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How to Stop a Dog From Pulling on the Leash

Updated on February 5, 2013

Your ultimate goal should be to walk on a loose leash

Dog pulling on leash.
Dog pulling on leash. | Source

Dog Training: Who is Walking Who?

As a certified dog trainer I can attest that one of the most common problems dog owners endure in is being pulled around and about when taking their dog for a walk. The problem is certainly not a small one, indeed leash pulling can lead to several other problems: being dangerously dragged causing falls, being unable to control a potentially dangerous dog, scaring several passer-byers due to lack of control, not to mention, being unable to provide dogs with the leadership skills and guidance they crave..

Of course, an obedience trainer is the right place to start to solve these problems, but not all people have the financial resources to afford that or they simply may not have the time. Some owners (and this is not that rare) may also refuse to go to dog training school simply because they are too proud to seek out the help of a professional, rather, they would prefer to take care of the issue themselves, even though they are not completely sure how.

Nothing can really replace the structured setting and opportunity for socialization a class offers. Dogs learn to be under control despite high distractions such as other dogs and people. If your dog is capable of walking nicely on leash in this environment, very likely he will be well under control during your evening walk around the block! So taking your dog to dog training is a big plus with many advantages.

Secrets to a Nice Walking Dog

Your main objective is to have a dog that walks on a loose leash. Remember this goal: a leash is just there because the law requires it, your dog will follow because he just wants to be with you and knows that your side is the best place on earth! Of course, this may seem like an unattainable goal, but you will eventually get there.

So how to get a dog in this sort of mind set? It takes a mix of classical conditioning, operant conditioning and special tools for the most serious cases. Let's take a look at all of these components, one by one:

Classical Conditioning:

Do you remember Pavlov and the studies on drooling dogs? If not, Pavlov was a Russian scientist that started ringing a bell and offering food to dogs right afterward.. With time, it was noticed that dogs started salivating in anticipation at the simple sight and sound of the bell! This helped us understand how a dog thinks and take it to our advantage.

How do we apply this in dog training? It is quite simple. We make a sound and classically condition the dog to associate it with something great such as food. The sound can be anything, a whistle, a smack of the mouth, anything, just do not use the dog's name!

Once we get the dog's attention, we will bring the treat to our eye level and then hand it to the dog. We will repeat the sound and then treat, sound, treat, sound treat.. after some time, the dog will associate the sound with food and will look forward to it. This is classical conditioning at best!

Once things start clicking in the dog's mind, we are ready to start moving in a fenced area. We walk with the dog and make the sound with the treat at eye level and once the dog looks up making eye contact, we give the treat. With practice, the dog will be attention heeling as the pros!

As the dog gets better, the dog is introduced to areas with more distractions.This is where going to an obedience school is best: the dog will learn to not pay attention to other dogs and people, rather he will chose to make you the most interesting thing out there!

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning takes place when a dog starts thinking ''If I do this I get something for it''. It puts the dog's mind in a working mode. If the dog looks at you and makes eye contact, he will quickly learn that eye contact gets him the reward. This will make your dog eager to work and ''operate'' for the reward.

Most training today is reward based today. While the older aversive training methods focused in having a dog obey to ''avoid pain or discomfort'' today, the dog is encouraged to ''operate'' for rewards. This positive method teaches the dog two things: ''If I work I get something'' and '' My owner brings good things and I trust him'' rather than fearing him and associating him with aversive tecniques..

Troubleshooting Walking Problems

So you have your dog walking nicely, next to you, but what should you do if your dog looks up at you, takes the treat and then lunges forward pulling you and going back to his antics? Here you must be more stubborn than your dog and not give in.

Stop as soon as the dog pulls and either:

a) Walk in the opposite direction

b) Stop and put your dog back to being next to you and start walking ''together''

There is only one bad thing that you can do in this exercise: follow your dog when he pulls. Indeed, when we deal with pulling dogs we really are most likely not dealing with a dog that wants to be ''dominant'' or stubborn, rather we are most likely dealing with a dog that simply thinks like this: ''On walks it works this way.. I go forward and my owner follows..'' In other words, the dog just thinks he must drag his owner around, because he was never taught otherwise!

