How to teach your dog to walk on a lead

How To Stop A Dog Pulling On A Lead

We all envy those dog owners who walk their dogs with expert lead control. They are not being pulled around the block, tangled up or tied to something when they take their dog for a walk. When we get a dog, we imagine nice, leisurely strolls with them; however, the reality is quite different.

Walking nicely on a lead is not in a dog’s nature, and your pooch will tend to pull you in whatever direction they want. Those with bigger dogs will find it even more difficult to control their dog, as a larger canine can often overpower a human.

Dogs are inquisitive animals and until they start getting a little bit older, they can be excitable, powerful and curious animals. The combination of these things can lead to some serious lead pulling.

While it all seems like ‘doom and gloom’, lead pulling, like any undesirable behaviour can be fixed with a bit of training and patience. If your dog tugs you down the street, this article will give you all the information you need to get them under control.

Why Do Dogs Pull When Walking?

Why Do Dogs Pull On Their Lead

Dogs are pack animals and there are many times when they will try to assert themselves as the leader of the pack. While many dog owners believe that pulling while walking is caused by this quest for pack domination, the opposite is actually true.

If your canine is well behaved at home and knows they are not the pack leader of the house, they will not start trying to be the leader on walks. In facts, there is a much simpler explanation than the myth that your dog is trying to rule the house.

It’s a Big World Out There

The simple truth is that dogs love to be outside and they are overwhelmed by all the sights, smells and interesting things the world has in it. Going out for walks provides a new environment that is much more interesting than the boring kitchen or garden they spend most of their time in.

Dogs want to explore every place they can get their highly sensitive noses into. Additionally, scents will tell them about the world and who has been in that area before. They also love to leave their own scent, which means that they will go to the toilet a lot.

It doesn’t take long for your dog to get so caught up in the smells, sights, scent marking and features, that all the training you have done goes down the toilet. It can become so overwhelming for dogs that they might not even respond to some of the most basic commands.

Pulling Can Be a Reward

Letting your dog go where it wants will give them all the more reason to pull, as there are no apparent downsides to your canine companion. Some dogs even love the feeling of pulling because it gives them a bit more exercise.

Unleashing your dog may seem like a good idea, whether that is to stop them hurting themselves, or just to give you a rest; however, it is really the ultimate reward for your canine. Dogs want to be free to sniff and look at all the interesting things in the world. Removing your dog’s lead when they pull shows them that all that effort pays off.

It Could Be the Lead

Strangely, some dogs pull because of the type or length of lead that is being used. We generally use shorter leads when we walk our dogs and when the dog pulls we pull them back immediately. Sometimes having a bit more lead length to play with can help tremendously with pulling problems.

We are going to talk about lead and collar selection later in this article or you can skip ahead here.

Why Pulling Can Be Dangerous

A pulling dog can not only be annoying; they can be downright dangerous in some circumstances. Pulling dogs can run the risk of breaking away from your grip, which could put them in danger. They might also pull you over or give you an injury.

Solving the pulling problem can eliminate these risks and will let you take your dog on longer walks in different places.

So How Do I Stop My Dog from Pulling On the Leash?

How to stop dog from pulling on their lead

Training your dog can be a time consuming process, and stopping them from pulling while they are on a lead is no different. Teaching them to stop will require patience from you and it won’t be an overnight success.

Adjust Your Attitude

The first thing you need to do is ask yourself the question: “What would I like my dog to do instead?”. Rather than teaching your dog to stop pulling, think of it as teaching your dog to walk beside you nicely.

Putting On the Lead

Stopping your dog from pulling starts at the beginning: putting the lead on them.

When your dog sees a lead for the first time they do not think much of it. They might think that it is something to chew on or a toy to play with. However, they will soon make a connection between the lead and walk time, making it one of the most exciting objects to them.

If your dog goes absolutely crazy when you get out the lead or when you say the ‘walk’ word, you need to calm them down. Teaching your dog that the lead does not go on until they are waiting patiently will go a long way to helping that pulling problem.

Like other forms of training, you may need to have a few attempts before putting the lead on your dog. You will need to back off and wait if your dog starts getting excited when you try to put on their lead or attach a harness. Repeat this until your dog learns that the lead can’t go on until they are sitting and calm.

Make The Walks Short

Don’t get us wrong, we love long walks with our two Labradors; however, when you are training your dog to stop pulling it is best to keep the length of your walks to a minimum. The more time you spend with your dog pulling you along, the more likely they will develop even worse habits and the more frustrated you will become.

