How to Stop Your Dog From Pulling on the Leash

  • By Kathy McRoberts
  • 16 Feb, 2010

Original article by Angie Pullano, Fusion Dog Training

Pulling only works for dogs if people let it work for them – without a human on the other end of the leash there is no pulling, just going. Does your dog ever strain to reach that just-out-of-reach spot to sniff and you give up more leash or walk towards it to let her smell it? What about if it’s raining and you’re in a hurry to get from your car to indoors or if she sees another person or dog that she just has to greet– do you let her drag you? If so, you just taught her that pulling works!

Patience is a huge part of being an effective dog trainer. Resolve that you will not take a single step forward, give up extra inches of the leash, or hold your arm out farther for your dog to get closer to where they want to go. In fact, stop moving before she hits the end of the leash when you can tell she’s about to – no point in letting her catch you off-balance and being able to pull you a couple more steps towards her goal. This is called the “Be a Tree” method. When practicing, allot a certain amount of time to it instead of setting a goal distance or destination. If you become frustrated, abort the session. The first few times you may not make it out of your driveway! Below I will describe a more advanced technique to get you and your dog walking together as a team but “Be a Tree” alone will eliminate most of the motivation for pulling.

Develop alternate plans for how you will handle pulling outside of training sessions as well as exercise needs if walking on leash is typically the only exercise your dog gets. Dogs typically easily discriminate between various articles of “clothing” and can quickly learn that pulling is OK on, say, a harness or Flexi leash, but not ok on a regular leash and collar. Use alternate “clothing” items when you’re in a hurry and/or don’t want to devote the time to training and just want to walk. Using a standard leash as “reins” by looping it around your dog’s neck works well for short periods (caught between too many distractions, in the rain, etc). The more consistent you are that pulling never works on the collar/leash combo you want to use for loose leash walking, the quicker you will see results.

If even after learning proper bracing and leash holding techniques you still find yourself being dragged more than a foot (some dogs have learned to master the “step back and leap forward” dragging technique or are simply just too big/strong for their owners), using a special training collar or harness is recommended for safety and for training effectiveness. Choker chains, prong collars, gentle leaders (head halters), and front-leash attachment harnesses can all be effective when introduced and used properly. Note that most dogs can and will learn to acclimate and pull on all of these devices if the underlying problem (improper leash handling and/or training techniques) is not addressed. Some devices take more time to condition the dog to before use (gentle leaders – dogs typically hate things on their faces), and others require better training and leash handling skills than others (choker collars typically require the highest skill level to use properly and the leash is handled much differently than when using a gentle leader or harness).

In addition, it is important to take into account the dog’s temperament, physical sensitivity, and any other behavior issues into consideration. Too strong of a correction can scare a dog and should be avoided, in some dogs a physical correction can actually heighten a reactive - excited, fearful, or aggressive response, and dogs who tend to circle when excited usually react badly to gentle leaders and harness that spin them around. Please consult with a person who is knowledgeable about the various choices that can help you choose the correct one for your pet, show you how to introduce it properly, and the proper leash techniques for it. Don’t just slap it on your dog and hope for a miracle. It is our responsibility to ensure our dog’s safety and well-being and that includes trying to avoid scaring them with a new training collar as well as not letting our dogs choke the air out of themselves on a standard flat collar.

Red Light/Green Light Game: this method works best using a standard collar and leash. We are teaching our dogs to begin to yield to collar pressure, that to get us to move forward that they must return to “heel” position next to our left side, and that working as a team gets rewarded. Tight leash = Red Light or Stop, Next to your left leg = Green Light or Go. Your dog can be anywhere in a half circle on your left side – as long as the leash is not tight. She should not be in your path crossing in front of you nor try to dart behind you to your right side. Treat crossing the line from your left to right side as a tight leash and stop. Try to block her from actually crossing it by moving your arm away slightly but don’t change the placement of your hand on the leash. Hold the leash in your left hand at a point where the length of it is just enough that if fully extended with her in front of you, that her rear end isn’t able to get past your left leg (any more length than that means its much more difficult to prevent crossing in front of you). For most people this is about 3-4 feet. The loop of the leash can also be held in your left hand to prevent it from dangling so that you are holding both the loop and a farther down section of the leash.

Treats aren’t necessary but it makes training easier, quicker, and less frustrating for both dog and handler. They should be easily accessible (in a bait bag, large pocket, or fanny pack) for easy re-loading into your right hand. Most people underestimate the quantity of treats used in the initial phase of training for best effect because of worries about fading them in the long run. (Some dogs will work for their standard kibble - but the more motivation to figure out the game, the easier it is for the trainer. Please see the article on using treats in training). Feed the treats from your right hand, but reach across your body and always feed next to your left leg. If you get lazy and let your dog meet your hand partially in front of you, she will start to pop in front of you in anticipation and trip you. Using a clicker speeds up learning and if used, should be held in your left hand along with the leash. If not using the clicker, use a marker word like “Yes,” also always paired with a food reward, to help speed up the process. When a dog can more easily identify what she did to earn the treats, it helps her to repeat it.

Start off as in “Be a Tree” and freeze when the leash gets tight. When she turns back towards you (be patient and wait – the first few times on every walk take the longest), click and offer the food reward next to your left leg. You may need to lure her in with the food to get her back to your leg, but don’t let her eat it until she is there! As soon as she has the food in her mouth (and therefore she’s also back on your left side), start walking again. Some dogs you may need to wait an extra second or so for them to chew/swallow first. Repeat until there is very little hesitation between stopping & her turning back towards you. Usually you will see the dogs start to glance at you to see if they are going to get a click.

At this point, try adding yielding to collar pressure. If she’s in front of you, after she’s turned around, move your left arm back slowly to apply gentle pressure on her collar, towards your left leg. Don’t actually pull her back with the leash – otherwise you are doing to her exactly what you don’t want her to do to you. Keep the pressure low but constant. It might take her awhile to figure out what to do. When she moves towards the direction you’re pulling, Click, release the pressure and feed next to your left leg. As she starts to yield to the pressure more quickly, ask her to move a step or two with the pressure going towards your leg before clicking and releasing the pressure. If she stops behind you, or darts off to the side because of a distraction, the same principle applies – apply gentle pressure in the direction of your left side, C/T (click & treat) when she yields to it. Gradually have her move with the pressure all the way back to your side before clicking. Soon you will start to see her starting to move back to your left side on her own, before you even get a chance to apply the pressure! She has figured out that getting back to your left side is wonderful because she gets clicks, treats and it makes you start walking again!

To ensure that she doesn’t start to think that the game is to get the leash tight so that she can go back to your left side to collect cookies, start to C/T at other “good decision” moments while walking. This can be something as simple as walking next to your left leg at the same speed as you for a few paces, looking at you attentively, rushing forward but correcting herself by slowing down before hitting the end of the leash, starting off for a distraction but correcting herself and turning back before she hits the end of the leash, turning with you when you change directions, sitting when you ask before crossing a street, etc. If you like it, click it!

Start to fade the food rewards first on the straight-aways and in places with low distraction levels. Bump up the reinforcement frequency still when encountering big distractions for your dog like other dogs, people, squirrels, birds, or blowing leaves. Remember to praise your dog and tell her that you like what she’s doing even if you don’t C/T it every time or don’t have food with you.

Fusion Dog Training   513-373-0394

Cincinnati Dog Knowledge Center

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