How to train your dog to stop pulling on their leash

A dog pulling on its leash is one of the most common complaints I hear about as a trainer and it happens to be a “learned” behavior, that can physically injure both you and your dog. This means it’s a behavior that can be “unlearned” as well.

The only reason your dog continues to pull on his/her leash is because they are being rewarded for their behavior. When you continue walking behind a dog that is pulling you toward something he sees, smells, or hears, you are rewarding that behavior.

The dog then becomes the leader, and you become the follower. Your dog pulls because someone, somewhere at some time, took a step when he put tension on the leash.

He pulls – because it works!

A leash is to the Dog-Human connection like a seatbelt is to the car-driver connection. Both are safety devices and often mandated by law. Just as we never use a seatbelt to drive our car, we should not use a leash to “drive” our dogs. A leash allows us a safe and effective connection to our dogs in case of surprises, emergencies, or situations where attention is hard to get or keep.

Here are a few guidelines that if followed, will help your dog see who the real “pack leader” is….You!


Do

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  • start your walk with a calming energy
  • walk at a brisk pace
  • stop every time you feel tension on the leash
  • walk your dog at least 30 minutes twice a day
  • praise your dog when he is walking politely
Don't

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  • expect your dog to walk nicely on a leash if he only gets walked every once in awhile
  • let your dog choose the pace or the direction of the walk
  • stop every time your dog wants to smell something
  • verbally or physically correct your dog for pulling

Deb Nabb‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do start your walk with a calming energy

A dog that is excited before he leaves the house, will only get more excited once you get outside. When you get to the door, calm your dog and have him sit before you go out. The leader always gets to go through the door first. If your dog bolts out first, bring them back in and try again.

Do walk at a brisk pace

This helps keep your dog’s attention on the walk and not on everything he smells. A dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose, while humans have only 5 million. So, needless to say, dogs get distracted very easily by all of the smells the “great outdoors”have to offer. The slower you walk, the more smells they will be able to pick up along the way, thus making them more distracted. Instead, walk your dog briskly, ensuring that they are more engaged on the walk and less on every aroma that comes their way.

Do stop every time you feel tension on the leash

Your dog continues to pull because he continues to be rewarded for the experience. He pulls and he gets to the car. He pulls and he gets to greet that other dog in the neighborhood. He pulls and the lady across the street tells him how lovely he is. What gets rewarded, gets repeated. So, if you want your dog to stop pulling, don’t take another step as long as the leash is tight.

Simply stop dead in your tracks without saying a word when you feel tension on your leash. Your dog will soon look back at you, wondering what is going on. The second he looks back and acknowledges you and the leash subsequently relaxing, you say “Good Job” with excitement and begin your walk again.

If you are consistent with this exercise and don’t give up, your dog will learn that walking politely on his leash means a longer walk. No manners on a leash equals no walk.

Do walk your dog at least 30 minutes twice a day

It is the best way you can ensure you will have a happy, healthy and well-adjusted dog. The walk is the foundation of your relationship. Walking your dog provides an outlet for his energy. Dogs build up a certain amount of energy every day that needs to be expended. If it doesn’t happen through walking, it will often result in bad, destructive behavior or separation anxiety. You may have heard that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog, and also, a bored dog can become a destructive dog. A long walk can also significantly calm a hyper or energetic dog.

Do praise your dog when he is walking politely

You will need to carry treats for rewards as you train. Select soft smelly treats that are easily eaten, and also, make them special ones that your dog only gets on walks. Dried liver or jerky are good choices.

Whenever your dog is walking politely say in a happy upbeat tone, “Good Walk” and give him a treat. Eventually you will want to wean him off the treats once he is getting the idea, but you should always continue to let your dog know when he is behaving in a way that pleases you!


Deb Nabb‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not expect your dog to walk nicely on a leash if he only gets walked every once in awhile

Dogs have lots of energy and they need an outlet for this energy. Many pet parents feel that yard time is sufficient enough outdoor time for a dog, especially if they have a large yard. When was the last time you saw your dog walk briskly for 30 minutes in your backyard? Dogs are hunters by nature and want to get out and smell new smells, hear new sounds and see new and interesting things. Your backyard gets old real fast and they deserve to see more of the world than just your fence.

Do not let your dog choose the pace or the direction of the walk

A dog must not be allowed to sniff or eliminate anywhere he wishes other than where you allow him. Your dog should be concentrating on following his leader, you, not worried about leading the way. You must lead your dog out of your house; meaning  he must walk behind you as you walk out the door. If he skips ahead of you before you exit, bring him back in and do it again, blocking him from leaving first.

Do not stop every time your dog wants to smell something

Remember, you are the pack leader. You decide where to sniff, go potty, and roll. Pick a few times during your 30 minute walk to allow for these activities. Try to choose a different place each time so they don’t form habits and expectations that are directly linked to these areas.

Do not verbally or physically correct your dog for pulling

Giving him angry verbal corrections will only increase his energy and excitement, and will only exasperate the problem. Physical corrections can lead to fear and anxiety issues, and possibly inflict severe injury as well. Remember: you never want to bring angry or unstable energy to a situation where you need to gain control. The best course of action is to just stop, take a deep breath, and wait for your dog to calm down. Once he is in a calm and submissive state, you can continue your walk.


Summary

With a little patience, these methods will work well for many dogs, and will also help you to form a close bond with your dog. However, some dogs are a little more difficult and may be a little harder to train. This does not mean you’ve got a bad dog. It just means you’ll need to work a little harder to get the desired response. Repeat these exercises consistently, and if your dog does well, praise him enthusiastically and reward him with treats. Your dog will quickly learn that walking alongside you at your pace gets him a lot of vocal praise and great snacks. It may take a few days (or weeks), but if you are consistent in your training, and reward him accordingly, your furry friend will soon be responding eagerly to your cues, energy, and your body language.

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