When walking and training your dog you need to have the right mind-set. If you become frustrated your dog will sense that and may become even more unruly. Additionally, if your dog stars to get wound up and overly excited during a long walk, they probably won’t be able to focus on your instructions.

A tip we recommend is to select a nice short route in your neighbourhood, and walk it over and over again. While there will be lots of interesting smells and sights, your dog will become less distracted if they continuously see the same thing. Short walks for training are excellent, especially if you know you will be able to take your dog on longer ones when you have got their pulling problem under control.

Get Rid of That Extra Energy

Dogs, especially certain breeds, have a ton of energy and they need to burn it off somehow. Taking your dog out for short walks may not be enough to keep them satisfied, and their excess energy may make them pull even harder than usual.

To combat this problem, you can have an extra play or exercise session before you take your dog out for their training walks. A dog that is already feeling a bit tired will be easier to control and will be less interested in pulling you down the street.

Play a game of tug-of-war or fetch to wear them down. These games will be great for wearing out your dog and they will even give you a bit of exercise.

Walk at a Good Pace

Depending on the breed of your dog, they may want to walk faster or slower. Larger breeds of dog or those with more energy will tend to walk faster and will have no problem outpacing you on a walk. If your dog is walking faster than you this will lead to more pulling, because you are not moving at a quick enough pace for them.

Walking at a faster pace has a number of benefits: your dog will be less likely to get distracted by smells or scents, they will be more interested in walking with you because you are moving at a good pace, and you will save time.

Give Them a Treat

Just like any form of training, rewarding your dog when they do something you want can help reinforce good behaviour. Dogs love treats and they will learn that being well behaved will walking will earn them a tasty reward. Make sure you use treats that are easy to carry and use extra tasty ones.

Start Them Young

Teaching puppies to walk properly is undoubtedly easier than teaching an older dog who has developed bad habits. Stopping your puppy from pulling on their lead will save the hassle of trying to do it when your dog is older and stronger.

For those with older dogs, don’t dispair. Despite what many people say, you can “teach an old dog new tricks.”

The Methods to Stop Your Dog Pulling On Their Lead

How to stop your puppy from pulling on their lead

We’ve talked about some tips that can help with your canine pulling problem, now it is time to look at some methods. These techniques below will help you teach your dog to walk without pulling on their lead.

Treat Following

The first method we are going to talk about is the ‘follow the treat’ method. This takes advantage of your dog’s love of all things tasty.

Frequent rewards will help teach your dog what behaviour you are looking for. It makes the learning process easier for them.

Put a handful of treats in your pocket or treat bag, then keep a few in your hand so you can immediately reward your dog for good behaviour. Another tip is to use special treats that they don’t usually receive. This will give them even more incentive to please you.

To train your dog with this method, begin walking with your canine and hold out your hand with the treats in front of them. Make sure your dog knows you have the treats and then every 4-5 steps, give them a reward.

If your dog starts to pull or veer off course, stop the walk immediately. Call your dog back and then make them sit, waiting for your next command. When they do this, give them some praise and resume walking. Carry on holding the treats in front of them and repeat this process until you finish the walk.

This method can take a bit of time, so that is also why we recommend that you shorten your walks.

Once you have put this method into practice for about a week or two, you can stop carrying the treats in your hand and holding them out in front of your dog. Keep the treats close by however; rewarding your dog often, but with slightly less frequency.

If you keep on doing this, you will find that your dog can walk further without tugging on their lead (remember that each dog will progress at a different rate). Over time, reduce the amount and frequency of the treats you give them. Space out the rewards over a larger distance.

In the end, the ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of rewards to just a few during a walk, or even none at all. While getting to the point where you don’t have to give any treats to your dog is excellent, we think that reinforcing the good behaviour with a few treats during a walk is always a good idea.

The Stop and Go Technique

This method is about as simple as it gets, and it essentially involves stopping when your dog starts pulling.

While that is the basis of the technique, there is actually a bit more to it. If your dog is already well trained at coming when they are called, despite distractions that surround them, this method could be the one that will solve your pulling problem.

You will need to start off with a slack lead and when your dog begins to pull, you must stop immediately and not let them pull you any further. Just a warning though, if your dog is strong it may be a little bit more difficult to conduct this technique. This is because your dog must not go any further, otherwise they will never learn.