It is therefore just something that has worked in the past, once, twice and the dog assumes that is just the way it is. Not to mention the fact that going forward is very rewarding to dogs and walking much faster than humans, they take the puller role very easily.Once we stop walking when the dog pulls,once, twice and more, then the dog starts thinking ''Oh, so it does not really work the way I thought'' and adjusts accordingly,

Stop being pulled! Your dog will look up at you and seem to ask ''So why did we stop?''

Adrienne copyright
Adrienne copyright

Two Amazing Tools That Bring Results!!!!!

PetSafe Easy Walk Harness,  Large, BLACK/SILVER for Dogs
PetSafe Easy Walk Harness, Large, BLACK/SILVER for Dogs

he Premier Easy Walk Harness not only lets you take relaxing walks in the park with your pet, but it also helps train him not to pull on his leash. The unique front-chest attachment stops pulling by slightly tightening across the dog’s chest and shoulder blades. This gentle pressure steers the dog to the side and redirects his attention back to you. Completely safe, the Easy Walk never causes coughing, gagging, or choking, because it rests low across the breastbone, not on the tracheal area. The soft, strong nylon harness snaps quickly on both the shoulder and belly straps for easy wear. The attractive complementary color also helps you identify which strap goes over the shoulders and which goes under the belly. 4 adjustment points provide maximum comfort and a reliable fit.

PetSafe Gentle Leader Head Collar with Training DVD, MEDIUM 25-60 LBS., BLACK
PetSafe Gentle Leader Head Collar with Training DVD, MEDIUM 25-60 LBS., BLACK

More than two million dog owners have found the secret to stress-free walks. Immediately eliminates pulling on the leash. With the Gentle Leader, when you steer the dog's nose, you steer the dog's body. It's virtually impossible for a dog to drag you down the street when its head is turned to face you. Because it is scientifically designed to work with your dog's natural instincts to control unwanted behavior, results occur in minutes - not weeks


Tools to Stop Dogs From Pulling

If you have a very large dog and simply do not have the strength to control him, you may be wondering if there are any training tools that would at least allow you to not be dragged along the way. There are different different training tools that may work.

The prong collar was once recommended for dogs that lunged and pulled, but it may bring a too strong of a correction to sensitive dogs or dogs that are fearful or lunging out of defensive aggression, the ''I attack first to prevent being attacked''. Since, most people are not fully aware of what emotions go through the dog's mind I would not recommend this training device.

Preferable training tools are a head halter and a front attachment harness. Head halters mimic somewhat what a horse wears. It gives owners a higher level of control since it embraces the whole head and dogs seem to respond to it more, than an average leash. Before employing one, please read my hub on Pros and Cons of Head Halters.

The other option is the front-attachment harness, a harness with a front ring that allows more control and its pressure on the chest area teaches the dog how to respond properly. In order to work well, the dog must learn that it must stay by the owners side with the use of treats at first. Dogs appear to respond well to this tool and many people are quite satisfied of the results.

Of course, training devices may help gain control but lets remember they are simply tools. Nothing can replace actual training, which requires time, patience and being persistent. If you stop allowing your dog to pull you and abide to a ''no pulling policy'' it may take an hour the first day to just walk a block, but in the long run, your dog will soon understand that when he is ahead of you, you will not go anywhere and it gets quite boring. If your are more stubborn than your dog, you will ultimately win!

You are not allowed to copy this article, or any other articles by this author without obtaining permission by the author first, all rights reserved.

I recommend the following books:

My Dog Pulls. What Do I Do?
My Dog Pulls. What Do I Do?

Easy to follow instructions that teach you a kind and effective method for encouraging dogs to walk on leash without pulling. Quick and easy to learn, the method can be applied to any dog no matter what size, breed or age. Dogs that are easily distracted, or that encounter situations where they may lunge, bark, or give aggressive displays can be helped to walk calmly and quietly on a loose leash.

The Cautious Canine-How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears
The Cautious Canine-How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears

Behavioral step by step detailed program for fearful aggressive dogs that tend to lunge at strangers or other dogs.


