Does Your Dog Drag You Around The Neighbourhood? Teach Your Dog to Stop Pulling on Walks
Ruth Hegarty, certified dog trainer and behaviourist, has written this fantastic article for us. What pet parent hasn’t battled with this common complaint? You can get more great training advice from Ruth at her website www.creaturegooddogtraining.com
Dogs pulling hard on their leash during walks is one of the most common complaints I get from dog training clients. All dogs do it and zero people enjoy it.
Pulling on leash makes walking your dog difficult – even dangerous – as you can get pulled or knocked down. At a minimum, leash-pulling sucks the enjoyment out of walking with your dog.
- Does Your Dog Drag You Around The Neighbourhood? Teach Your Dog to Stop Pulling on Walks
- DOG PULLING: A SIMPLE SOLUTION
- WHY DOGS PULL ON THE LEASH
- LOOSE LEASH WALKING
- GENERAL DOG TRAINING TIPS
- HERE’S WHAT YOU WILL NEED TO TEACH YOUR DOG LOOSE-LEASH WALKING
- HOW TO TEACH YOUR DOG LOOSE LEASH WALKING
- ADDITIONAL TIPS TO IMPROVE LOOSE-LEASH WALKING
- PRACTISE MAKES PERFECT
- PERFECT DOG TRAINING TREATS
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DOG PULLING: A SIMPLE SOLUTION
If your walks consist of attempting to peacefully stroll down the street at a standard pace while your dog strains at the leash and double-steps their way to something amazing they just have to sniff, you’ll be happy to hear that the solution is actually pretty simple.
The first thing to know is that your dog never does something to make your life difficult and it’s important to approach training from that perspective. You don’t have a dog who is “naughty” or doesn’t listen. You have a dog who doesn’t know what your expectations are. Training is all about learning to communicate effectively with your dog, getting clear on what you actually want your dog to do, and then conveying that information to your dog in a way they understand.
WHY DOGS PULL ON THE LEASH
Dogs pull on leash for reasons that work for them. Dogs will always do what works for them unless you teach them to do things differently. You don’t enjoy being pulled down the street but your dog does enjoy pulling you and here’s why:
- Dogs naturally walk faster than humans (they do have twice as many legs as we do after all) so pulling is inevitable if they aren’t trained not to.
- Dogs are also stronger than people which is why a medium sized dog can pull an average sized human off their feet.
- Pulling is fun for dogs.
- Dogs instinctively pull against something that is pulling them back.
- Dogs don’t walk to walk, they walk to smell so getting to those amazing smells is paramount.
LOOSE LEASH WALKING
Since pulling doesn’t usually work for humans, we teach dogs not to do it. The goal here is what trainers call “loose-leash” walking where your dog doesn’t have to be right next to you but there needs to be slack in the leash like the picture below:
Loose-leash walking isn’t like a heel where your dog must be close by your side. In loose-leash walking, your dog is still able to sniff the ground and explore, they just do it without dragging you. The goal here is to have your dog stay close enough to you that the leash material between your hand and the leash clasp on your dog’s collar or harness maintains a sort of “J” or “smile” shape (as shown in the picture above) rather than be pulled taut between you.
GENERAL DOG TRAINING TIPS
Before I lay out the steps for teaching your dog loose-leash walking, I want to share a little bit about training in general. Research has shown that dogs learn best when praised for successes instead of being punished for mistakes. Never punish your dog for learning slower than you’d like, having setbacks or failing to understand what you want. Training is about communication. Get clear on what you want your dog to do (it’s much easier to teach a dog to do something different than to stop doing something), figure out the best way to communicate that new behavior to your dog, and practice consistently until it becomes natural.