If you do this method correctly, your dog will realise they are going nowhere and will stop walking. Tell your dog to come and then ask them to sit for you. Give them a nice tasty treat and then praise them for their good behaviour. Once you have got them sitting nicely, it is time to resume walking.

Repeat this process of stopping, getting them to sit and then rewarding them. Another tip is to reward them for good walking behaviour. If you find your dog is walking nicely beside you and is not pulling, make sure to give them a treat to reinforce this good behaviour.

Your dog will eventually learn that pulling will not get them anywhere and walking nicely beside you net them a reward.

An addition to this method is using scent or objects as a reward. Dogs love to smell or inspect interesting objects while they are out for walks. You can use this to your advantage when training your canine companion.

Once your dog starts pulling towards an object or even another dog or human, stop like we discussed before. Make sure you call them to you and then command them to sit. Offer praise, but not a treat. Once they are sitting nicely, carry on walking towards the thing they were pulling towards. Repeat this process until they are either walking nicely or you reach the item. This is their ultimate reward.

Turning When They Pull

The two methods above are considered to be positive reinforcement techniques, while this method can be considered a negative reinforcement technique. While this technique is considered to be less preferred technique to the other two, it can work. The punishment to your dog should not be severe and should not carry on for an extended amount of time.

Note: this technique should not be conducted when your dog is wearing a slip lead or head halter. It can also be a poor technique for those with stronger dogs who can pull their owners over easily.

The basic premise of this method is to give your dog a bit of a surprise when they start to pull. When your dog is about to run out of slack on their lead, give them a verbal warning like, “slow” or “easy.”

This is an initial warning and if it gets them to come back to you are slow down without pulling, that’s great. If they have responded to this warning well, give them a reward and praise as you walk.

If your dog fails to respond to this verbal warning and starts pulling, that’s when you turn around and start walking in the opposite direction. Giving a slight tug on the lead should make your dog follow the change in direction.

If your dog resists heavily and you find that yourself pulling too hard on the lead, we recommend trying a different technique. This is because you may hurt your dog or possibly even yourself.

Once your dog is walking with you in the opposite direction, praise and reward them for their good behaviour. Now that your dog is next to you, turn around and walk back in the original direction you were walking. Repeat this process as much as need be.

What this method teaches your dog is that pulling and walking too far in front of you will lead to a situation they won’t like. It diverts them from where they want to go and will take more time getting to their desired destination.

We only recommend that you this technique if the other two positive reinforcement methods above are not working for you. Check that your dog is not showing any signs of distress, fear or pain when using this method. If they are, stop using the ‘turn’ technique immediately.

Another thing to remember is that you will probably look a bit silly using this method on the street, although it probably looks better than being pulled over by your pooch.

Tugging On Their Collar

Another technique that is more of a negative reinforcement method is the “collar tug.” This technique should not be used when your dog is wearing a head halter or a slip lead. Like the previous method, we only recommend this technique if positive reinforcement methods are not working as desired.

Once again, if your dog starts approaching the end of their lead, give them a verbal warning. Praise and reward them if they respond to the warning. If they do not listen, give a sharp backwards tug to the lead. Make sure you do not pull for an extended period of time; it should be a quick tug.

Depending on the size of your dog, the strength of the tug you give will vary. You may or may not need to repeat the tug to get your dog’s attention. If your dog starts walking nicely beside you, reward and praise them.

As you can imagine, the tug technique can be unpleasant for dog. It should correct your dog’s behaviour in a couple of days, if it is going to work and you have done the technique correctly.

Those with larger or stronger breeds of dog may find that this method is entirely ineffective. This is because their neck muscles are too strong. You might also find that your dog is so determined that they do not even notice the tug you give them.

When you are conducting this technique, proceed with caution. Giving a tug that is too hard can lead to physical damage to your dog’s throat and neck. It can also hurt you if your dog continues to pull.

Heel Training For Dogs

Teaching your dog to not pull is just part of getting your dog to walk nicely. We all see those dog owners who walk with their dog right beside them and it makes us jealous.

To achieve that you need to teach your dog to not just stop pulling, but to walk to heel as well. This process can take several weeks, however, it is definitely worth the reward.

Your canine companion needs to learn where the heel position is, the cue that you give them to get in that position, and they need to learn it in all sorts of different situations. Teaching the heel technique correctly should mean your dog walks nicely beside you, even when there are distractions.

