Humane Ways to Teach Your Dog to Walk Nicely on Leash

When a dog pulls excessively on leash, it is unpleasant for both the dog and the person walking him. Many people resort to yanking on their dogs, using pinch or choke collars, or stopping every few feet hoping for something to change.

When a dog pulls excessively on leash, it is unpleasant for both the dog and the person walking him. Many people resort to yanking on their dogs, using pinch or choke collars, or stopping every few feet hoping for something to change. Using a choke chain or pinch collar may lessen pulling temporarily, but these collars are very unpleasant for your dog and can be physically damaging. Trying to force your dog to walk behind you can be just as unpleasant. However, there are many fun, motivating, and gentle ways to lessen your dog’s pulling. By following the below tips, your walks will improve with your dog and you will both enjoy walking together.

1) Reinforce and reward all attention your dog gives you. When your dog is attentive to you, he will look at you or in your direction. If you cannot get your dog’s attention while out on a walk, you will not be able to communicate with him. Start in a quiet location — indoors is okay. Make a high-pitched noise or sound that has intonation or inflection, such as a perky “Hey,” or make a clicking noise with your tongue (most dogs respond well to this). The moment your dog looks at you in response, pop an extra delicious treat in his mouth. Repeat this exercise until your dog quickly looks at you when he hears your cue. When taking the attention exercise outside, practice at times when it is relatively quiet and in locations that are not too busy or distracting.

You can also shape attention by simply praising and treating your dog every time he looks at you or glances in your direction while on a walk. Your dog will look at you and check in with you more frequently. If your dog obsesses over you, looking for food, ignore him for a little while. Wait until he stops focusing on you or he looks at something else and becomes mildly distracted. Make the fun attention noise you’ve been shaping. The moment your dog looks at you, praise him and give him a mouth-watering treat. Your dog will begin to look at you when there are distractions outside. Keep rewarding your dog until he checks in with you regularly. Your dog will naturally start to look at you for guidance and direction.

2) Acknowledge and reward your dog for following you without physically forcing or pushing and pulling him to do so. Exaggerate your body language when you walk, turn, and stop. Give your dog positive verbal feedback and reward him for copying you. If you turn, and he turns with you, praise and treat him. When he stops after you do, tell him how great he is. Then cue his behaviors by labeling what you do on walks. For instance, when you stop at a curb, he will too. Tell him to “Wait” as he stands next to you. Then give him a treat. When you start walking again say, “Let’s go.” As you turn or change direction, make a little attention noise before you turn, and say “This way” — you get the idea! Treat him when he turns with you to follow. You are now labeling his behaviors so he can learn to take cues from you.

3) Make walking fun! Your dog’s walk is for his benefit. It is his time to de-stress and enjoy himself. People often are impatient when dogs stop to sniff on walks or when they stop to look at something. They pull or yank their dogs to follow them. Allow your dog to sniff on walks. He will enjoy his walks more and therefore, will be more responsive to you when you give him an instruction or want him to follow you. When your dog stops to look at something, let him. Then say “Let’s go” and praise him for continuing to walk with you.

If you have a dog who likes to chew, take balls or sticks on the walks with you. Let your dog chew or play with the toys, balls, or sticks while you walk together. Your dog will enjoy his walks and your company. He will be much more interested in you, and there will be less disconnect or conflict on the leash.

4) Speed up your walks and vary the pace. Dogs have four legs and a low center of gravity. They walk faster than most people run. Forcing a dog to walk behind you is uncomfortable and extremely unpleasant to him. It sets up a confrontation with your dog when there is no need for one. By quickening the pace of your walk, your dog will pull less and he will get more exercise. If your dog wants to walk quickly, pat your thigh and say “Quickly,” then run with him. Reward him for running with you. Slow down, and then praise and treat him for walking with you again. By allowing him to walk at a more normal pace for him, he will be more relaxed and more attentive to you.

5) Jerk less. Instead of yanking your dog or keeping the leash tight, maintain a relaxed leash. Dogs have an oppositional reflex, which means the more you push or pull against them, the more they will push or pull back in return. This is your dog’s automatic response, regardless of his age or breed. If your dog pulls you or steers you in a direction you do not want him to go in, instead of yanking or pulling back on him, lock your elbow and stiffen your arm, or simply stop for a moment. He will stop what he is doing and slow down or check in with you.

In summary, by praising and rewarding your dog for looking at you, turning with you, and stopping when you do, and by making walks fun and interesting for your dog, he will be more attentive and responsive to you. You’ll both be able to enjoy walks again.


