Dogs pulling on their lead is considered one of the biggest issues dog owners have, especially with younger dogs. Whether you’re dealing with leash aggressive, an older dog that has never been properly leash trained, or you’re trying to get a young and hyperactive dog to follow your commands, learning how to stop your dog from pulling on the lead is totally positive, with the right tools and techniques. I’ll cover the dos and don’ts of leash training, and what you can do to correct this unwanted behavior.
Dominant Behavior or Something Else?
Many dog owners mistakenly believe that their dog is pulling on their leash because they want to be in total control by taking the lead and having their human fall behind. However, there’s a much simpler explanation and it doesn’t have anything to do with a dog wanting to be the pack leader.
So, why do most dogs tend to pull their owners all over the neighborhood as soon as their leash is on? They’re excited.
Taking a dog for a walk is one of the most exciting experiences your dog can have. Not only do they get to spend some quality time with you, but they get to meet new people and animals along the way, and will be exposed to new sights and smells. Basically, going for a walk is a very stimulating experience for dogs. So, it makes sense that a dog will have a hard time containing their excitement by walking slowly by your side. You may want your dog to calmly and casually walk by your side, when all they want is to run out of control all over the neighborhood, investigating new smells, sniffing dogs, and chasing squirrels. For younger dogs, it can be incredibly difficult to contain their excitement, which is why it’s so important to teach your dogs commands so they know what type of behavior you expect from them and how to properly behave when they’re outdoors.
Teaching your dog commands and how to walk on their lead properly should be done in a positive manner, without yelling, discomfort, or pain. This will make the learning experience more comfortable for everyone.
Leash aggression, leash reactivity, and leash lunging are all behaviors that are caused by a dog that feels uncomfortable, anxious, frustrated, and restrained in a social situation. Many pet owners that adopt dogs can quickly become frustrated if their new pet has leash aggression, which involves a dog reacting in an escalated state by pulling and lunging toward other dogs when they’re on a lead. This type of behavior will not exist when the dog is not on a leash. There are several reasons why dogs have leash aggression.
The first is frustration. If your dog is allowed to run free in your backyard and they’re rarely on a leash, then this sudden change in freedom can be very stress-inducing. Additionally, dogs that are not properly socialized can also have issues with leash aggression or pulling when they’re on a lead. When a dog is not properly socialized at a young age, this means that they haven’t been exposed to many places or other dogs, at a young age. This type of lack of socialization can make going for a walk a very exciting and intense experience for your dog. It can also overwhelm them since they have never learned how to properly act in public places.
When you walk your dog while they’re in the heel position, it helps them to focus and keeps them non-reactive. With this type of training a dog will not react when another dog or person crosses their path since they have learned self-control. Dogs that are constantly walking far ahead of their owners and pulling constantly are amped up and free from control. This lack of structure is what can cause leash aggression and reactive behavior.
Teaching your dog how to properly walk on their leash and how to behave when they’re in a social situation is exactly what your dog needs to stay safe, happy, and calm on your next walk. The first step is buying the right tools.
Harness or Collar?
- The type of collar or harness you use will be dependent on the type of dog you have. In some cases, you may need to use a special harness that’s designed to take away the dog’s pulling power by placing the D ring on the chest instead of the back. Other dogs may do better with a muzzle harness, especially if they have severe leash aggression.
- A standard collar is what most dogs wear, and for some, that’s all they need. But dogs that are aggressive, large, and hyperactive may need to use a harness or special collar that allows you to easily gain control of them.
- A head collar also known as a head hater is a device that fits over a dog’s head, with the leash attaching to the base of the head or to a standard collar. The idea is to take away the dog’s ability to use your back, chest, and shoulder muscles to pull you, giving you total control instead. Unfortunately, some dogs may be able to slip this type of collar, which can lead to disaster if they’re dog aggressive or leash aggressive in general.
- Back harnesses are a bad idea if you have a large dog that you’re not able to control. These harnesses allow the dog to use their should, back, and chest muscles to pull you. While it does prevent you from accidentally choking your dog when you’re trying to get them to heel, or choking them as they scramble to take the lead and walk ahead of you, this type of harness is not a good training tool if you’re trying to teach your dog to walk loose leash.
So, what’s the best option for large breed dogs? What type of device can give you control over your dog and features a comfortable, no-slip design?
