How to Train a Dog Not to Pull on its Leash
Sometimes, dogs can be extremely stubborn while walking, and we’re left scratching our heads, wondering how to train a dog not to pull on its leash.
I mean, even if your dog isn’t pulling you over, it can still be extremely frustrating and annoying when your chihuahua is jumping, yipping, and trying to tug its way free of your grip.
So many dogs these days do not have any leash manners. They pull while on the leash, choking themselves, making the walk miserable! But, there are a few simple tips you can use to teach your dog to NOT pull on the leash so you both will be able to enjoy the walks.
If you find yourself being dragged on your daily walks, it might be time to consider your options when it comes to dog walking supplies. A dog harness made specifically to discourage pulling, for example, can help you gain more control on your walk and improve your pup’s dog leash skills. By using a no-pull dog harness, you can help make walks more enjoyable and prevent your dog from hurting herself.
You may be wondering how to leash train your dog so your dog is walking happily by your side, stopping when you stop, turning when you turn, and continuing with you past other dogs and people. He doesn’t pull on the leash, and he only goes potty and sniffs when you give permission.
Leash manners is probably the most challenging thing you will probably teach him to do, but it is fun too and well worth the effort! Read on to begin to make this leash training vision a reality.
Why Leash Pulling Can Hurt Your Dog
If your pup is only wearing an ordinary dog collar, she can put a lot of tension on their throat as she strains forward, especially if you grip the leash or yank it back. This kind of pressure can hurt your dog’s neck regardless of her size, but especially if she belongs to a smaller breed.
Excessive pulling can also lead to unwanted behaviors. Say your dog pulls whenever she sees another dog. If you hold her back, jerk the leash or drag her away, she begins to associate that unpleasant experience with other dogs.
Here are Few Tips to Teach Your Dog to NOT Pull on the Leash:
Teach Your Pup How Long the Leash is!
First off, this means DON’T USE RETRACTABLE LEASHES!
Retractable leashes are unfair because the dog doesn’t know if the leash is 3 ft, 10 ft, or 25 ft. A dog needs to know how long his leash is to learn not to pull!
So, find a leash that is about 6 ft and stick with it for most of your training. Of course, there can be special circumstances that call for longer leashes, but in general, a six-foot leash is what you’ll use on walks, and it’s the standard leash size.
I often “let my dogs be dogs” by allowing them to have the length of the leash to wander while we are walking. However, my #1 rule is that you don’t pull me, ever! And, to achieve this, I must teach my dogs how far they can go on their leash before they pull (about 5 feet).
So, I put them on a leash, and if they are not paying attention to me, I change my direction. Yes, the dog hits the end of the leash. But, in my opinion, the dog is “correcting” himself, and I am teaching him how much room he has on his leash before this happens. This also teaches the dog to pay attention to me.
Yes, you can sniff and wander and have a good time and still have an idea of where I am and what I am doing. Whenever my dog appears not to be paying attention, I change my direction and make a 180-degree turn. This helps the dog learn how long his leash is, and teaches him to pay attention to me.
Very few people ever recognize when their dog looks at them. Even fewer people reward it! This is one of the biggest mistakes people make! Your dog should be praised for looking at you, and paying attention to you.
Paying attention to me is NEVER wrong! I want my dog staring up at me or looking back at me; always checking in with me. If your dog is paying attention to you, he probably isn’t pulling on the leash. When I teach puppy classes, 100% of those puppies will look up at their owner, on their own (even when they haven’t been taught eye contact).
It is a given.
It is something I wait for during class, so I can point it out and have them reward it. However, if you don’t recognize it and reward it, the behavior will disappear and turn into pulling and paying attention to everything else.
Stimulate His Mind
Dogs often pull because they are bored! He doesn’t really have anything else to do, or anything else to think about, so he pulls you from one thing to another.
Give him something else to do! Stimulate his mind!
Once your dog is listening to you more, you can vary the picture even more by becoming unpredictable yourself. This means your dog has to listen to you at all times because he never knows when you are going to turn or where you are going to go next.
Instead of turning away from him when you give the let’s go cue, reverse direction by turning towards him. You can turn in a circle or do a figure eight. Any of these variations will get your dog’s attention.
Do not forget to praise him for complying, because the better you make him feel walking close to you, the more he will chose to do so.
I rarely walk with a total purpose of getting somewhere fast. When I am walking with my dog, I am walking AND training.
I change my direction. I change my pace. I have my dog sit. I have my dog “down.” I ask him to find heel. I bring his tug and play with him when he does something right. I ask for eye contact. I ask my dog to do push-ups (sit and down in succession). I make circles to the right and circles to the left.
I want my dog’s mind stimulated. I want my dog to pay attention to me. And, I recognize that just walking at a slow pace is not stimulating for my dog, and, without me providing him with stimulation, he is more likely to pull!
Try a Chest Harness
Another option is to try out a no pull harness or chest-lead harness.
A chest-led harness is a perfect training aid, as it takes pressure off a dog’s sensitive neck by distributing the pressure more evenly around the body. When the leash is attached to a ring located on the chest strap and your dog pulls, the harness will turn his body around rather than allowing him to go forward.
I recommend this kind of harness for anyone who needs extra help, as safety has to come first.
Think of the no-pull harness as a training tool.
Yes, it will deter pulling on its own. But ideally, you’ll also be teaching your pet that a loose leash is the only way she’ll move forward, and a tight leash means she has to stop.
Don’t Allow Your Dog to Win
Leash pulling is often successful for the dog because the person inadvertently reinforces the pulling by allowing their dog to get to where he wants to go when he pulls. But you can change this picture by changing the consequence for your dog.
