Somebody once wrote that taking your dog for a walk on a leash should mean becoming part of hispersonality. You can become a ‘part’ of your best friend – sniffs where he sniffs, see what he wants to explore and what he wants to bark at. However, who knows where you will end up?
Although it may seem like a fun thing to do, most of us don’t have the time to let our dogs dictate our walks. Instead, we put them on a leash so our walks can be timed and productive. But what if your Fido makes you crazy by pulling on the leash? How can you keep a dog from pulling on a leash? We aim to give you a few tips in this article.
Why do dogs pull on their leashes?
It makes sense first to answer this question. If we know why dogs do it, we can understand better how to prevent it.
Normal canine behavior.
The good news is that a dog will pull on a leash because it comes naturally to him, and often it is also because dogs get hyper-excited. It is for sure not natural to be tied to a human! We stroll, for one. Pulling gets them where they want to go, and dogs do it – well, because it works. Dogs want to 'participate' in the environment they are in, run and investigate, and we hold them back.
If your dog has always pulled on its leash, it might be challenging to unlearn the habit. But it can be done if you are consistent, patient, and persistent and show your dog that it is much more rewarding for him to stay at your side on a loose leash.
Choose the correct walking equipment.
Before we get into the specifics of how you can stop your dog from pulling on a leash, let’s quickly spare a thought to the leash and collar you use on your dog.
You should choose a leash that isn’t too short and feels good to hold. The leash should be comfortably light for your dog but not too thin that it causes friction burn. Retractable leashes are not always the best choice – they rarely work and can cause severe friction burns.
A chest-led harness.Dog trainers prefer a harness as it takes the pressure off a dog’s neck and distributes it evenly around the body. Also, when a dog is pulling on a leash, the harness will turn its body around and won’t allow him to go forward. (1)
The collar you use.A plain, flat collar is best. It should fit snug enough that it doesn't slip over the dog's head but also not so snug that you can't put two fingers between the dog's neck and the collar. Should your dog cough or have noisy breathing while wearing the collar, it might not be the best fit for him.
Can my dog get injured from pulling on a leash?
Speaking of leashes and collars, your dog can get injured from pulling on a leash. Pulling and jerking can cause injuries to the dog’s trachea and neck, but also to nerves and vertebrae, which might not be immediately obvious.
For example, the nerves in your dog’s neck go down to the legs and paws, and such an injury can manifest by the dog licking his feet because it is sore. (Such behavior is often misdiagnosed as an allergic reaction.) (2)
Things to keep in mind before you start.
Before we jump into it, first consider the following:
Where should your dog walk? On your left side, right side, or just behind you? It can be very confusing for a dog if you are ‘training’ him not to pull on the leash but are not consistent in your preference. Pick a way of how you want your dog to walk and stick to the plan, always. It will definitely make the training go smoother.
Don’t set your dog up to fail. Choose the time of day for your training sessions carefully. Your dog should be most manageable – some dogs are easier to handle in the early morning and others late at night. Go to the park after peak hours and choose an out-and back-route rather than one in a circle. Your dog will be less excitable on the return because it has already smelled everything. (3)
Methods of how to keep a dog from pulling on a leash.
Be like a tree. As soon as your dog begins to pull on the leash, you become a tree – stock-still and motionless. You only move again once there is a slack on the leash. The idea is that your dog will learn pulling on the leash will pause the walk; therefore, he won't do it anymore. Will it always work? It might not be the best method if your dog has been pulling on its leash for a long time. (4)
Head in the other direction. As soon as your dog starts pulling on the leash, you say, ‘Let’s Go,’ turn, and lead in the other direction without pulling on the leash. Suddenly, the dog will realize he is behind you and won't be pulling anymore. In time, he will learn that pulling doesn’t get him where he wants to go, so he will unlearn to do it.
Don’t be predictable. Keep your furry friend guessing! Reverse direction, do quick turns, speed up, and slow down. You can even turn in a circle or do a figure-eight. All of this will fascinate your dog, making it all the more likely that he will follow you instead of 'taking the lead' by pulling. True, your antics will have your neighbors in stitches – but you can’t have everything, can you? Remember to give your dog plenty of praise for walking by your side. The more positively you reinforce this behavior and make him feel good about it, the more likely he will choose to stay close to you during walks.
The Excited Voice.Your dog will be motivated to follow you if you use an animated voice to get his attention. Use the voice so your dog can follow you as soon as he starts pulling. Then, as the leash relaxes, you can turn and go how you want. It might take a while, but the idea is that your vocal cues and body language will tell the dog that pulling is not the way to go.
Remember, always use positive reinforcement, dogs love it and dogs do what ‘works.’ If they detect a favorable result, they will repeat what they are doing to get that result again.
Let’s consider an example. Bruno is pulling on the leash to get to the attractive lady Fifi from next door. Pulling on the leash moves him closer to Fifi, which is a favorable result from his point of view. If you want to prevent the dog from pulling on a leash, you must change his motivation. So, if the dog is on-leash and you are present with delicious treats, you can teach him that a ‘loose leash’ means he gets treats – fast and often. If you do it right, Bruno won’t even look in Fifi’s direction in a few months.
Give it time.
There are resources out there.
Your dog won't learn loose leash walking overnight. Most dogs will take two to three months of regular practice to learn how to walk this way. (5) If you feel overwhelmed, look for more information. There are online courses, entire books, and in-person classes that teach you how to train your dog not to pull on his leash. You can also attend a group class in a controlled environment where a professional can help you.
The golden rule is to find what motivates your dog and go from there. Lots of yummy treats usually work, but a favorite toy to play with can also be a strong motivator for some dogs.
Motivation is critical in whatever method you choose to keep your dog from pulling on a leash. You must show your dog that good things happen when they decide to walk on a loose leash right beside you. Positive reinforcement will encourage your dog to repeat whatever he is doing, and loose leash walking is no exception to the rule.
So, what is our key takeaway? To keep your dog from pulling on a leash, you must work hard to make Bruno think differently about the whole walking thing. The dog must realize, ‘it is not about me,’ but about my owner and how he rewards me. And luckily, dogs, being dogs, excel at pleasing their owners. So, training your dog to stop pulling on a leash need not be a headache. On the contrary, with persistence and some creativity, it might be easier than you think, especially if you have a bright pupil!
Seb has been a research scientist for the past two decades and is the founder and owner of My Blissful Pet. Seb grew up with cats and dogs and married his passion for science and animals with My Blissful Pet by wanting to help dogs and cats live healthier lives.