If you have a large breed dog that’s very difficult to control, or a large dog that can easily overpower you and is showing signs of leash aggression, then you may need to use the a no-pull dog harness, instead of a basic collar. Good no-pull harnesses will teach your dog how to walk properly on a leash by taking away their ability to pull you. These harnesses make the perfect training tool and work by taking the pressure off the dog’s neck and distributing the pressure evenly around the back, chest and shoulders. The leash is attached to a ring located on the chest. When your dog tries to pull you, the harness will turn her body around, instead of giving them the leverage and power they need to pull you, like standard collars and harnesses. Training your dog to walk on a leash using this type of harness is very effective and can be used until your dog is walking loose leash by your side, or it can be used indefinitely. If you’re looking for a durable, comfortable harness for your dog, one that works, then I recommend the Ruffwear no-pull dog harness. This harness earned a higher than average rating, is designed to last, and can handle even the most hyperactive dog.
These harnesses may not work for all dogs, but many trainers recommend them, since the design works to gently correct your pet and will not harm them like choke collars and prong collars will. This simple, yet effective harness may be exactly what you need to teach your dog how to correctly walk on a lead.
A dog is usually able to successfully pull their owner because the owner reinforces the pulling by allowing the dog to get where they want to go when they pull. However, you can change all of this by using consistent training techniques that have been proven effective.
The moment your dog begins to pull you, stop walking and wait for your dog to notice. A dog will immediately settle down once they realize you’re no longer walking. Once the leash is relaxed then you can begin walking again. You may need to repeat this process several times.
If this technique isn’t effective for your dog, then can use the reverse direction technique. When a dog pulls, use a lets walk cue by turning away from your dog and walking off in the opposite direction, all without jerking the lead. You can avoid dragging your dog by motivating them to follow you by using words of encourage in a happy voice. When your dog begins to follow you and the leash is now relaxed, then turn back and continue on your previous route. This can take several tries, but using the proper body language and verbal cues can make your dog eager to follow you.
Using positive reinforcement involves training treats that will motivate your dog to follow you and walk by your side, loose leash and all. These treats should be given every few feet to encourage your dog to stay by your side. I recommend buying treats that are specifically designed for training. These treats are low in calories, may contain important nutrients, and are very small, so you won’t have to worry about overfeeding your dog, like you would if you gave the normal treats.
Positive enforcement training using treats is one of the most effective techniques. You’ll begin the walk by giving your dog a treat. This will capture your dog’s attention, keeping them by your side. During this time, use words of encourage and praise your dog as they remain by your side. Give the treats every five to ten feet, depending on how responsive they are. Over time, your can lengthen the time between treats, until you’ve phased them out completely.
If you have issues with your dog during training and she begins to pull you, have them sit for five seconds, then continue walking. Using this training method can take several weeks, and in some cases, it may take a couple of months. This will depend on your dog’s age, their temperament, and their breed.
More Training Tips
- If you’re using training treats, never reward your dog when they pull you. When your dog pulls on their leash, simply stand still and wait for the leash to become relaxed.
- Never head in the direction your dog is trying to pull you in.
- You should always reward loose leash walking. Walk forward, with your pet and reward them with praise and a treat when they walk relaxed, by your side.
- Your dog is in the correct walking position when the leash is hanging completely loose with no tension.
- Never punish your dog when they pull. Use positive reinforcement instead, since it has been proven to be much more effective.
- Consistency is very important. If you’re not consistent with the training methods and allow your dog to pull you one minute, and yell at them the next, only to reward them the moment the leash has some slack in it, all you’re doing is confusing your dog. Remain consistent with the training method, unless you’ve tried for a couple of weeks and have seen no signs of improvement.
Use the techniques I’ve included here if you want to try effective techniques that can teach you how to stop your dog from pulling on the lead, while improving their focus, obedience, and providing them with the mental stimulation and exercise they need to thrive. Teaching your dog how to walk on a leash properly is not going to be a quick process. It’s going to take patience, practice, and understanding. You should anticipate the walk taking longer than normal. Set a schedule at least four times a week and stick to it. If possible, take your dog for a walk daily. While the training itself is very straightforward and simple, it does require you to commit to the process and be consistent with the techniques you use.