What Is the Difference Between Teaching Your Dog to Heel and Loose Lead Walking?

Loose lead walking is focused on stopping your dog from pulling on the lead itself. When you teach your dog to stop pulling, it doesn’t matter where the dog is as long as they are not pulling. They could be in front of you or next to you, so long as you have a bit of slack in the lead.

Teaching your dog to heel focuses on the position of your dog relative to you. The dog is not controlling the lead, but controlling their body position and where they are walking. If you teach your dog to walk to heel, you might not even need a lead, how great is that?

How Do I Train My Dog to Heel?

The process of training your dog to heel goes through a number of stages. By the end of these stages you should be able to walk your dog in the correct heel position. There are as follows:

  1. Establish the heel position with your dog
  2. Lean to walk at the heel position
  3. Add distractions and reinforce the heel position

Establish The Heel Position

In reality, there is no correct heel position; however, we recommend that you use your dog’s shoulder as a guideline. Aim to have their shoulder about level with your knee. Your dog’s head will be slightly in front of you.

When choosing which side you want to have your dog on, it doesn’t matter. Just pick a side and be consistent about it. We like to have our dog on the left side, however, you may find the right more comfortable.

Once you have decided upon the heel position, get your dog in this position and reward them for being there. You need to establish that this is the position that you want your dog to be in.

Remember to have a handful of treats in your pocket or treat pouch, and hold a treat in each hand. Let your dog know you have the treats and move them into the heel position by putting the treats in front of their nose.

Do this two or three times and then repeat without a treat in your hand. Show your dog that your hand is empty, and repeat the exact same movement you did when there was a reward in your hand. The hand that you used to move your dog into the heel position will be the same one you use a hand signal.

If your dog is being a bit stubborn and won’t follow your hand when there are not treats in it, try again with a reward. Repeat this process until you get your dog in the correct position without a treat.

Once your dog recognises your hand movement as the command to get into the heel position, you can begin to add a verbal cue like “heel.” After a couple of attempts, try and just say “heel” and don’t use your hand. Your dog should soon learn to move into the heel position when you use the heel command.

Walking in The Heel Position

After teaching your dog the heel position, it is time to teach them to hold this position while walking. Remember to start with small distances in an environment where they will not be distracted.

Give the heel command and instead of treating your dog immediately, take a step forward and reward them as they move to keep up with you. Once they move with you, progress to two steps and then give them another reward.

Repeat this process and carry on adding more and more steps. Reward your dog when they move with you in the correct heel position. In this early stage, avoid adding changes in direction and keep the total distance travelled to about ten steps.

When teaching your dog to walk in the heel position it is best to use short, frequent sessions as they may become bored or tired.

Direction Changes

Once you and your dog are comfortable with about ten steps in the correct heel position, add a direction change. Take a couple of steps forward and then rotate 90 degrees to the right or left.

If your dog attempts to rotate with you reward them with a treat. Set off in the new direction and repeat this process. Carry on practicing this until you can make little squares of two or three steps, or a chain of direction turns.

Making Them Stop

Walking in the heel position isn’t just about the movement process, at some point you are going to have to stop. Your dog should not leave the heel position just because you have stopped to talk to someone or need to wait to cross the road.

Holding the heel position when you are not moving is an important part of heel training. Most people tend to teach their dog to sit when they stop moving and this is a pretty good practice.

Try moving around ten steps forward and then stop. When you have stopped ask you dog to sit and reward them with a treat. Use the sit command to teach them to sit when you stop moving. Eventually they will learn that they need to sit when you stop moving.

Distraction Time

Maintaining the heel position is relatively easy in a controlled environment, but add a few distractions and it can turn into a real nightmare. You will need patience to teach your dog to ignore distractions, as it is only in their nature to investigate all the interesting things in the world.

To combat this problem, you first need to slowly change the surroundings in which you practice the heel position in. Move from inside your house to outside your house, and change to different rooms.

The first few times you take your dog out onto the roadway outside in the heel position, supply them with plenty of high value treats (roast chicken for example). This will keep their attention on you, letting you control them better.

When it comes to dealing with distractions, try to dilute the intensity of the distractions or make them less appealing to your dog. You can do this by putting more distance between you and the distraction or by making it less interesting.

During the heel training process, enlist the help of another person who can be holding a ball or toy. Initially, just get this other person to hold the item and walk past in the heel position with your dog. If you are successful, tell your helper to play with the ball or toy and then try and walk past in the heel position again.

