Walking with your canine companion is not fun if your dog pulls on his leash.
Dogs pulling on the leash is not good for the pups either. For example, how many times have you seen a dog choking on the leash when the animal lunges at another dog or tries to chase a squirrel?
But what can you do to prevent your furry friend from becoming unruly and dragging you all over the place when you take him out for a walk?
Read this guide to learn how to stop your dog from pulling on the leash.
Why Does My Dog Pull on the Leash?
Often, you can successfully leash train your dog to walk obediently on his leash in a confined space inside your home. However, the minute you take your pet to the park or for a stroll around your neighborhood, he starts pulling your arm out!
That’s so frustrating. But why does your dog pull?
Dogs instinctively want to get where they’re going as quickly as possible. Canines are also hardwired to explore their environment, which can include chasing birds, squirrels, and livestock. That’s especially the case if your dog is a herding or hunting breed.
So to get where he feels he needs to be, it’s your dog’s natural reflex to lean against the pressure of the leash and pull forward. However, if you own a puller, the good news for you is that you can train your dog not to pull on his leash!
If a dog pulls on his leash, that behavior poses a danger both to himself and his handler.
You can finish up with nasty friction burns on your hands, strained forearm muscles, and even damaged shoulder joints. When a very powerful dog is involved, you could be pulled right off your feet in severe cases.
One big problem for dogs that pull on the leash is choking.
We recommend using a correctly fitted harness rather than attaching the leash directly to the dog’s collar.
When the dog pulls or jerks against the handler in an effort to lunge after something or simply pulls hard to get to the park as quickly as possible, the collar puts immense pressure on the dog’s neck.
That pressure can cause serious injuries to the tissues underneath the collar, such as the dog’s windpipe. In severe cases, the dog’s trachea can collapse, putting the dog in danger of suffocating.
Again, when a collar puts undue pressure on the dog’s neck and throat, the irritation causes coughing. Prolonged periods of coughing will eventually lead to discomfort and throat problems for your pet.
Retractable Leash Injuries
Some owners like to use a retractable leash. That style of leash allows the dog to run to the end of the leash and enjoy some freedom while remaining under the handler’s control.
However, retractable leash injuries are common and can include:
- The dog’s legs get tangled in the extended leash.
- Serious injuries can be inflicted on the handler’s fingers and legs.
- The owner gets bitten while trying to disentangle two dogs from their leashes.
Unfortunately, some dogs have died as a result of getting loose, and the retractable leash handle automatically reeled in the leash at speed, hitting the dog on the back of the head.
What Equipment Do I Need?
Before addressing your dog’s pulling habit, you need to ensure you have the right equipment for your pup.
We recommend using a 6-foot leash. The leash should be wide enough to prevent friction burns to your hand if the dog pulls but lightweight and comfortable for your dog.
You’ll also need a 15- to 50-feet long line for your dog to wear during unstructured exploration sessions.
For the reasons mentioned above, we do not recommend retractable leashes.
Your dog should wear a traditional collar bearing his ID and rabies tags.
Don’t attach the leash directly to the collar, as that could cause injury.
What About Training Collars?
So-called training collars, including prong, slip, choke, and electronic collars, are all designed to cause the dog pain, preventing him from pulling.
Basically, when the dog pulls, the leash tightens, causing pain around the dog’s neck. When the dog walks politely on a loose leash, the pain stops. In theory, the dog should learn that pulling = pain, and his leash manners should improve.
However, there are a few problems with using training collars:
- Successful training uses positive reinforcement and reward-based methods, not pain. Inflicting pain on your dog could make him afraid of you and destroy the close bond of friendship and mutual trust you’re working to build.
- Training collars can cause injuries.
- Some styles of training collars can cause strangulation if entangled.
- If the dog experiences pain when pulling to get toward a person or dog, he might associate the pain with that dog or person. That can cause aggression toward or fear of strangers, other dogs, or whatever else the dog is pulling toward.
For all those reasons, we strongly discourage the use of training collars.
A correctly-fitted harness is the best tool for teaching loose leash walking and training good leash behavior.
Your dog should only wear his harness while on his leash.
The harness should:
- Be quick and easy to put on and take off
- Not rub or chafe
- Allow free movement of the dog’s shoulder
- Prevent the dog from slipping out of the harness. Use a double-H harness for security if you have a deep-chested breed, such as a greyhound.
- Have at least two leash attachment points: below the dog’s neck and between his front legs, and on the back between the shoulder blades
Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the harness fits your dog correctly.
A head collar fits around the dog’s nose and ears like a horse halter. Head collars can provide extra control for very strong dogs but must be used and fitted with care.
When you use a head collar, you’ll need a second leash connected to the dog’s harness for safety. The safety leash is designed to prevent the dog’s head from being tugged sharply to the side if he lunges suddenly to the side, which could injure the dog’s neck.
A head collar is not the best choice for every dog; it can take time to condition a dog to wear one.
How to Prevent Your Dog From Pulling on the Leash
Now, here’s how to train your dog not to pull on his leash.
Before you begin your leash training, it’s a good idea to give your dog a game of fetch or tug-of-war in your backyard. That can help to take the edge off your dog’s energy.
