Lead Training: How to Stop a Dog Pulling on the Lead

By 8th October 2016Dog Training

Being pulled around by your dog while he is on the lead is one of the most common issues we face as dog owners. And believe it or not, it’s also a major factor in why there are so many dogs in rescue centres.

Not being able to properly control your dog while you’re out walking can cause embarrassment, danger (to yourself, your dog and any other people or dogs around you) and it can even be painful – if you’ve ever had a dog just take off pull your shoulder out of its socket you’ll know what I mean!

Even after loose lead training in basic puppy obedience classes, millions of dog owners struggle with their dogs pulling on the lead. They get frustrated and angry to the point that going for a walk is often avoided.

So what’s the answer?

Well, in this article we’re going to look at how to stop a dog pulling on the lead so you can both go out for a walk, have fun together and strengthen your relationship.

But before we get into how to teach your dog to stop pulling on the lead, we first need to understand WHY he does it.

Why Do Dogs Pull on the Lead?

Now, many behaviourists believe that a dog pulling on the lead is a sign of dominance, that he wants to be alpha, top dog or pack leader.

Victoria Stilwell on the other hand believes this to be false;

How to Stop a Dog Pulling on the Lead“…dogs love to be outside, and the walk is a stimulating and exciting part of their day, so the desire to push ahead is very strong.

A leash, though vital for safety, can also be frustrating for a dog, because being ‘tied’ to a person essentially stops a dog’s ability to act naturally.””

Victoria StilwellPositively.com

If you’re a fan of Victoria’s training methods like we are, you can buy her book ‘Training Dogs Positively’ from amazon by clicking here.

Here’s the thing…

…Dogs and humans don’t make good walking partners.

Think about it.

Dogs have 4 legs whereas we only have two so they naturally walk at a quicker pace.

They’re also stronger than we are so when you consider the excitement of being outside, pulling is going to happen.

With all that being said, our belief is that all dogs should be taught how to walk on a loose lead without being pulled, jerked, choked or shocked – yes, some people SHOCK their dogs!

All these methods can cause serious damage to your dogs neck and throat.

3 Keys to Successful Lead Training

Before we get into the actual ‘how to’s’  though, let’s first start with 3 keys to successful lead training – these will make the whole experience easier more comfortable and more fun for you and your dog.

After all, training should be fun!

#1: Invest in a ‘No Pull’ Harness

You might have noticed that when your dog has a lead around his neck or attached to his collar, he pulls a lot?

Well, this is caused by an opposition reflex known as Thigmotaxis which is an equal and opposite response to pressure.

Chances are you will have experienced it yourself when someone leans against. You lean back against them with the same amount or greater pressure to maintain a state of balance. So the feel of his lead or collar pulling against his neck actually causes him to push back which makes the problem even worse. You pull him back, he pushes forward.

By investing in a correctly fitting, no pull harness where the leads connects to a clip on the chest strap, your dog won’t feel the need to pull as much and if he does, you keep control because he will circle around to you.

We have reviewed the best no pull harnesses to make it easier for you to choose one.

#2: Exercise Your Dog BEFORE Going for a Walk

Dogs – especially puppies – have LOTS of energy.

If you try to lead train him without exercising him and reducing his energy first, you’re going to have a hard time. Dogs with pent up energy cannot focus and they won’t listen to you.

Lead walking is not exercise for your dog – us humans don’t walk fast enough and we’re too boring because we walk in straight lines and don’t follow our noses.

So it’s a good idea to have a run a good run around the back garden, play a game of fetch, tog o’ war, or get them to chase one of these Flirt Poles, by Squishy Face (they’re awesome!) to reduce their energy levels.

Once your dog has spent some energy he will be able to concentrate more on you and what you want him to do more easily.

#3: Learn the Correct Lead Training Methods

Basic puppy training classes are all well and good but sometime they just aren’t enough. Very often more intense training is needed and by concentrating on a single skill you and your dog will learn much more quickly.

We’re also big advocates of positive reinforcement and rewarding the dog for behaving as we want them to as opposed to getting frustrated and yanking, pulling and jerking the lead and telling them off when they don’t co-operate.

Start off lead training indoors so there are less distractions. Once he’s ‘got it’ take him out into the garden, this will be more difficult for your dog as there will be many more distractions. But once he’s got it in the garden, it’s time to take him to the park or around the area you live in.