What you are doing in this situation is increasing the distraction challenge. You are making the distraction more powerful as you and your dog progress with heel training. If your dog is starting to get too distracted, bring the distraction intensity down a level and repeat.

Another great tip is to use another dog to be the distraction. We all know how much dogs love other dogs, and if you can get your dog walking in the heel position past another dog, you know you have trained them well.

Once you have progressed to adding another dog in your heel training process, it is time to try your training on the street. Try short sections, even if it means you are walking ten meters down the road and then back. Every time you go out, try and increase the distance you are walking in the heel position.

Finding The Right Equipment for Your Dog

Best dog collars and leads

When it comes to walking equipment for dogs, there are a whole lot of options; from harnesses to collars and everything else. Anyone who has been to their local pet store or has done a quick Amazon search will know this. Selecting the right gear for your dog can be a challenge, however, it can be an important part of teaching your canine to walk properly.

The Dog Collar

There is nothing more traditional than the classic dog collar. They are simple, easy to use and generally don’t break the bank (unless you are one of those people who wants a diamond encrusted one). Collars can be left on your dog at all times and they are dead simple to use.

Harnesses

If you are finding difficulty walking your dog with a collar, a harness may be a good option for you. Body harnesses are slowly replacing traditional dog collars as the preferred equipment to attach a lead to.

It has been found that some dogs will respond to pressure around their neck by pulling even harder than usual. While seems strange, it is actually a natural reaction caused by a reflex called thigmotaxis.

Restraining your dog by the soft tissues of their neck has also been found to be a less than ideal method of controlling them.

Dog harnesses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and they are perfect for those with young or old dogs. We feel they are a better method of restraint than a traditional collar, especially for those dogs who have not learned that pulling is bad.

For those who are looking to reduce pulling with a harness, the double attachment variety, where a lead can be attached at both the chest and the back of the dog, will help.

Head Collar

In most instances, head collars work by turning your dog’s head to the side when they try to pull. This can make even the strongest dog manageably and is an effective way of reducing your dog’s pulling problem.

While they can be effective, there are some serious drawbacks to head collars. Many dogs will find them uncomfortable and some may even find them distressing to weak. Rather than teaching the dog to walk at heel correctly, the head collar will restrain them in that position.

We personally do not recommend head collars, and suggest that you use either a traditional collar or harness. Additionally, you should teach your dog not to pull and the heel position, rather than physically restraining them.

If you are going to use a head collar, only use it on essential journeys only. Never rely on them to control your dog and don’t use them on a daily basis.

Choosing a Good Dog Lead

A good lead is an essential part of walking your dog properly (if you aren’t using the heel position). Rather than choosing one based on colour or the pretty pictures on it, choose a lead that is sturdy. A weak lead can snap, letting your dog escape.

Select a lead that is anywhere from 1.2m to 2m. A lead in this length range will let your dog have a bit of freedom, but will be short enough for you to maintain good control over your dog.

As we wrote earlier in this article, a lead that is too short can make a dog pull more. A little bit more freedom may solve your pulling problem in some situations.

When your dog has learned not to pull, you can try extend the length of the lead, or if you have trained them to heel you might not need a lead at all.

Check out Lovemydog for a great guide on sizes for dog collars and leads. 

Things to Watch Out for

Walking Dog on lead training

When it comes to training dogs, pain-inflicting devices are used all too much. No decent dog owner wants to cause harm to their dog and as we wrote earlier, negative reinforcement training techniques should be used with caution.

Using training methods that cause pain to your dog or are negative reinforcement all the time is not acceptable. It is difficult to measure the amount of force that is being applied to a dog with these methods, and it can harm your dog.

Here at Dogopedia, we feel that training your dog should be a positive experience for both you and your canine. Positive reinforcement training methods will almost always work, and negative reinforcement should only be used very rarely.

Wrapping Up

Pulling on a lead is a bad habit that many dogs seem to develop. This is because they are inadvertently rewarded for it, or they are never taught that it is a bad thing and their owner just lets them do it.

There is no ‘easy fix’ to the pulling problem, however, the methods we have outlined in this article should help you. Remember that you need to be patient and the training process will only bring you and your dog closer together.

Dogs are strong and energetic animals. They love to go out and explore the world, so don’t let pulling get in the way of that!

Now Read: How To Stop Your Dog Jumping Up On People

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