2. Choose a Small, Quiet Area
Teaching leash manners is always difficult if your dog is distracted by things going on around him. So, choose a small, quiet area in your home or yard in which to work.
3. Reward-Based Training Method
Start by clipping your dog’s leash to his harness and standing quietly with your dog beside you.
As soon as there’s a tiny bit of slack in the leash, praise your dog and quickly give him a couple of his favorite treats.
Take a couple of steps forward, keeping a few delicious treats in a closed fist at your side. Your dog should follow you with his nose fixed on the treats, remaining focused on the potential reward and keeping the leash slack. Reward your dog again.
4. Treat, Walk, Repeat
Continue working as above, taking a few steps forward and rewarding your dog with a treat.
Choose a cue word that your dog can associate with walking nicely on his leash and receiving a reward for doing so. You might want to say, “Let’s go!” or “Walk On!” using a happy, excited voice.
Each time you walk forward, use your cue words. The dog quickly learns that the cue means he’ll receive a reward for loose leash walking.
5. Take It Outside!
Once your dog is calmly walking on a loose leash at home, you can up the ante by taking him outside where there are more distractions. Using your backyard to recruit a helper to distract your dog and encourage him to pull can be helpful.
Keep your treat-filled fist by your side, making it clear to your dog that you’re carrying some delicious treats for him. Repeat the exercise you worked on indoors, gradually walking further. Every so often, stop and reward your dog.
Fido should be so engrossed in getting another treat that he forgets everything else, including pulling!
If your dog still persists in pulling, it’s worth enrolling in a class for leash walking.
My Cockapoo puppy was a nightmare to walk on her leash when I first began training her! She would pull and strain against the leash, lunging forward and diving from side to side as she tried to go faster.
I found that attending group classes with a pro trainer was extremely helpful. Not only did Lottie learn to behave in the company of other dogs and puppies, but I stopped feeling so useless as a pet parent as I met other people with the same problem.
Often, working with other pet parents and their dogs can be an excellent way of improving your dog’s behavior, and you’ll have a professional coach on hand to help you.
Barking and Lunging
If your dog persists in barking or frantically attempting to chase cars, dogs, strangers, bicycles, etc., you need to ask for some professional help from your vet or an animal behavioral consultant.
Sometimes, a dog lunges or barks out of fear. Other times, the behavior can simply be triggered by excitement, especially if the dog is bred to hunt or herd.
In these cases, you’ll need to seek professional help and advice.
In this part of our guide, we answer some of the questions most often asked by people whose dogs pull.
Q: Why won’t my dog poop when he’s on his leash?
A: What can you do if your dog won’t poop while on his leash?
Dogs generally don’t poop while on their leash because they are too busy checking out what’s going on around them and are distracted.
Some pups simply don’t enjoy going outside for a potty break and will even wait until they’re back in your home’s warm, cozy environment. Other dogs prefer a little privacy to do their business, and you might have more success if you use a longer leash so that your pup can have more space.
Q: Will a fox attack a dog on a leash?
A: If you live in a rural area, you should keep your dog leashed to prevent him from chasing or attacking wildlife or livestock. But will a fox attack a dog on a leash?
If you do encounter a fox, it’s highly unlikely it will attack your dog on his leash. In addition, foxes are more likely to flee from a dog running loose than attack it.
Q: Do dogs grow out of leash pulling?
A: Unfortunately, dogs don’t typically grow out of pulling on their leash. However, if you take the time to leash-train your dog and stick with it, there’s a good chance you will cure your canine companion of the pulling habit.
Q: Will my dog ever stop pulling on the leash?
A: We’re confident that your dog will eventually stop pulling on his leash with suitable reward-based training, as described earlier in this article.
However, if the habit persists, we recommend you consult a professional dog behavioral expert.
Q: How do I get my dog to stop pulling hard while on walks?
A: First of all, you need to be a gentle leader. Do not punish or scold your dog, and don’t use harsh training aids, such as prong collars. If your dog associates pain with pulling toward something he wants, such as the dog park or another pup, he will quickly come to regard the object he desires with pain. That can make the dog aggressive and afraid, which will cause problems in other areas of your training.
Instead, when your dog pulls, distract your pet with a special treat and use reward-based training methods to keep your dog’s attention completely on you while walking. Before you take your dog for a walk on his leash, it can be helpful to give your pet a game of fetch or tug-of-war in your yard to give him some mental stimulation and burn off his excess energy.
Q: How long does it take to train a dog not to pull on the leash?
A: It can take several months to completely train a dog not to pull on his leash, although that timeline can also depend on the dog’s personality, age, and breed.
Q: Can you still train a 4-year-old dog to stop pulling on the leash?
A: Yes, you can train an older dog not to pull on his leash. However, the retaining process might take longer if the habit has become deeply ingrained over a few years.
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Dogs typically pull to get to something they want. However, you can retrain your dog by using consistent, reward-based training methods to distract him. The key to success is encouraging your dog to burn off any excess energy before starting loose leash training with a game in your backyard. Once your dog is tired, you can start loose leash training him.
Choose a small, quiet area for training. Offer your dog a special treat if he stays walking calmly alongside you. Repeat that after a few steps, gradually building up the distance you cover.
If you taught your dog not to pull on the leash, tell us how you did that in the comments box below!