When he pulls, immediately stop and stand completely still until the leash relaxes, either by your dog taking a step back or turning around to give you focus. When the leash is nicely relaxed, proceed on your walk. Repeat this as necessary.
If you find this technique too slow you can try the reverse direction method. When your dog pulls, issue a ‘Let’s Go’ cue, turn away from him and walk off in the other direction, without jerking on the leash.
You can avoid yanking by motivating your dog to follow you with an excited voice to get his attention. When he is following you and the leash is relaxed, turn back and continue on your way. It might take a few turns but your vocal cues and body language will make it clear that pulling will not be reinforced with forward movement, but walking calmly by your side or even slightly in front of you on a loose leash will allow your dog to get to where he wants to go.
Training Your Dog to Walk Beside You
Ultimately, the best way to keep your dog from pulling is a combination of training and stimulation. By training your dog proper loose-leash walking, you can ensure that as long as you’re providing the proper physical and mental stimulation in your pup’s life, it will behave on walks and your leash-pulling problems will begin to disappear.
Start by attaching your dog to a rope or leash that is 10-20 feet long (but not retractable) while he is wearing a standard harness. Get some pea-sized pieces of fresh meat or cheese to use to reward your dog and go to a familiar outdoor area like your backyard.
Decide whether you prefer your dog to walk on your left or right (left is traditional). Whichever side you choose, you will feed him his treat reward right by your thigh on that side. He will soon begin to stay near that side since that is where yummy treats appear!
Walk briskly and randomly around your yard. Whenever your dog happens to choose to walk beside you, reward him with praise and a treat next to your thigh on your preferred side. If he continues walking next to you, reward him for every step you take together. As he gets better at this you will not need to reward him as often. If your dog is completely uninterested in you, take him inside and then try again later at a time when he is a bit more hungry.
Practice until your dog is staying beside you more often than not. You can also integrate clicker training into this method as part of your pup’s positive reinforcement training.
Begin walking about your yard. Wait for a moment when your dog is walking off on his own, or is lagging behind to sniff or go potty. Say “let’s go” in an upbeat voice, slap your thigh the first few times to make sure that he notices you and turn and walk away from your dog.
When he catches up with you reward him with praise and by feeding a treat to him next to your preferred side. Then feed him a treat every couple of steps if he continues to stay with you as you walk. If he catches up to you very quickly, give him an extra reward.
If the leash is tight and he does not come towards you, stop walking and apply gentle leash pressure. The leash pressure is meant to be a reminder of your presence and to make it slightly unpleasant for him to ignore you, but not to force him towards you. Praise him and release the pressure once he begins to come towards you. When he catches up with you reward him with praise and by feeding a treat to him next to your preferred side. Then feed him a treat every couple of steps if he continues to stay with you as you walk.
Continue to practice this Step in your yard until he is staying by your side most of the time and if he veers off away from your side, he comes right back to your side after you say “let’s go.”
Your dog needs time to sniff and relieve himself while on the leash, but it will help him to learn better manners if you decide when that will be. As you are practicing your leash walking with your dog, about every 5 minutes, at a time when you would usually give a food reward, instead say something like “go sniff” and let him sniff around or go potty while he is on the leash. This is a privilege or reward, so if he pulls on the leash during this free time say “let’s go” and walk in the opposite direction, thereby ending the free time.
When you are ready to end the free-time, say “let’s go” and begin walking.
Continue practicing leash walking in your yard as in Steps 1 through 3 but by using a shorter leash. Eventually reduce the leash length to 6 feet.
Practice walking extra fast or slow as well as stopping and changing directions. Reward him if he can stay by your side during these challenges.
Begin to reward him less frequently for walking by your side in normal circumstances. Continue to reward him for staying by your side when you walk in a different manner than usual (extra fast or slow, stopping or changing directions) or you encounter a distraction like another animal or person.
On your neighborhood walks you will apply the same techniques as you did in your yard, but now there will be additional distractions and challenges such as friendly strangers, squirrels and other dogs. Consider using a front-attachment harness for extra control and bringing doggy treats, fresh meat, or cheese for use as treats.
Say “let’s go” and start walking. If he forgets about you or pulls, say “let’s go” and turn and walk in the opposite direction. Reward him with treats when he walks beside you. Be sure to reward him with extra treats when it was extra difficult for him to pay attention to you. Don’t forget to give him permission for sniff breaks.
Set Your Dog Up for Success
It’s important to make sure your dog isn’t cooped up most of the day with nothing to do. If that’s the case, she’s probably going to pull more once she gets outside because she’s so eager to explore and interact with her environment.
You want to give your dog mental and physical stimulation at home. So play games with your dog and give her appropriate things to chew on.
You can offer her bully sticks to chew on or provide a dog interactive toy for her to discover treats. That may help her expend energy so she feels less of a need to pull when she gets outside.
For all of the above techniques, work in situations where your dog will be successful. If you take him out to train and he is pulling every which way, he is not going to learn, and you will just become frustrated. Believe me, I’ve been there! Back up a step or two — work at home, inside, with only a few distractions. Then work in the yard. Next, work in front of the house. Make your training walks longer and longer.
Avoid distractions that your dog is not ready for: if you can make it to the park, but not through it, for example, then don’t put your dog in a situation where you know it’ll fail. Work towards the goal of walking your dog through the park, and you’ll eventually get there!
Follow these tips, and your walks will significantly improve!
Or if you’d like the shortcut…
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.