Dogs pull on the leash for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, it's due to excitement, distraction, or an instinct to explore. Puppies and high-energy dogs tend to pull more as they want to check everything out on walks. However, any dog can develop leash-pulling habits if they learn it gets them where they want to go faster.
Pulling often becomes a self-rewarding behavior because when your dog pulls and you follow, your dog gets to sniff that bush or greet the other dog. This rewards your pup by teaching them that pulling gets them closer to the things they want. To curb leash pulling, you'll need to remove this reward system.
While leash pulling can be annoying and uncomfortable, it's important not to punish your dog for this behavior. Yelling, jerking the leash, or using prong or choke collars will often aggravate leash pulling rather than fixing it. The goal is to reward good leash manners and make pulling unproductive for your dog.
Training Tools and Techniques to Stop Pulling
The right training equipment and techniques can help communicate better leash manners to your dog. Here are some options:
Head halter. Works similarly to a horse halter by controlling a dog's head movements. Turning their head becomes difficult when they pull. However, you must condition your dog to accept wearing a head halter.
Front-clip harness. When dogs pull, the leash clip near their chest turns them back towards you. This discourages pulling as it's no longer rewarded. Make sure the harness fits properly so it doesn't restrict movement.
Martingale or limited-slip collar. Tightens slightly when pulled but doesn't choke the dog. Can give you more control over bigger, powerful dogs. Use proper fitting and supervision.
Proper leash length. Keep your dog close by your side. A longer leash makes it easier for them to pull. Shorten to give you more control.
Reward based training. Reward with treats when your dog walks nicely by your side. Use high-value treats to keep their attention on you. Praise and treat every few steps when first training loose leash walking.
Stopping method. Stand still or walk the other direction when your dog pulls. Once they return to your side, praise and reward. Consistency will teach them pulling gets them nowhere.
Emergency U-turn. Change directions each time your dog pulls. They learn pulling makes the walk go where they don't want to go. Praise for being back at your side.
How to Train a Dog Not to Pull on Leash
It takes time and consistency to fully train a dog to walk nicely on a leash without pulling. Make it a positive experience with lots of praise and rewards for good behavior. Follow these training steps:
Start in a Low Distraction Area
Begin training in a quiet area without many distractions. This allows your dog to focus fully on you. A backyard, empty park, or quiet street are good locations to start practicing loose leash walking. Have tasty treats ready to reward your dog frequently.
Work on Attention
Before you start walking, practice having your dog focus on you. Use a treat to lure their snout towards you, rewarding eye contact. Say their name before giving each treat. After a few repetitions, start taking a few steps forward, continuing to reward attention and eye contact.
Reward by Your Side
Start walking at a slow pace. Each time your dog walks by your side, quickly reward with a treat. Keep treats in the hand closest to your dog so you can deliver them swiftly. Reward every step or two at first before slowly extending the distance between treats. Use praise like “good walk!” along with food rewards.
Stop or Change Directions
As soon as your dog starts to pull ahead, immediately stop walking. Alternatively, you can turn and walk the opposite way. Wait for your dog to return to your side and sit or stand near you before rewarding and resuming the walk. This teaches them that pulling brings the walk to an end.
Practice Loose Leash Walking
Gradually increase how long you walk before rewarding your dog for walking nicely nearby. Mix up rewards with praise and occasional food treats to keep them engaged and focused. If your dog starts pulling again, remind them of the consequences by stopping briefly or turning around. Keep training sessions short at first to prevent frustration.
Add More Distractions Slowly
Once your dog is walking well without pulling in a quiet setting, start adding low-level distractions. Practice in a quiet neighborhood or park during off hours. Reward them for ignoring distractions and staying near your side. Gradually increase distractions as they master each environment. If needed, revert back to easier locations to rebuild success.
With consistent training, your dog will learn that pulling makes walks unproductive and walking near you keeps the walk moving. Set your dog up for success by training where they can focus best. Carry tasty treats to keep them motivated to stick by you. With time and practice, you’ll have a dog who happily walks along without pulling your arm off!
Common Mistakes That Make Leash Pulling Worse
It's easy to accidentally reinforce leash pulling habits in your dog if you're not careful. Some common mistakes include:
Allowing your dog to walk in front while pulling. Your dog thinks they are leading the walk. Keep them nearby your side or just behind you.
Letting the leash stay tight while walking. This constant tension encourages pulling against it. Keep a loose leash with give and slack.
Yelling at your dog when they start to pull. Loud corrections can be frightening and make your dog pull more due to stress. Stay calm and patient.
Jerking or yanking back hard on the leash. Harsh physical corrections teach your dog nothing except to pull against force. Use rewards, not physical punishment.
