Tips to stop your dog pulling on the lead
While heading off for a walk is likely to be one of your dog’s favourite activities, it’s one that should be enjoyable for you both. If you are being dragged every which way down the street and it feels like you’re the one being taken for a walk, you’re not alone – pulling on the lead is one of the most common complaints of dog owners.
Why your dog may be pulling on the lead
In most cases, pulling is an expression of your dog’s excitement. Going for a walk could be the best part of your dog’s day – all the different sights, sounds and smells outside of your home are exciting to your pup, and they can’t wait to investigate all of it.
Your dog could also be pulling because:
They have learnt that pulling works – the longer your dog has been pulling, the more likely it is that they have learnt that it gets them where they want to be – forward.
They are not focused on you – if your dog is constantly pulling ahead and rarely looking back at you, you may be an afterthought to their main goal – the dog park!
They prefer a faster pace – dogs tend to naturally walk at a pace twice as fast as us. While this may be their preferred tempo, they need to learn to walk nicely at a slower pace that is enjoyable for both of you.
They want to be in control – some dogs display certain behaviours because they wish to be in control at all times. Dogs exerting control will likely pull constantly – to and from home, in any direction they please.
They are scared – some dogs may be pulling at certain times out of fear. You may notice your dog only begins to pull as you near your street, as if desperate to get home. Others may pull only with traffic noise, loud motorcycles, or in response to other people or dogs.
Any owner will tell you that continuous pulling on the lead can really spoil the enjoyment of a nice walk. Depending on the size of your dog, constant pulling can also cause strain to your dog’s neck, or, particularly with larger dogs, cause pain for you too.
How to correct pulling
Training lead skills generally begins in puppyhood. The boundaries established in your dog’s early life will typically shape their behaviour on the lead going forward. But, don’t fret if your dog is well past puppyhood and still pulling – as with all aspects of dog training, it’s never too late to train them out of bad habits.
Choose a quiet place
Begin your lead training in quiet places with minimal distractions. You may find it easiest to start in your own backyard, or with short walks up and down your street. Your dog will learn faster if there are fewer distractions around – you (and your treats) will have your pup’s undivided attention.
Keep it positive
As you do with other aspects of their training, stay focused on good behaviour and refrain from reacting to the bad. Whenever your dog responds the way you want them to, shower them with positive reinforcement.
While you are training, ignore their pulls and praise them when the lead is slack and they are staying close to you. Avoid tugging back at the lead – some pulling is not likely to harm your dog (despite their wheezing and coughing), but sharp jolts can risk hurting them.
Stop and start
Your dog has learnt that pulling on the lead gets them where they want to go. To regain control of your walks, training the ‘stop’ command can be immensely helpful. Here’s how it’s done:
Every time the lead goes tight from pulling, say ‘stop’ calmly and assertively and stand still.
When the lead goes slack and you have your dog’s attention, praise your pup and reward them with some pats or a treat. If you’re struggling to get their attention, walk backwards for a few steps or turn in a tight circle until their focus is on you again.
Continue on your walk only when the lead is slack. It’s important to avoid any forward movement if your dog is pulling as this will only undermine the message you are trying to get across – that a slack lead allows them to continue on their adventure.
The ‘stop’ command can also be helpful in many other situations. Here, you are using it as a tool to tackle their pulling, but they are also learning to stop what they are doing and revert their focus to you, on command. You can use ‘stop’ before crossing roads, when cars are reversing out of driveways, or whenever your dog spots something of interest and you don’t want them to engage with it.
Training tools that can help
There are many different kinds of collars, leads and harnesses available in pet stores. Some can help and some can hinder your training, so here a few tips:
Fixed leads – these are the best option for lead training. The fixed length allows both you and your dog to get used to established limits. It also provides you with more control as you help your pup learn.
Collars – a collar allows you some control over your dog’s head, which can help when you want to regain their focus or direct their attention.
Harnesses – if your dog has issues or injuries around their neck, a harness can be a great alternative to a collar. However, because a harness allows a dog to pull with their entire body weight, it may not be the best option while you’re training. A no-pull harness may be an option if your dog can’t wear a collar but still needs to work on lead skills. These harnesses typically have a lead attachment on the dog’s chest, meaning your pup is redirected when he pulls.
Head halters – an additional attachment that is fitted over your dog’s nose and head. Although they can be mistaken for a muzzle and can look a bit intimidating, they are an effective tool to assist with lead training. They work by gently redirecting your dog’s head every time they pull.
Extendable leads – this type of lead allows your pup a sense of off-leash freedom, without you relinquishing total control. However, with this much freedom it can be difficult to train good lead behaviour for the times when you need a short leash. It may be best to think of extendable leads as the ultimate level in lead training – once you’ve mastered best behaviour with a fixed lead, you know your pup won’t take advantage of the extra freedom.
Though these tools can help to supplement lead training, some owners find that their dogs behave when using the tools, but revert to pulling when they’re back on a standard lead and collar. The main tool in your toolbox is your own ability to teach good behaviour, so try not to rely too heavily on equipment. Having a tool handy as a ‘back up’ can be perfect for those days when you are short on time and know your consistency may waiver.
Stick with it
Consistency is crucial for all aspects of dog training, and teaching your pup to walk nicely on the lead is no exception. It will take many-a-‘stop and start’ before your dog will walk beside you without pulling, but the more consistent you are during training, the faster the learning process will be. Every time you let a pull slide without correction, you undermine the goal you are trying to achieve.
At the beginning, you may feel a bit frustrated (and self-conscious) ‘stopping and starting’ all the way up the street, but stay strong, remain consistent and remember that the time and effort you put in now will all be worth it when adventures with your pup become the best part of your day, too!