Also, keep training session short and fun and always end them with plenty of praise and fuss – even if they didn’t do so well!

How to Stop a Dog Pulling on the Lead

Step One

Clip the lead to your dogs collar or harness and start walking.
The moment he pulls issue a ‘let’s go’ command, change direction and walk the other way. Bend your body and call him to motivate him to follow you – don’t tug on the lead.
When the lead is loose and he’s following you as you want him to, turn around and carry on in the direction you were originally heading.
This may take a while for your dog to ‘get it’ but through your body language and vocal commands you’re telling him that pulling will not get him where he wants to go. But he can go wherever he wants (within reason) as long as he walks with a loose lead.
When he’s walking by your side on a loose lead, reinforce this positive behaviour by giving him lots of praise and treats.

Step Two:

Once your dog is listening to you it’s time to switch things up and become a bit more unpredictable – this will force him to listen to and follow you because he doesn’t know where you’re headed next.

Instead of giving the ‘let’s go’ cue and just turning around and walking in the opposite direction, walk in a circle or do a figure of eight – anything to keep him focused on you.
Keep praising to reinforce this good behaviour.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it.

It’s a simple training method but just because it’s simple doesn’t mean its easy!

The key is to be consistent and be as stubborn as he is – every time he picks up the pace, issue the ‘lets’ go’ cue and change direction. It’s easy to let him get away with it sometimes but but this will just cause confusion and your dog won’t know what you expect of him.

Take Your Lead Training Outside

Frequently Asked Questions

This article has covered the basics of how to stop a dog pulling on the lead. If you have a specific problem in relation to your dog pulling, please ask us and we’ll try our best to answers it in our FAQ’s.

My Dog Walks Perfectly When Until He See’s Another Dog, Then He Pulls Like Crazy. How Do I Stop Him From Doing it?

If your dog pulls heavily to greet other dogs, it’s not only embarrassing for you but the other dogs owners can sometimes take exception to it.

Ideally you want your dog to get used to meeting unfamiliar dogs calmly and there are a few ways this can be done;

Use the training technique we’ve discussed. Turn around and walk away from the other dog. This will create some distance and give you time to get your dog to focus on you. Again, he needs to know that he doesn’t get where he wants by pulling. Once the lead is loose and he’s focused on you, try again.
Instead of just walking up face to face with another dog, try following them for a distance first. This is much less confrontational and you can also work on getting him to focus on you while you’re following. If he pulls, revert to the training training technique above.
Take a toy with you to give him something else to focus on and play with him. A rope toy is ideal for this – be more interesting to him than the other dog.

Dog obedience classes are ideal in this situation because this kind of training can be done using other dogs in a controlled environment.

Or, if you have a friend that has a really well behaved dog, ask them for help and use their dog in these exercises.

He’s a video you might find useful:

How Often and How Long Should I Lead Train My Dog For?

This very much depends on the dog but they -especially puppies –  generally have very short attention spans so little and often generally works best.

15 to 20 minutes two or 3 times a day. But exercise him first and keep them fun and exciting. If not, he will get bored, lose interest and won’t behave as you want.

If this happens remember, it’s YOUR fault – not your dogs. Humans learn best when lessons are fun and interesting. Dogs are the same so if they got bored it’s because you didn’t make it fun or interesting enough.

How Long Does Lead Training Take? When Will My Dog Just ‘Get it’?

This is a hard question to answer.

Some dogs will pick it up really quickly, some dogs need weeks, even months of training.

In most cases training a puppy and moulding him into the dog you want will be easier that training say, a rescue that that has issues and has already learned a way of ‘being’. Quite often reactive dogs have been reactive for such a long time that their behaviour has become habit – and habits are hard to break!

But you must be prepared for a lifetime of training.

Final Thoughts

As with any kind of training, some dogs pick it up quicker than others.

It’s important to remain calm and not let your frustration get the better of you. If you start to feel frustrated stop the session and end it on a positive note with plenty of praise and fuss.

Never shout at, hit or chastise your dog. You should both enjoy these sessions and they can be used to strengthen your bond and bring you closer together.

And only train your dog when you have time to. If you need to be somewhere in half an hour the now is not a good time to start training him. Wait until you get back.

Give it a try, and please leave a comment – we’d love to know how you get on!

And if you like Victoria’s training methods and you’d like to learn more from her, you can buy her book ‘Training Dogs Positively’ from amazon by clicking here.

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