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How to Stop Leash Pulling

Updated on September 5, 2013

So, your dog is a pain in the arm. literally. We’ve all been there as dog owners, and it’s no surprise our canines are willing to take advantage of us during a daily walk. It’s routine, guaranteed, and part of a dog’s personality… Isn’t it? It’s a common misconception that bad behavior is simply part of who our dogs are. It’s true that some breeds are more challenging than others, but a behavior is rarely permanent.

Training your dog to stop pulling is an easy way to begin communicating with your dog. It’s important to understand how your dog thinks and why he pulls in the first place before you can end it: Pulling gets him where he wants to go. When you step out the door and your dog brings his leash taught, straining his neck, what do you do? You walk forward. Do you know that’s a reward? We usually think of rewards in terms of food, but in real life situations there’s not always a treat bag in our pocket. Besides, treats don’t work on most dogs while outside. There’s so many exciting things to see and smell! Who cares about food!?

What To Do About It

Start by planting yourself firmly whenever your dog puts tension on the leash. Don’t stretch your arm or bend at the waist to give him more slack. Just stop moving. If your dog is large, hold the leash in a way that won’t injure your wrist. Most owners hook the loop over their wrist. A safer way to hold a leash is to put only your thumb through the loop, then close the rest of your hand around the entire handle. The leash should hang down through your palm. Your other hand grasps the leash just below.

Essentially, you’re holding the leash like a baseball bat, which allows you substantially more leverage than your wrist can offer. On normal walks, one hand with your thumb through the loop is fine, but you know your dog is going to pull for now so be ready with both. Nylon leashes make this method awkward because they’re too thick to hold comfortably provide no give, and is very slippery. Rope leashes are a better choice, and leather is the best. It will fit your hand, won't "snap" your dog's collar as hard, and you won't lose your grip, setting your dog loose into traffic.

Now your dog is pulling and wants to move forward. You are standing firmly, holding the leash tight. Most dogs get confused and will turn to look at you, come back to you, or run circles around you. They wonder why their tactic is no longer working. Be patient. Your job is to wait for ANY slack in the leash. The second your dog gives you the tiniest bit of slack, say “Yes!” in your most excited, happy, smiling voice and move forward.

Timing is critical. Your “Yes!” and movement should be simultaneous and without delay the moment your dog stops pulling. Your timing is important in any training exercise with your dog. The “Yes!” signals he’s done something right, the exact moment he's done it right, allowing him to realize what action gets the results he's looking for!

Don’t forget, as soon as the pulling starts again, you must stop moving, even if you only took one step forward. Every time he pulls, his reward (forward progression) is removed. When he doesn't pull, his reward is permitted. Gradually, your dog will walk longer and longer without putting tension on the leash.

Don’t be discouraged if you only get five feet out your door the first few tries. Some breeds are more stubborn or have a different learning curve. Spend no more than 10 minutes training if you’re stuck like this. Your dog’s repeated failure frustrates both of you and won’t help him learn. If you need to take him out on-leash for bathroom breaks, use a different device that he is allowed to pull with so he won’t get confused. Many owners have a harness or head collar they use when they can't take the time to adhere to normal rules. Your dog will learn the difference quickly.

The Next Step

Remember that dogs are still individuals, but they are dogs first. Again, behavior is rarely permanent, but that goes for the good habits too. Once your dog has learned to stop pulling, you’re responsible for keeping the behavior up. You have to remain consistent and keep your rules in place to continue having those pleasant strolls with your canine partner. If this approach doesn't work for you, try another. Dog training has many philosophies and methods.

Learning to deal with different distractions on a walk is the next step in leash training. Once you've got a good foundation and feel comfortable, you'll still notice your dog pulling at things he is interested in. See this article on dealing with excitement:


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    • profile image

      twodawgs 5 years ago

      My dogs are used to running to their hearts' content while pulling me on a scooter hitched up with racing harnesses, but my sweet old girl can't pull any more even though she so wants to! So we're slowing down to walking again after many years. I hate having to restrain them, especially if it involves any harshness, but this looks like a good approach, I'll try it when we're out tomorrow. Thanks for sharing.

    • hecate-horus profile image

      hecate-horus 5 years ago from Rowland Woods

      Good info. I have a 60lb Goldendoodle, and she loves to pull!

    • trainerlex profile image

      Lex 6 years ago from Denver, CO

      Haha, yes being pulled by a small dog is much less of a bother. My 90lb Doberman was very bad with pulling when I adopted him, but he learned quickly.

    • TropicalSnowAngel profile image

      TropicalSnowAngel 6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I'm going to have to try this. I have a somewhat overactive Chihuahua/Terrier mix that tries to drag me down the block. Unfortunately for her, she forgot she only weighs 10 lbs! :)