If there’s one thing I’m jealous of in the park, it’s seeing dogs walking perfectly next to their owners. Will there be another dog? Doesn’t phase them at all. A trio of excited kids approaching? The dog doesn’t even seem to notice.
My dog and I used to be complete opposites. I was the lady desperately trying to keep my dog calm on walks. I would hold her down with all my strength whenever anyone passed by, and I was the one who would hold her tight even when there was nothing “exciting” around, as pulling became her default on walks.
But a few years ago I finally found some walking tips for loose leashes that helped. After reading and reviewing everything I could find on the subject, I found a few methods that worked. In this article we discuss why dogs pull on the leash, methods to stop the pulling, and why consistency is key. This is how I prevented my dog from pulling on the leash.
Why dogs pull on leashes
Before we delve deeper into the methods that can stop your dog from pulling on the leash, let’s first take a look at why dogs pull. As with many other behaviors, understanding why dogs pull on the leash, and how we unintentionally encourage it, can make managing the behavior easier.
Dogs pull on the leash because this is normal dog behavior. Is it desirable? No, but it comes naturally to them. Pulling gets them where they want to go, and at their own pace.
Your dog doesn’t pull on the leash because he wants to be dominant, but he does because it works. In other words, if you follow your dog on walks and he pulls, you are teaching him to pull even more. That pulling is rewarded because it keeps them moving forward and getting where they want to go.
If your dog has always pulled on the leash, it will be difficult to break this habit. Because they are accustomed to moving forward while pulling, the behavior itself is encouraged, and a dog’s natural reflex is to resist restraint. But if you’re consistent, you can break that habit, and in time, you can put an end to all that pulling by showing your dog that walking next to you is much more satisfying.
Not all methods will work perfectly for every dog
If there’s one thing you need to know before starting any training, it’s that not every method will work for every dog. I’ve tried many methods when it comes to walking with a loose leash, and I always felt like a failure when one of them didn’t work. So if you’ve read about leash walking in the past but haven’t seen any results, you’re not alone.
A big part of dog training is about finding what motivates your dog and building on it. For Laika, I stuck with methods that provided good incentives for my dog – methods that included lots of tasty treats and toys for motivation.
Have you ever heard of the be a treetop? It goes like this: When your dog starts pulling during a walk, you stop and remain still. The theory is that your dog will learn that pulling means you are going to pause the walk, and therefore he will stop pulling.
Do you know what happened when I tried that with my irritable dog who was already used to pulling on the leash? She pulled even harder to get where she wanted to go and got frustrated when I wouldn’t move.
If you are patient enough you may have success with this method, but it didn’t work very well for my dog. I tried for months but I was stuck on the side of the road and kept stopping every meter to stand still for a few minutes hoping my dog would choose to calm down. But that didn’t happen. At best she would stay at the end of the leash and look forward, and sometimes she would stop for a moment, but as soon as we started moving again she would immediately start pulling again.
Being a tree didn’t work for my Laika – part of that is due to her irritability, and part of it is due to the fact that she was already used to pulling to get where she wanted to go. When it comes to stopping your dog from pulling on the leash, you will need to find a method that motivates your dog.
This isn’t to say that being a tree doesn’t work well for some dogs; I’ve seen it work. It just didn’t work well for my dog, and may not be the best method if you have a dog that has been pulling for a long time.
1. Choose one running method and stick with it
The first tip when it comes to teaching your dog not to pull on the leash is to choose one walking method and be consistent. You need to teach your dog what behavior is acceptable on a walk, so figuring out how you want your dog to walk and being consistent with that goal is the fastest way to get there.
Do you want your dog to walk to the right, left or a few steps behind you? Choose your preference and stay consistent. If you want your dog to stay on your right side at all times, make sure everyone walking him adheres to that plan. If you stick to one method, you will teach your dog exactly what is expected of him during a walk, and the training will go more smoothly.
2. Start in a non-exciting area
When it comes to teaching your dog how to walk nicely on a leash, there is one thing you want to avoid: failure. So if you are trying to teach your dog to stay calm and walk nicely, it is important to use non-stressful training for you. Choose a quiet time of day and practice walking down the street, take an evening walk at dinner when most people are inside, or go to a park during off-peak hours.
If you take your dog to a busy park before he has good leash manners (and proper impulse control), chances are he will be far too excited and stimulated to pay attention and learn anything. They will be far too distracted by all those exciting sounds, smells and sights – and of course squirrels. Don’t let your dog fail like that. Start by teaching your dog how to enjoy a nice walk in a quiet environment and build from there.
3. The Cheater Method: Using a front clip harness
My favorite method when it comes to teaching your dog not to pull on the leash is one I call the cheater method: using a front clip harness. The best part is that the front clip harnesses are easy to use; the hardest part is figuring out how to put them on the first few times.
I don’t regret purchasing a front clip harness years ago, in fact, it’s one of the tools I wish I had from the very beginning. I’ve never seen a single piece of equipment have such an immediate impact on walks. Using a front clip harness is one of my favorite dog walking tips for this reason; it’s a fun, simple way to “reset” your dog’s leash manners if you haven’t already used one.
Using a different piece of equipment works especially well for dogs that are already used to pulling with a traditional collar/leash combination. From the moment you start using your new harness, continue to praise as your dog walks nicely. Your dog will come to associate the harness with walking off-leash.
It’s the same method used by many police K9s. They have different collars that they wear depending on the tasks they are given. A simple change of collar puts them in a different mindset and they know exactly what is expected of them.
Before using that harness, I used a traditional leash and collar, and Laika had already gotten used to pulling. She immediately started pulling as soon as we walked out the door, but as soon as I switched to the front clip harness that changed. She wasn’t used to that harness, or to the fact that she had a leash that clipped into the front – so I took advantage of that period and started teaching her fancy walking manners as she adjusted to the new equipment. It didn’t take her long to figure it out, and since then our walks have become much more enjoyable.
4. Use treats to encourage your dog to follow you
Whatever method you use to stop your dog from pulling on the leash, the most important thing to remember is to keep your dog motivated. To encourage them to walk nicely, you need to show them that good things happen when they do, and the easiest way to achieve that is by using tasty treats. Giving your dog something positive for a behavior encourages him to repeat that behavior, and off-leash walking is no exception.
So as you begin to teach your dog to walk on a leash, don’t forget to use treats (or toys if your dog is more motivated to play) to encourage him to follow you. This will show them that walking nicely without pulling on the leash means good things are happening, and over time they will start to repeat that behavior on their own.