HERE’S WHAT YOU WILL NEED TO TEACH YOUR DOG LOOSE-LEASH WALKING
- Yourself and your dog (a hungry dog is easier to train)
- Your dog’s collar, leash, and harness (if using a harness)
- A sidewalk, field or other open space to walk in (you can also use a room or hallway at home to get started)
- Treats for rewarding your dog’s great work
HOW TO TEACH YOUR DOG LOOSE LEASH WALKING
Start out walking as usual. As soon as your dog gets far enough ahead of you that they are pulling on the leash, stop and turn to go in the opposite direction, encouraging your dog to do the same by saying “let’s go” or something similar. Offer a treat if your pup hesitates. This isn’t a punishment so act happy to be turning around. Continue walking in this new direction.
As soon as your dog gets far enough ahead of you that they are pulling on the leash again, stop and turn to go in the opposite direction (which is your original direction), encouraging your dog to do the same by saying “let’s go” or something similar and offering a treat if your pup hesitates.
Repeat this process until your dog consistently walks close enough to you that the leash remains loosely in the “J” shape described earlier.
Don’t worry if you don’t get very far the first few walks using this method. All that turning around may keep you in sight of your house and that’s fine. This process works because it teaches your dog that you might unexpectedly change direction so they should pay more attention to what you are doing. As you practice, you will find your dog paying more attention to you to see what you will do next. Practicing this process will take you from being dragged around behind your dog as they explore to walking as a team together, checking in with each other along the way.
Here’s a video that shows how this process works.
ADDITIONAL TIPS TO IMPROVE LOOSE-LEASH WALKING
Be prepared for setbacks along the way. That is the nature of learning. At some point your dog will lose concentration or see a squirrel and pull during training. Simply say “Let’s go!” in a very excited and animated way and turn to walk in the opposite direction. This is a great time to pull out the treats. Never yank on the leash or use a harsh tone of voice. You want to sound excited like you just saw a unicorn so your dog wants to follow you. You are competing with a squirrel here so pull out all the stops!
If you or your dog gets frustrated with the process, take a break. Depending on how much your dog pulls, you may be turning around every couple of steps which can be frustrating. Luckily, this process works fast. I’ve seen amazing results in just a few walks. The more consistent you are the faster your dog will learn but don’t rush the process if either of you gets frustrated. Training is mean to be fun and it’s a great way to bond with your dog so better for both of you to take more breaks than to rush the process.
If your dog is a super puller or easily distracted, practice loose-leash walking inside first where there are fewer distractions. When you move outside, find locations with the fewest distractions for your dog (think quiet side streets versus busy parks).
If your dog is easily distracted outside or struggles with the process, use higher value treats like chicken jerky to keep their focus on you (try making your own chicken jerky following these instructions).
Use a harness that hooks to the leash in the front at your dog’s chest (rather than on their back) which cuts pulling in half based on its design. These harnesses work by shifting your dog’s weight when pulling which takes the force of the pull off you. This will make practicing easier and shorten the time the whole process takes. Here’s the one I use with my dog, Jake.
MY HARNESS RECOMMENDATION
A good fitting harness can make loose leash walking easier, not to mention dog walking and car journeys safer.
This is a 2-point harness (it connects together in 2 places( which is suitable for most dogs.
I use a 3 point harness made by the same company, which is better for a dog like mine who is very slim and a little nervous around other dogs – she tends to back away very quickly with a risk of slipping a normal 2-part harness.
PRACTISE MAKES PERFECT
Keep practicing until loose-leash walking is your new normal. Most dogs pick up polite leash walking pretty quickly but there will inevitably be times when your dog encounters something for the first time that they just must investigate by dragging you over to it. When this happens, just go back to basics. Get your dog’s attention and then let them investigate what they want on your terms. These walks are for both of you. You are partners in fun!
PERFECT DOG TRAINING TREATS
Get your loose-leash training off to a great start by making your own high-value training treats. These 3 recipes are really easy to follow and your dogs will love the treats!
There is so much more you can teach your dog. Learning together is fun and deepens your relationship. You also get to tailor the training to your lifestyle so it works for you the way you need it to. Use your experience teaching your dog loose-leash walking to think about other behaviors you’d like to teach your dog and see if you can come up with a plan using treats and praise to show your dog what you want.