How to Stop Your Dog from Pulling the Leash

When a dog pulls on the leash, first, stop and stand still. Next, don’t move until your dog turns towards you or takes a step back towards you so the tension on the leash relaxes. Third, once the tension on the leash is relaxed, continue your walk. This teaches your dog that the fastest way to get where s/he wants to go is by walking by your side or near you on a loose leash. Be consistent and repeat this every time your dog pulls, until s/he learns.

cartoon dog pulling leash

Now, for a more in-depth look:

First of all - what you should avoid: any techniques that emphasize you as the “pack leader” or dominating your dog should be avoided. Dog psychology has mostly debunked this kind of approach. Because the truth is -- dogs are not wolves. Modern dogs evolved alongside human beings, not in wolf packs. Dogs do not pull leashes because they want to be the alpha dog, but rather because they are excited and because you just don’t walk as fast as they prefer to walk!  Another technique to avoid is yanking the leash. Your dog should choose to walk with you, and you should not enforce that with aggression. Modern dog training is most effective, and it emphasizes positive training methods that reward, rather than punish your dog.

Second, you may want to consider using dog harnesses to help with leash pulling until you are able to properly train your dog. Note: we do not recommend choke collars or other equipment that cause a dog pain. However, a well-fitted chest-led harness with a ring in front. This prevents the dog from feeling pain since the pressure is felt throughout its body instead of on the neck. It also makes pulling less effective, because the harness will turn the dog’s body instead of allowing it to pull. Another option, until you have your training down, is a leash with a padded handle. This one by Gordon Wear has a firm and comfortable padded handle so your hands are protected if your dog pulls.

Third, recognize that you may need different techniques for different leash pulling circumstances. Type of dog leash pulling include: pulling on walks, leash lunging or aggression, and prey-drive pulling. A dog that constantly pulls on the leash during walks is different than a dog that has a high prey-drive and pulls when it sees a squirrel or cat. In addition, leash reactivity or leash aggression are also different issues that require different solutions.

General leash pulling when you walk your dog: If your dog is constantly pulling on the leash during walks, try the “stop until slack” technique outlined at the beginning of this article. You can also supplement that by addressing your dog in an excited voice and saying, “Let’s Go!” as you turn away and walking the opposite direction. Once your dog starts following you, and the leash is slack, then you can turn back around and move in the original direction. This gives the message that pulling will not get your dog what s/he wants. Your dog will learn that only loose leash walking by your side or slightly in front of you will work. When your dog does do the right thing -- walking by your side and not pulling -- you can reward this with words of praise (“Good walking!”) or a treat.

Leash lunging or leash aggression: When a dog lunges or acts aggressive on a leash, it is because the dog feels threatened or constrained and frustrated and, if s/he was not on a leash, would probably run away. Since the leash prevents that, the dog may act aggressively (defensively) to scare of the source of its fear.  It is natural to move your dog away from a situation where s/he is acting aggressively, but in this case the dog is getting what s/he wants and your actions reinforce the technique, so it will likely be repeated. First, what not to do: don’t punish the dog -- punishing fear is never a good idea, for anyone! Instead, distract your dog so s/he feels less insecure. Next, the way to prevent leash lunging is to first identify the source of tension or fear. Once you know what causes the fear, you can try to desensitize your dog to it. Do this by anticipating when your dog will encounter the source of the fear and use positive reinforcement (offering treats, play with your dog, etc.) to distract and give your dog a different emotional experience. Finally, once your dog starts reacting aggressively, you can try to give your dog positive experiences. For example, if the source of tension was another dog, let your dog great the other dog side by side, for a few seconds at a time. When the interaction is successful, praise your dog and move on. As time goes on s/he will feel comfortable enough to spend longer with other dogs.

Leash pulling related to dog’s prey-drive: When a dog is on a walk, it is excited and stimulated by its surroundings. The sight of a squirrel, or cat, or deer or other animal, my further excite it. Dogs with a high prey-drive may become singularly focused on pursuing the animal and tug sharply on the leash. Some people suggest that this can only be handled with techniques such as jerking the leash or shock collars, but we do not recommend this at all. Being aggressive with your dog may cause more aggression, or may cause your dog to lose trust in you. One positive way to deal with the dogs pulling when they see squirrels is to desensitize them. First, get your dog’s attention with a treat or voice command, and reward your dog for turning towards you. Second, ask your dog to sit or follow any other simple command. Third, take one small step towards the stimulating area (such as where the squirrels are). Repeat these steps. If your dog starts to pull, move back a few steps and repeat steps one to three. Other techniques to use if your dog pulls when it sees squirrels is to: 1. Anticipate when your dog will pull. Keep an eye out for squirrels or other stimuli, and distract your dog before s/he fixates on the squirrel.  2. Avoid walks where there are too many stimuli. 3. Use equipment like a chest harness or face collar to make pulling less successful, or a padded handled leash to protect your hand.

To sum it all up - just because your dog pulls on the leash, doesn’t mean you should be punishing him. Using positive training methods to communicate to your dog that leash pulling won’t get him what he wants, and an awareness of what is causing the leash pulling in the first place, are your best bets!