How to Teach Your Dog to Walk Without Pulling on the Leash

Does walking your dog cause you anxiety and frustration? Are you wondering how in the world your lovable pup learned to pull so hard on the leash? Teaching your dog to walk without pulling is one of the hardest parts of owning a dog, second only to not teaching your dog to walk without pulling.

Because dogs that pull on the leash can be exasperating to walk, they often don’t get the exercise, training, and socialization they need to live a full and happy life. With a little mindset shift and some basic training techniques, you can teach your dog to walk politely by your side, no matter what distractions you encounter.

Why Does My Dog Pull So Much When We Walk?

A dog 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 dog is on high alert, using his exceptional senses to take in the sights, sounds, and smells around him. Your dog is naturally curious about the world around him, and he will instinctively pull toward external stimulus, whether it’s another dog, a dropped sandwich, or a passing squirrel.

If your dog 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 dog will try it over and over again, reinforcing the negative behavior and making your daily walks together very frustrating.

Using Positive Reinforcement to Teach Your Dog to Walk By Your Side

Keeping food rewards in a small training pouch will help with 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 dog, 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 your dog 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 teach your dog to walk politely on a leash will teach self control and decision making without violating your dog’s trust in you. Because your dog 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

The very first step to teaching your dog to walk politely on a leash is to NEVER let him succeed in pulling you. You must commit to this first — pulling will no longer have the effect that your dog 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 your dog responds to them. If your dog 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 dog to move toward something he desires. The biggest reward is you —  be sure to show your dog you are pleased by offering plenty of praise for a job well done.

Tip: Your dog can feel tension through the leash, so if you are distracted, frustrated, or angry while walking, your dog will know it and respond accordingly. Practice walking with your dog 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 begins pulling, 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 dog 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 dog 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 dog focused on you.

Step 4: Once your dog can manage a few steps without pulling, begin increasing the duration between rewards. He will begin to understand what you are looking for, and you can reward him for walking ten steps without pulling. Before long, he will understand that walking by your side is both fun and rewarding.

Using Environmental Rewards

This puppy is exploring his environment without pulling

One of the interesting things about positive reinforcement training 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 begins pulling 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 dog 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 dog is trying to go. Continue to work with your dog using the steps outlined above, until you are close enough to the location you’ve been working toward. Ask your dog for a sit, and after a treat and some praise, tell him to “go check it out.” Allow your dog 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 dog 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

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 he doesn’t know what to expect, he will pay closer attention. You can make your training 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, 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 leash walking – 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 training 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 Walk Without Pulling

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 training pouch to carry them in.

If your dog is not responding to the methods outlined above, you can try a front-clip harness 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 harness will turn your dog’s body sideways when they pull too hard. The front-clip harness is painless way to show your dog that pulling does not pay off.


Walking nicely on a leash takes a lot of practice

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 walking will give you and your dog lots of exercise, training opportunities, and time to strengthen your relationship.

The best part about teaching your to walk without pulling? You’ll be rewarded with a dog that is responsive to your commands, easy to exercise, and a pleasure to walk, no matter what distractions come your way.

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