Giving up and letting your dog drag you along. Never follow a pulling dog. They learn this gets them where they want to go. Stand still or walk the other direction.
Relying solely on the collar or harness to stop pulling. Equipment aids training but doesn’t teach the behavior alone. You must actively train loose leash walking.
Moving forward before your dog stops pulling. Letting them pull even a few steps teaches the habit. Do not continue until the leash is loose.
Allowing pulling at any time, even if just to sniff something. Stay consistent and don’t make exceptions that confuse your dog’s learning.
Keep these common mistakes in mind as you work to improve your dog's leash manners. With smart training techniques and plenty of practice, you'll be strolling along together in no time.
Troubleshooting Specific Types of Leash Pulling
Certain dogs are prone to pulling in specific circumstances. Here's how to troubleshoot different types of leash pulling behaviors:
For excited puppies or high-energy dogs:
Tire them out before walks with playtime or a food puzzle toy. Bring high-value treats like chicken on walks to keep their focus. Reward every step or two they walk nicely. Practice "look at me" using treats to maintain engagement.
For dogs who pull toward people or other dogs:
Cross the street or change direction to create more space. Use treats to refocus their attention as you walk past the distraction. Practice exposure from a distance without pulling before going closer.
For dogs who pull to get to a particular location:
Vary your route and walk to new places they are less familiar with. Be unpredictable. If they always pull towards home, walk the other direction first. End the walk before they start pulling persistently.
For dogs who pull due to fear or anxiety:
Use calming aids like a ThunderShirt during walks to ease stress. Introduce new locations slowly to build their comfort. Use happy talk, treats, and praise to create positive associations. If needed, consult a trainer for anxiety reduction techniques.
For dogs who pull out of excitement for walks:
Calm them before leashing up with soothing petting or a food toy. Practice obedience commands first before leaving the house. Start with short frequent walks rather than long walks to prevent build up. Bring a tug toy to redirect energy.
Knowing the motivation behind your dog’s pulling can help you correct it. Customize your training plan to address why your dog tends to pull in certain circumstances or environments. Stay patient, persistent, and positive during training. Celebrate even small successes!
How to Use the Stopping Method to Stop Pulling
The stopping method is an effective, non-punitive way to teach dogs not to pull on the leash. Simply put, you stop moving forward when your dog pulls and wait for them to release tension on the leash. As soon as they do, you reward and continue walking. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to implement the stopping method:
1. Put your dog on a properly fitted harness or flat collar. Avoid pulling devices like choke or prong collars which can harm your dog.
2. Hold the leash firmly in one hand or secure around your waist. Don't wrap it around your hand as that can cause rope burn if your dog lunges.
3. Start walking at a normal pace with your dog by your side. Lure their attention back to you with a treat if needed.
4. Stop immediately if your dog surges ahead of you. Stand still and say nothing. Don't yank or correct your dog. Simply stop moving.
5. Wait for your dog to return to you and release the leash tension. As soon as the leash loosens, praise your dog or give a treat.
6. Resume walking once the leash is fully loose and slack. If your dog starts pulling again right away, repeat stopping.
7. Practice until your dog stays near your side without pulling. Use random food rewards to reinforce the positive behavior.
8. If your dog won't stop pulling after multiple stops, cut the walk short. End on a positive note the moment they walk nicely. Don't wait until they are too frustrated or over-excited to listen.
With regular practice, your dog will associate pulling with pauses in the walk, and walking politely near you with moving forward. Be patient, consistent, and always reward good leash manners. The stopping method is humane, effective training for dogs of all ages!
How to Use the 180 Degree Turn to Stop Your Dog from Pulling
The 180 degree turn is another highly effective method to stop your dog from pulling during walks. Here's how to do it properly:
1. Start with your dog on a loose leash standing or sitting nicely by your side. Have some small treats handy to reward them.
2. Begin walking forward at a normal pace. Keep your dog near your left side. Don't allow them to walk ahead of you.
3. The moment your dog begins to pull on the leash, make an immediate 180 degree turn. Quickly change directions while giving a verbal cue like "this way!"
4. Walk in the opposite direction for 10-20 paces. Your dog will learn that pulling makes the walk go where they don't want to go.
5. Praise and reward your dog as soon as they catch up and return to your side. They are no longer pulling since the leash has slack again.
6. After rewarding, turn back and resume your original direction. Monitor the leash tension and be ready to repeat the turn if they start pulling again.
7. Practice several rapid turns each walk to reinforce loose leash walking. Vary how often and when you turn to keep your dog on their toes.
8. If your dog refuses to stop pulling after multiple turns, end the walk for now. Return inside or to your yard briefly to calm down before trying again.
