So, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is how do I stop my dog from pulling on the leash whilst out walking? It’s possibly one of the most common dog behaviours that owners want help with. That’s why I’ve put together this post which is going to look at the reasons why your dog pulls when walking, how to inhibit it, how to train them to keep the leash loose. We’ll also be looking at how to stop this behaviour before it starts in young dogs, as well as how to deal with the established puller.
Why do dogs pull?
Well, there are a variety of reasons why our four legged friends have a tendency to pull on the lead. Firstly, consider that a dogs natural walking speed is around twice that of ours, walking slowly and not pushing ahead is actually really quite hard for them. Add to that the fact that most times going out on leash is a precursor to racing around off leash at the park, and its no wonder they are in a hurry to get there. Even the simple act of going out the door, if you think about it from the dog’s perspective, is really exciting. Here I am cooped up indoors and when the lead goes on the door will be opening very shortly afterwards, and wey hey, we’re off out into the big wide world with all of its interesting sights, sounds and smells, no wonder they’re in a great hurry to get out there.
What can we do to stop it?
Take the point above, about the speed that dogs naturally walk at, one approach is to take your dog out for a run or on a bike, that ups the speed to something that they’re naturally more comfortable with. Of course that isn’t necessarily an option for every person or every dog, it depends on your lifestyle, location, and preferences, but it is worth bearing in mind.
The simple thing to remember is that dogs who pull generally do so in the hope that they will get where they are going faster. We need to reverse this, the more calm and controlled you are the quicker you will get to the park, the beach or wherever it is that you have fun. How many times have I heard, he only pulls on the way there, he’s no problem on the way back.
Some dogs pull all the time, maybe they are afraid of the sights and sounds outdoors and can’t wait to get back to the safety of home, in those instances you need to work on socialisation first, as solving that and building their confidence in those situations may well solve the pulling problem too. See my article on socialisation here.
Starting out right
If you’re fortunate enough to be reading this article before your dog has been introduced to the leash then you’re going to have a much easier time of it! Stopping a behaviour before it becomes entrenched is so much simpler and quicker than when you are dealing with an established puller.
Vets recommend that your puppy does not go outside of your home and garden until a week after their second vaccination, however that doesn’t mean that you have to wait until then to start leash training. Once your pup has come home and settled into his new environment you can start to put his first collar on for a few minutes at a time, slowly building up so that, when he is ready, he can wear it all the time. Once he is comfortable with the collar you can introduce the lead. I’d start by letting him have a look and sniff of the leash first, after a couple of times you can attach it to the D ring on his collar. Just let him have two minutes of it trailing along behind him and let him get used to it. Repeat this a few times a day, slowly building up the time, and occasionally lifting the handle end of the leash. Many pups will sit firm when you try to lead them somewhere, so be patient and let them build confidence with this new item.
You can then begin to start walking them around the house and garden, starting of with really short spells, rewarding when they are walking nicely and the leash is loose, stopping if the leash becomes taut. They will soon learn that they get to move around when it is loose and they don’t if it is tight. Simple! However, a word of caution here, don’t be too confident – once you go outdoors and there are so many more exciting sights, sounds and smells, the temptation to lunge ahead is going to be much higher. Be prepared, make sure that from the very first outing that no progress is being made unless the pup is calm and the leash is loose.
Consistency is paramount here, everyone who is going to be taking the dog out needs to know the drill and follow the same method. Yes, you need patience and it takes time, but that time invested in the first few weeks and first few walks outdoors will reap dividends for the rest of your dogs life and make walking time so much more relaxed and pleasurable for you all.
What about the seasoned puller?
The method is the same as for the puppy really, the difference being that once a dog has learned to pull on the leash it will take longer to ‘unlearn’ that behaviour, so more time and patience are key.
We’re going to take the same approach as with the pup. The dog wants to get to wherever he is going as fast as possible, because that’s likely where the fun happens. We need to reverse this so that he will get there quicker by being calm and having the lead loose. Start out with a loose leash – remember if you pull, your dog will too! You can use one of a few methods, all of which result in the same outcome:
- use treats – each time your dog lunges forward lure them back to your side with a treat and reward them when they have returned to the position that you want them in, ie by your side, loose leash.
- one step forward, two steps back – each time the leash tightens you take two steps backward, thus teaching the dog that they don’t go anywhere until the leash is loose. Yes, you need to be patient, you need time, and you will likely look like a crazy person to anyone passing by, but that will all be worth it once you have the desired result.
- about turn – similar to the method above, but requires a little less patience, you simply turn around and go the opposite direction as soon as the leash gets tight. As long as it is loose you go on, but immediately there is any tension you spin around.
But my dog still needs exercise
Yes, this is one of the problems that owners have when they’re following this method. If Fido is bouncing off the walls because they’re not actually going very far on their walks this can be a frustration whilst you use this method. The problem is that, whilst you are doing the loose leash training you need consistency, if you let them pull whilst out on a long walk, you are going to set your training back a lot next time you try to do the loose leash stuff. A few ideas to help are listed below:
- burn off energy – if you have an enclosed garden or other area where they can race around then let them do that before you start the leash training, it will be much easier when they’ve burned off some excess energy beforehand. If you don’t have somewhere nearby where you can do this perhaps you can put the dog in the car, drive them somewhere safe and let them bound around, then do some lead work.
- use a head collar – there are a range of head collars (a bit like a horse’s head collar) on the market which inhibit pulling. They are actually really effective, but they don’t address the problem, they simply allow you to manage it. Nonetheless, they can be a way of getting your dog some exercise whilst you are working on the loose leash training.
- use a harness – similar to the head collar, there are loads of harnesses on the market which are designed to provide you with more control, reduce strain on the dog’s neck, and inhibit pulling. Again, they are not dealing with the problem, but can be a way to manage it whilst you work on the loose leash method.
- semi-check collars – sometimes called martingales, these collars tighten when the dog lunges forward, you can get them with a small section of chain or all fabric. They can be effective in dogs who don’t pull too much, but unlikely to help with a seasoned puller.
- A collar and leash, ideally soft fabric so that it is comfortable to wear, I prefer strong webbing collars and leads, and personally prefer a trigger lead (attaches to the D ring on the collar) from the same fabric as the leash, at least 6′ (1.8m).
- treats – needs to be something that is really of high value to your dog – boring packet treats are unlikely to cut the mustard here – experiment with dried liver, liver cake, cheese cubes, cooked chicken, sliced hot dog, raw carrot slices, etc, find out what really gets their interest.
- treat bag – this isn’t essential, but can be a useful extra, it stops your pockets getting slimy and smelly!
Putting it into practice
So, this is my take on leash training, I’d love to hear your ideas, feedback on how you got on if you tried my method, or any questions.