Teach your dog to walk as if leashes were not there

Adrienne copyright
Adrienne copyright

My dogs hardly know the difference from being on or off leash!

Adrienne copyright
Adrienne copyright


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    • bruzzbuzz profile image

      bruzzbuzz 6 years ago from Texas , USA

      Thank you for a useful and well written hub. I have a rescue dog who walks good on a leash but needs training in other areas. I will definitely use these methods.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Found your hub very informative. I was recommended to use the prong collar on my 2 Newfoundland dogs. I had tried every other method out there and the prong collar was the answer to my situation. I walk both dogs at the same time and the prong works really well for me. They are now trained to walk and no longer pull. I only use this collar for walking and it comes off as soon as we hit the house.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I also have a rescued dog. She appears to have had some training but it is hard to figure out exactly what. sometimes she walks by my side and other times will pull.Haven't figured out what triggers her behavior. She is also shy of people.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland


      Thanks for this great hub. I have a Border Collie,Roy, who is a rescue dog. He does tend to pull going out to his walk, but is brilliant on the way back when he has expended all his energy. He is not a greedy dog, and treats don't work with him. But you have given a lot of good information that I haven't tried as well as the books you have recommended. Many thanks again for a great hub.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 years ago from USA

      A nice game of fetch or a jog around the block prior to the walk may help release that pent up energy and put him in the state of mind for a calmer walk.. your problem is quite common.. most dogs are really eager to get out and tend to pull during the first minutes of the walk but then may settle and calm down on the way back...

      I am a bit surprised when people say ''treats do not work'with my dog.. What types of treats are you using? Most dogs cannot resist some sliced up liver or chunks of left over steak or skinless roasted chicken..I have seen people stating their dog is not food oriented and then that same dog was drooling buckets of saliva upon being presented with chopped up dried tripe of freeze dried liver...

      Also try to hide some treats in the yard or around the home prior to walking: sniffing and searching for them mentally requires lots of concentration that may wear him down a bit ... best wishes!

    • PosiTive Mindz profile image

      PosiTive Mindz 6 years ago from Clayton, Delaware

      Hello! First and foremost, I found your Hub to be Very informative and interesting! I do have a few questions in regards to training... We have a 10 month old Australian ShepHerd named HarLey that is full of energy!! Like others have stated, we are finding that he is more calm after being able to expend some of his built up energy running and playing outside. My issue is that we currently live in a community in which we don't have the luxury of allowing him to spend a lot of time outside. Fortunately, we have Family around the corner with lots of land where we take him 2-3 times a week for "Play Time"!


      * Jumps on people when they come in the house

      * Sometimes pees when he meets new people

      * Chews up the kids toys even though he has plenty

      * Nips at ankles or pulls when walking on leash

      * Tortures poor Pumpkin (5 yr old cat) by chasing her :)

      * Eats out the trash and off the table

      * Constantly barks @ other animals (especially @ Beach)

      Other than the items listed above, he's a great companion for my Family (3 boys/2 girls)! LoL

      Is he too young for obedience school? HarLey is a very smart and lovable puppy! Trying to make the best of our relationship...

      PosiTive Mindz

    • bayoulady profile image

      bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      My dog puls when she is excited.After she calms down, she's okay. I will try your tips.

    • SUSIE DUZY profile image

      SUSIE DUZY 6 years ago from Delray Beach, Florida

      Thanks for the tips. I will use some of them to train my dog, who barks at other dogs.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 years ago from USA

      Positive Mindz; you have an Australian Shepherd which is a highly intelligent dog that as a working dog needs lots of stimulation. Fail to give it a job and very likely you will end up with problems.. are you exercising him and giving him enough mental stimulation? this can be the source of the problem...also you need to up your leadership skills.. obedience training can be started already and I am sure your dog will greatly benefit from it.. best wishes!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      A very useful hub on what can be a very common problem. Thank you for sharing

      Take care


    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 3 years ago from Miami Florida

      I like your article about dog training. Thank you for the good advice.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Thank you. this is one of my older articles, I have much better ones now!

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