With consistent training, your dog will learn they only get to keep walking when the leash stays loose. Time your 180 turns strategically when you feel them start to pull. The more you do it, the less your dog will pull knowing a turn is coming! Keep sessions upbeat as you master loose leash walking together.
Using Commands to Stop Your Dog from Pulling
Teaching your dog basic obedience commands is very helpful for addressing leash pulling. Commands give you a way to clearly communicate what you want your dog to do instead of pulling. Useful commands include:
"Let's Go" or "With Me" – Teach your dog to walk directly by your side when you give this cue. Reward each step they take near you. This creates a positive association with walking politely on a loose leash.
"This Way" – Guide your dog back toward you and release leash pressure by using "this way" when they start to pull ahead or lunge in another direction. Reward once they follow your cue.
"Watch Me" – Say "watch me" then feed your dog a treat when you have their eye contact. This refocuses their attention on you instead of whatever they want to pull toward.
"Sit" – Asking for a sit when your dog is pulling helps them calm down. It also allows you to regain control of the walk before continuing. Reward the sit and release to heel.
"Let's Go Slow" – For excited dogs who pull, this cue signals them to walk in a slow, controlled heel rather than racing ahead. Go at their pace as you reward.
"Leave It" – If your dog is pulling toward a distraction like another dog, use "leave it" to ask them to ignore it. Praise when they do.
The more conditioned commands your dog knows, the more tools you have to manage pulling! Consistently ask for the behavior you want rather than punishing what you don't want. With time and practice, your dog will check in for cues as you walk together politely.
Using Food Lures and Rewards to Stop Pulling
Food lures and rewards are extremely useful for training any new skill, including loose leash walking. Follow these tips for using treats effectively:
Always have tasty treats with you on walks for surprise rewards. Pieces of chicken, hot dogs, cheese, or liver treats work well.
Show your dog the treat bag/pouch first so they know rewards are available. Let them get a sniff or lick.
Wave the treat near your leg when first teaching heel position. Lure their nose in close as you walk. Reward often!
Vary timing and frequency of rewards so your dog doesn't anticipate every step. Surprise keeps them engaged.
Wean off food rewards gradually as your dog masters loose leash walking. Alternate with praise and occasional treats.
If your dog starts pulling again, go back to frequent treats to reinforce the behavior. Increase as they re-grasp the concept.
Carry treats in your left hand to swiftly reward your dog in heel position. Keep your right hand free to hold the leash.
Let your dog nibble from the treat pouch as you walk for an extended reward when they walk nicely without pulling.
Food motivates dogs incredibly well when training. The most food-driven dogs often pull the most but also respond quickest to treats. Use treats wisely to encourage focus on you, reinforce your cues, and make staying by your side the most rewarding choice on walks!
Choosing the Right Training Equipment
Having the proper leash and collar aids loose leash training but isn't a magic fix. Try these effective options:
Harnesses – Preferred over collars. Provide control without straining the neck. Front-clip versions turn dogs around when pulling. Make sure to fit and use properly.
Martingales – Collars that tighten slightly when pulled but not enough to choke. Disourages pulling and gives control over strong dogs.
Flat collars – Regular collars are fine for training small dogs that don't pull excessively. Use with positive techniques, not harsh corrections.
Head halters – Control the head/muzzle like a horse halter. Dogs can't pull if they can't lever their head. Condition slowly to avoid resistance.
Long lines – Lightweight 10-30 foot training leashes. Allow freedom while maintaining control to practice recall and stay nearby. Builds reliability off-leash.
No-pull harnesses – Avoid most types that cinch when dogs pull and can restrict movement. Opt for reward-based training instead.
Proper equipment should be both comfortable for your dog and provide you better leverage against pulling. But no tool will replace active training – you still need to motivate your dog to walk nicely on a loose leash!
Loose Leash Walking Tips
Incorporate these tips into your training plan for a well-behaved dog on leash:
Start in low distraction environments so your dog can focus. Slowly add more distraction as they reliably walk nicely.
Practice engaging your dog with attention, obedience commands, and treats before you start moving.
Vary routes and locations so your dog doesn't anticipate specific paths where they pull. Be unpredictable.
Reward voluntary eye contact with you, even if just a quick glance. This builds engagement.
Keep sessions short if your dog is easily excitable or frustrated. Quit on a positive note.
When you stop or turn around, wait for actual slack in the leash instead of just less tension before moving again.
Make training upbeat! Your dog will feed off your energy. Loose leash walking takes a lot of practice so keep at it positively.
Work at your dog's pace. Go slower if needed to keep them near you. Gradually increase speed once they reliably stay close without pulling.
If you have more than one dog, train them individually first. Walking together makes it harder for them to resist pulling toward each other.
With patience and consistency using force-free methods, you'll both master loose leash walking skills in no time!