Copyright © Alana Stevenson 2012


Alana Stevenson is the author of  Training Your Dog the Humane Way and The Right Way the First Time. She can be contacted through her website She provides consultations through phone and Skype.

9 thoughts on “Humane Ways to Teach Your Dog to Walk Nicely on Leash

  1. great article every new dog owner should read it or, as in my case review,remember,repeat,practice. & slow down. Sometimes.well to be honest a LOT of the time i am a fast linear walker and that is so not the way to walk a pup. It’s a personal struggle for me, but improvement is helped by reading a article like this one. Thanks!

  2. I have a 2 year old Golden Doodle that i got when he was 8 weeks old, and train him my self with some help from a part time trainer, hes my service dog hes a little over 90lb a very large dog, in stores he walks good most of the time, but when he sees someone he knows then he pulls, and at flea markets he pulls me and stands on his back legs hes almost 6 feet tall and wants to play with the children that scars them, although he will stop when i tell him, if he wanted to he can pull me down I’m 64 years old i have tried so many ways to get him to walk with me with out pulling i use the gentle leader when we walk and he needs not pay any attention in what is around him, just keep looking at me his attention is to be on me, so I’m going to try this with his walking and pray it works.

    1. Here’s what I do, and you need someone to help you with this. Find a quiet place where you can be undisturbed at first. Have your dog on a leash, sitting beside you. Give the other person some treats, and have them approach from 15 feet away or so. If your dog makes the slightest motion towards them, they will quickly turn away and go back where they came from. Bring your dog back to a sit, and try again. When your helper can approach your dog without him moving, he makes a huge fuss and hands out the rewards. Doggie will figure out by himself that good things come to those who wait. Once you can bet money on your dog staying still, your helper will escalate. Gradually end up with your helper being able to approach dancing, waving arms, making a LOT of noise, and deliberately trying to get the dog to break. “Ooooh look at the cute doggie!!! Can I pet him??? Nice doggie!!” and so on. Do this with as many people as you can, in as many different places as you can, and I would eventually try to work some kids in as well. Be consistent. I get friends, neighbors, and total strangers to help, and I meet some really nice people that way.

  3. For an immediate remedy use a Gentle Lead/Haltie collar. They are basically face harnesses. They make pulling virtually impossible. Your dog won’t like it at first. They aren’t used to having something on their nose. Put it on your dog and reward and praise him/her. They get used to it quickly. I know first hand that they work. I had a Basset Hound that was all muscle. His low center of gravity made him so strong that he actually pulled and dislocated my shoulder. He was a happy, loving, dopey dog that was not intentionally trying to hurt anyone. He was a hound. If he picked up a scent he had to follow it. I put a gentle lead on him and he could not pull anyone including my then 6 year old daughter. When they pull it turns their head around. You can then work on loose leash walking and teaching the heel command is a good idea too.

  4. gentle leaders seem really good, HOWEVER, by using one on my foxhound, it threw something out in his neck which required veterinary care.. they are a great teaching device for walking your dog, but you must be very careful not to yank on them. I refuse to use one anymore, I just let him sniff etc…easier than rushing him to the vet..just thought I’d share

  5. Good article in all ways but one. I cringed when she suggested giving a dog a stick or ball to carry while walking. That’s fine in cool weather, but it’s July now, in the peak of summer and too many people inappropriately walk dogs at peak heat times of day just because they themselves are heat tolerant. But many dogs are not, with little ability to cool. Especially brachcephalic (short-nosed) dogs. Anyway, panting is her biggest way to release heat and walking with something in her mouth almost fully halts this cooling process and can be miserable, if not outright dangerous. If you live in a low or moderate humidity area you can do huge and safe evaporative cooling by soaking your dog to the skin before a walk. If the walk is long then carry extra water for this purpose as well as drinking or walk near a stream or lake she can get in to cool off. If you avoid outdoor bodies of water because your dog gets diarrhea drinking from them, often a regular use of high quality probiotics will solve the problem. It’s worth checking in with your vet first though, if your dog has any auto-immune issues.

  6. I have always found the head collars and training harnesses work really well. But as with any training tool they only work if used properly and consistently.

  7. My Newfoundland puppy is starting to do well with heeling on leash. He does have a tendency to lean hard my knee as we walk, which could become a real problem as he gets bigger. Is there a reason for this, and what should I do about it?

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