One of the most common problems for dog owners is leash pulling.
A pulling dog can turn a relaxing walk into a stressful tug-of-war – especially if he is reactive or even aggressive on a leash.
Why is this such a common issue though?
There’s a myth that dogs want to lead their owner to show they are “pack leader” or “alpha.”
This isn’t true – most dogs are just excited to be outside and want to explore without being restricted.
Walking calmly requires intense self-control for a dog, so it’s not something that comes naturally.
Additionally, getting your dog not to do something is often more difficult than training a specific command.
Preventing a behavior becomes even harder if it’s been ingrained over months or even years. This is often the case with leash pulling.Even so, almost any dog can be trained to walk politely on a leash. Here are six positive methods you can use for more enjoyable walks.
1. Set Your Dog Up for Success
Learning leash obedience is difficult for most dogs. Canines have a faster gait than humans, so walking slowly is hard – especially on an exciting walk.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to wear your dog out before you go for a walk.
Playing some fetch in the backyard or even in the living room can allow your dog to burn off some extra energy. A relaxed dog is much more likely to listen to you.
It’s also important to be consistent. When you start training leash obedience, you must follow the rules every time the dog is on the leash.
If you have other family members or even dog walkers who walk your pet, they need to be aware of the rules. Inconsistent training is unfair on the dog and will make results take much longer.
2. Try a Chest-Led Harness if Your Dog is Big and Powerful
Large dogs can be powerful when they pull on a leash. This makes training impossible, as you’re more worried about being pulled over than leash obedience!
Fortunately, there’s a temporary solution that doesn’t require painful choke chains.
Chest-led harnesses, which have a leash attachment at the front of the harness, are great for preventing pulling.
As the dog pulls, the leash pulls them in a circle and away from where they want to go.
This type of harness isn’t a long-term solution, as it doesn’t train the dog to walk politely. It can make walks more manageable in the short-term though.
3. Eliminate the Positive Benefits of Pulling
As I mentioned earlier, dogs don’t pull to show their dominance. They pull because they want to get where they are going faster.
You can use this to your advantage when training leash obedience. Every time your dog pulls, immediately stop walking and hold your dog in place.
Wait for your dog to take a step back to release tension on the leash, then keep walking forward.
This method is simple but requires patience. Your dog won’t understand at first, so you might need to repeat the technique over several walks before you see a noticeable difference.
Walks are also likely to become long and drawn out when you first try it, but the results will be worth it.
If your dog doesn’t seem to link pulling with stopping after several walks, you can go further by turning around and walking in the other direction. Some trainers like to associate a verbal cue with this technique, such as “back we go.”
4. Practice Walking in Easy Environments
One of the most important concepts in dog training is “proofing.” This means training a behavior in gradually more difficult environments.
The goal is to teach the dog to respond to any situation, regardless of distractions.
Proofing is often overlooked when training leash obedience though.
A walk is always going to be an exciting experience for most dogs, so they are less likely to listen.
This is why it’s a good idea to practice leash training indoors or in your garden where distractions are less likely.
Place a treat at one end of the room while your dog is on a leash.
Walk forwards until he pulls or lunges. When the dog causes tension on the leash, say a cue word and go back to the start.
While this method can be frustrating for both you and the dog, you’ll find your pet gets the idea much faster than on a walk.
As your dog gets more confident with leash walking, you can set up simple obstacle courses that require left and right turns.
5. Avoid Accidental Reinforcement with Retractable Leashes
Retractable leashes often seem like an instant solution to a pulling dog. Your dog gets more freedom, but you still have control – what’s not to like?
The problem with retractable leashes is that they can often reinforce pulling behavior.
If there is tension on the line when you release the “stop” button, your dog gets a big reward for pulling on the leash.
It’s also impossible to provide a negative cue if your dog pulls on the end of an extended leash, as even if you stop, he’s still able to run around.
For this reason, I recommend not using retractable leashes when training. Retractable leashes can also be dangerous – especially the ones with thin wires – so they are best avoided.
6. Reinforce Polite Walking
Associating stopping with pulling is an important first step, but it’s vital to also reward your pet when he’s walking well.
This provides extra reinforcement and makes it clear what you want your dog to do – not just what you don’t want.
Whenever your dog is walking politely by your side, praise enthusiastically and provide a small treat. To begin with, you should praise your dog regularly.
As he starts to get better at leash walking, you can increase the number of steps taken before he gets a treat or praise.
Training a dog to walk politely on a leash can take time, so it’s important to be patient.
The longer your dog has been allowed to pull on the leash, the more prolonged training will take.
Dogs with a naturally fast walking speed or reactive behaviors may also find it more difficult to learn.
With that said, any dog can learn leash obedience with patient and consistent training.
Using a mixture of negative and positive reinforcement can greatly speed up the process.
You should also avoid physically punishing your dog, as this can cause confusion and make walks stressful for both of you.