Pulling on the lead is one of the most common issues experienced by dog owners. I am frequently asked by my own clients, “how do I stop my dog pulling on lead?”. We all want to take our dogs for walks and exercise them. This is most likely to happen if we enjoy the activity too. There are few people if any that enjoy being dragged down the street.
So, what is the secret? How do you teach a dog to walk nicely on lead?
Choosing the right equipment
The right piece of equipment can make all the difference. By making it harder for your dog to pull, easier for you to manage and keeping them safe when on the lead. This can often be a tricky question though. How do you know what is the right piece of equipment for you and your dog?
Harness, Collar and Lead
If you have a young dog just learning to walk on lead, I recommend something safe and comfortable. We want our puppies to love their walks and part of that will be feeling comfortable on the walking equipment. A back attach harness or a flat collar are good places to start.
Perhaps you have a dog who has been pulling for some time or is a big dog. When they do pull it makes it harder for you to keep them under control. For these dogs a front attach harness can help to inhibit the pulling and take the pressure of their necks.
For dogs who are learning to walk on lead nicely I go with a fixed length lead between 120 – 180cm. This gives your dog freedom to move around but keeps them within a safe distance of me.
The reward factor
Now I have my dog on the right equipment, I just need one more thing… a good reward. We need to communicate when they are doing the right thing as well as provide incentive to keep doing it. Take the time to find a reward your dog loves. A food treat is quick and easy to give our dogs while on the move. Keep in mind the world is a big, exciting place. The treats he will work for at home are not as exciting on walks.
Set up your training space
After you have selected the right equipment, it is time to find a good learning space. Much like people, it is difficult to learn something new in a busy environment. There are many other things competing for our attention. Imagine trying to learn another language while attending a fairground. All those stalls, other people talking, kids running around and squealing, announcements on the loudspeaker about the next performance and the smell of yummy foods. It would be much easier to concentrate in a quiet classroom.
Find a quiet classroom for your dog to learn his lead skills. This might be in the back yard while the kids are at school. Alternatively, up and down the driveway/street when traffic is light and no one else is around. The more familiar the space and the less movement happening the easier it will be for our dogs to focus.
Training our dogs requires us to be consistent. This means deciding what is expected of our dogs and sticking to it. Do they have to walk on a particular side? Can they walk wherever if they do not pull? Are they allowed to sniff, if so when? When you know the rules of the walk make sure everyone who walks your dog follows these rules. If you’re in a rush and do not have the time to slow down and work at your dogs pace then pick a different game to play to burn off his energy.
When you know what you are looking for it is easier to train the behaviour, you know what to reward. When training, be consistent. If everyone is doing the training differently your dog will have trouble figuring out the game.
Training to walk on a loose lead
There are so many strategies out there to stop your dog pulling on the lead. Whichever you choose, be consistent and stick to it. If you notice no change after a few sessions, then try something else or get help.
Start with focus and engagement
In your quiet space reward the dog for paying attention to you. This is great for building his engagement with you on the walk. You can also call his name and then reward him for responding to it. Dogs who can engage and focus on you during the walk will be much easier to communicate with than a dog who is more focused on the world.
For those puppies who are distracted you can, when stopped, try to call your dog to you. Reward his focus before moving on. The important part is to wait until that lead is nice and loose. Stop every time you feel pressure on the lead. This will require patience.
MOST IMPORTANTLY reward him when doing the right thing.
- When walking a step and he does not pull, gradually increase the number of steps
- He is walking on your left or right (where you want him to be)
- If he should look calmly at a dog or person, no matter how far away
- He is paying attention to you, even when not asked to
If the lead pulling happens
If he pulls it is important not to move in the direction he is pulling. Dogs often pull to get to something and if he gets it then in his mind the pulling worked. When your dog is pulling you can stop moving and patiently wait until the lead is loose. Only then would you move forward again. Think of it as a game of red light/green light.
Alternatively, when your dog pulls you can change direction. Move away from what triggered the pulling, whether it be a smell or another dog. By changing direction you tell your dog that if you pull toward something we will not move toward it. If your puppy cannot get to what he is pulling toward he learns that pulling does not work.
The longer your dog pulls on the lead the more ingrained this habit becomes. Do not be afraid to ask for help from a professional. This is as much a skill for you as it is your dog. It is hard to teach someone else when you are just learning yourself.
Pulling on lead gets dogs to what they want faster. As a strategy, it works. Therefore it is best to teach dogs loose-leash walking as early as possible. But if you have an expert puller, do not lose hope. Every dog can be taught to walk on a loose lead and Activate is here to help
Activate Dog Training
Meet the trainer
Hi there, I’m Bek.
I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia and International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants. I am committed to continuing my training education in order to provide you with the most up to date and effective strategies. Using scientifically sound, positive reinforcement training to help you get the best out of your dog. Whether it be basic obedience and manners or more complex behavioural challenges I have the tools to help you achieve positive and practical solutions.