How to stop your dog pulling on the lead

Do walks involve your dog taking off like a steam train and pulling you along behind? I have good news for you. With my methods, it’s not difficult to stop your dog pulling on the lead.

  • Take advice from a qualified dog trainer

  • Try to avoid walking your dog for a few days while you practise your new training techniques – supply plenty of mental stimulation at home instead

  • Give lots of treats when the dog succeeds

  • Practice loose lead walking where there are no distractions

  • Don’t ask too much too soon. It takes a while for a dog’s brain to get used to new behaviours

  • Work on loose lead walking before you progress on to heel work

  • Ask for short distances in the beginning – 5 paces is a good start - then build up graduall

  • Don’t start a training session or a walk until your dog is focused on you

  • Slow your walks down – allow your dog time to sniff and take in the surroundings

  • Avoid known triggers – if you know your dog drags you to the chip shop – take a different route

Tips for training your dog to stop pulling on the lead.

Why do dogs pull on the lead?

Many of my clients ask for help because they can’t understand why the cute little fluffball with oversized paws who used to follow them everywhere has turned into a hairy hooligan who does its utmost to pull their arms out of their sockets. They’re bemused because the more Rover chokes, wheezes and skids around at the end of the lead, the harder the dog pulls. “surely it must be hurting him?!” they say.

It’s seems as though, when a dog becomes either excited, anxious or angry, it will ignore discomfort in order to do what it feels it needs to do. It’s that age old adrenalin response that is behind it all.

An experienced dog trainer will be able to assess your pooch and help you decide why he or she is pulling so hard. Is it an anxious response – the dog feels unsafe and is trying to head for a safe place? Perhaps the dog is just so excited that it can’t contain its behaviour. Most likely is that the dog has developed a history of getting what they want when pulling, they want to sniff the lamppost, the bush, play on the field or say hello to the other dog. If they are puling to get towards something and they eventually get there, they will do it again and again.

One of my strongest recommendations for training loose lead walking is to take the excitement out of the experience. Not the interest – walks should always be interesting for your dog – but there’s no need to get all hyper. Keep the adrenalin levels low when on lead.

Training tools to help stop your dog pulling on the lead – but tools must be removed ASAP. The end goal is to walk your dog on a normal collar as soon as you can.

Pet shops are heaving with different products designed to help you manage your dog’s pulling. Now I have to stress here that these are tools – some of them are good, but some of them offer a quick fix but rarely work without some good training.

Please stay away from check chains, slip leads or any tool that controls through pain. In the long term they can cause you other problems that are worse than a dog that pulls.

Instead, choose a comfortable, well-fitting head collar. I really like Swag head collars (South West Agility Goods) if they are fitted correctly. Make sure they close fully at the back.  

Tips for teaching loose lead walking

Loose lead walking isn’t learned overnight. I’m not going to pretend it is. The most important thing is that your dog should only be allowed to rehearse the right behaviour. So no more opportunities to pull on the lead. If that means you restrict walks until you are confident that your training is working then so be it.

Start lessons with a pocket full of tasty treats, a nice calm dog and a bit of space where there are no distractions.

Pop the collar or the head collar on your dog and if necessary, wait for the silliness to stop.

My suggestions for training your dog to walk without pulling on the lead

Put your dog on the lead and hold the end of it LOOSELY. Tension from your end will encourage tension from the dog’s end too.

Now do something that your dog won’t expect – take a couple of steps backwards, all the time encouraging your dog to walk with you. Treat treat treat as you go – but keep your voice soft and calm. Remember, we’re avoiding any kind of excitement.

Turn around and repeat. Repeat lots of times. Your dog is learning that moving at your pace earns rewards.

When you can manage 5-10 backward paces quite happily, progress to the next step.

Start off with 3-4 backward paces with your dog following on a loose lead THEN, turn yourself around so that you are still heading in the same direction, but this time you are walking forwards.

Treat treat treat your dog while he or she is at your side and BEFORE he or she tries to lurch forwards. Timing is everything!

Keep building on that exercise until you can manage 2-3 paces backwards followed by 5 – 10 paces forwards. And there you have it – it’s only a short distance but you have your loose leader!

Remember the 3 D’s of dog training

Now come the three D’s of dog training, distance, duration and distraction.  Take your basic technique and GRADUALLY increase the length (duration) of your lessons, increase the distance you can walk together with a loose lead and then – and this is the difficult bit – increase the distractions.

Maybe you could start by doing the exercise above at home, but have someone else walking around the room at the same time as you are training. Then go into the garden and do some training whilst your neighbour is cutting the lawn. Once the two of you have mastered that, progress to walking 20 yards down the street where there are lots of tantalising smells to distract your dog.

Remember, you are reprogramming your dog’s brain and to do that the dog needs to forget the “old” behaviours and concentrate on the new ones. If he or she keeps rehearsing the old behaviour it will take much longer to break the habit….. I suppose in a way it’s a little like giving up chocolate – if you don’t have any at all, you eventually stop wanting it.

ALWAYS set your dog up to succeed. And if that means forgoing the daily walk until you have instilled the basics, so be it. Your dog will be tired from concentrating on his lessons plus you can supply lots of other mental stimulation at home.

Good luck! And if you need some impartial advice or someone to help you hone your technique, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Contact Delders Dogs

Helpful links

Activities to help your dog calm down    

Learn more about loose lead walking in our doggy lifeskills classes 

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Stuart Reed