractions. Do not choose a busy park or street where you know there will be people, other dogs, or tantalizing smells. Clip on your dog’s leash and wait for him to check in with you. If he immediately pulls, wait him out. Do not begin working until you are connected.
Step 2: Take a step forward. If your dog pulls on the leash, immediately stop moving. If your pet continues to pull, remain still and wait. Eventually, he will turn and look at you. Say “yes” and reward him with several treats and praise. If he does not turn and look at you, say his name and reward him for checking in.
Step 3: Reward your pet with treats and praise every time the leash is loose and your dog is not pulling. It will feel like you’re getting nowhere, but you are teaching a very valuable skill. In fact, there is no reason to walk in a straight line at this point. Changing direction and the speed of your pace will keep your pet focused on you.
Step 4: Once your pet can manage a few steps without a pull, begin increasing the duration between rewards. He will begin to understand what you are looking for, and you can reward him for taking ten steps without a pull. Before long, he will understand that walking by your side is both fun and rewarding.
How to Stop a Dog Pulling Using Environmental Rewards
This puppy is exploring his environment without pulling
One of the interesting things about using positive reinforcement is figuring out what your dog wants and then encouraging him to work toward that goal. Let’s say you are walking with your dog and he pulls toward an enticing patch of shrubbery. You know your dog wants to sniff the bushes, but he has to learn that pulling you is not the way to get there.
Wait for your pet to check in, and then take a step toward the bushes. If your dog pulls you, either stop or reverse direction. Sometimes it is helpful to walk parallel to the place your pet is trying to go. Continue to work with your pet using the steps outlined above, until you are close enough to the location you’ve been working toward. Ask your pet for a sit, and after a treat and some praise, tell him to “go check it out.” Allow your puppy plenty of time to sniff and explore the area as a reward for all his hard work.
At first, it may take a very long time to approach new and exciting things, but repetition pays off, and as long as you do not give in to inappropriate behaviors, your puppy will quickly understand that he ONLY goes where he wants to go if he isn’t pulling on the leash. He will learn to ask for permission by doing exactly what you want him to do.
Practical Tips for Teaching Your Dog not to Pull
Your dog may pull on the leash for many reasons. This dog is trying very hard to pull his handler toward a nearby cat.
Once you and your dog have the basics of loose-leash walking down, you can start to use your skills in new environments. Here are a few tips for making all of your walks successful.
- Be interesting and unpredictable – The goal is to keep your dog connected to you at all times. If when you teach your dog he doesn’t know what to expect, he will pay closer attention. You can make your exercises more interesting by speeding and slowing your pace, walking in circles, or changing direction often. Reward your dog generously for sticking with you.
- End every walk on a positive note – While learning a new skill, your dog’s attention span will be short. Five-minute walks may be all you the two of you can handle. It’s better to end things successfully as you teach your dog, even if you didn’t get very far.
- Understand what it takes to make your dog successful – Your dog may be able to walk beautifully around the yard, but will pull like crazy walking in the park. If your dog simply can’t do what you ask, try reducing the distractions or the amount of time you are working together. Remember that even solid skills will be tested in new and exciting environments.
- Exercise your dog before – While this may not be possible in every situation, you will find that your dog is easier to work with if they have expelled some energy before a walk.
- Avoid on-leash dog greetings – Allowing your dogs to greet other on-leash dogs can often cause a heap of trouble. Dogs on leash are not able to use their natural body language to communicate, and straining to be close to another dog creates tension that can lead to unpredictable behavior. Whole Dog Journal has lots of tips on preventing on-leash reactivity in dogs.
On-leash dog greetings can be fraught with anxiety
Special Equipment for Training Your Dog
To get started on the path to fabulous, side-by-side walking with your dog, you only need a leash, some delicious, bite-sized dog treats, and a pouch to carry them in.
If your dog is not responding to the methods outlined above, you can try a front-clip harness or head halter to use during walks. These take some of the pressure off of your dog’s neck, and instead of allowing your dog to move forward when pulling, the no pull harness or easy walk harness will turn your dog’s body sideways when they pull too hard. The front-clip harness or head halter is a painless way to show your dog that pulling does not pay off.
Dog pulling still? Learning to stop your dog from leash pulling takes a lot of effort. Having your dog walk nicely on a leash is such a joy.
Walking calmly on a leash does not come naturally to dogs. If it were up to them, they would be bouncing from place to place, checking out new smells, and chasing everything that moves. Teaching your dog not to pull must be taught with patience, perseverance, and enthusiasm. While there aren’t any shortcuts, the good news is that practicing loose-leash walks will give you and your dog lots of exercise, training opportunities, and time to strengthen your relationship.
The best part about mastering how to stop a dog pulling? By teaching your dog to walk without pulling, you’ll be rewarded with a pet that is responsive to your commands, easy to exercise, and a pleasure to walk nicely with no leash pulling, no matter what distractions come your way.
Tara spends much of her time raising puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. She has been volunteering with Guiding Eyes for the past 12 years, and is currently raising her 9th puppy, a frisky German shepherd named Gatsby. Tara will work with Gatsby for a year, providing him with a loving home, obedience training, and many new experiences to help him become a guide dog.
Tara has been a passionate animal lover since she was a little girl. She got her first dog when she was four years old, and has lived with a rotating cast of animals ever since. She is fascinated by the complex bonds that develop between human and animals, and is dedicated to helping people use humane and effective training methods to build deeper relationships with their pets.