How To Stop Your Dog From Pulling On The Leash So Much
Your future self will thank you 🙏
You want to take your dog for a long, relaxing walk, but he always ends up walking you.
Well, you’re definitely not alone. Plenty of pet parents are dragged around by their pups, and it doesn’t help that changing your dog’s behavior won’t happen overnight.
In fact, it takes a lot of “compassion, practice and many iterations,” Russell Hartstein, certified dog behaviorist, trainer and founder of Fun Paw Care in Los Angeles, told The Dodo.
But if you’re up for the challenge and are ready to make a change, Hartstein explains how he gets a dog to stop pulling on the leash — so you can finally love walking your dog.
Why do dogs pull on the leash?
Your dog is probably pulling on the leash because it's worked for him before. “Dogs do what works to get reinforcement,” Hartstein said. “If a dog is allowed to pull on the leash to get where they want to go, the pulling behavior gets stronger.”
Some pups are reactive to other dogs or other similar distractions and it’s an extra challenge to get them more interested in you than in these distractions. But read on — it can be done.
Using the wrong gear can also contribute to pulling.
Hartstein recommends against using retractable leashes because “that constantly applies pressure to the connection point on the dog harness or collar.” This teaches a dog that they have to put pressure on the leash to go where they choose, which is the opposite of what you want!
Where should I train my dog not to pull?
When you’re just getting started, Hartstein says to train your dog “in the most boring, non-distracting room inside your home.”
“We always start training new dog behavior in this familiar and boring environment so that your dog can pay attention,” he added.
Once your dog gets the hang of walking on a loose leash in a distraction-free environment, you can start slowly introducing distractions into the training session. For example, this might mean starting out in your house and then moving to the backyard, before finally going for a walk down the street.
What should I use to help my dog walk on a loose leash?
While there are some products that help manage the leash pulling, they won’t exactly train your dog out of the leash-pulling behavior.
“While there are some great products to help parents who struggle with leash-reactive dogs and leash pulling, the parent shouldn’t rely on the front-attaching harness or any other piece of equipment to stop a dog from pulling,” Hartstein said.
With that said, here are some products that make the leash pulling a little more bearable (and some products that you should never use):
To help manage leash pulling, Hartstein recommends using a dog harness with a front-attaching clasp. The idea is that your dog will end up walking sideways when he tries to pull, which makes it easier to control his movements.
Make sure to actually clip your dog’s leash to the front of the harness instead of the back. Attaching it to the back might actually encourage the pulling behavior you don’t want.
Keep in mind that while helpful, a front-attaching dog harness won’t actually train your dog out of the pulling behavior.
Hartstein will sometimes recommend a popular tool known as head harnesses (aka gentle leaders), but only in special cases, like if the pet parent cannot safely walk their pup without one.
“I recommend [these] much less often unless the parent or dog’s safety is an issue,” he said.
Irith Bloom, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of The Sophisticated Dog in Los Angeles, says she also recommends the gentle leader only in fairly extreme cases, like “a 100-pound dog with an 80-pound person, for example,” she told The Dodo.
“For one thing, head harnesses take away the dog’s ability to even look in the direction they want (which is a pretty big loss of control over one’s own body). For another, it takes a lot of conditioning to get a dog comfortable in a head harness (dogs are very different from horses in this way),” Bloom said.
Bloom recommends dog owners attempt leash training and other “less invasive tools” (like the front-attaching harness) before putting your dog in a gentle leader.
When trying to change your dog’s behavior, the best way to do it is “with lots of love and treats,” Hartstein said.
And not just some of the treats, ALL of the treats (and smelly food, too!).
“If you waste a dog's food and treats by giving it to them when you’re not training or in a bowl, your dog will learn very slowly if at all,” Hartstein said.
And don’t just use any kind of treat. Give your dog the good stuff.
“You have to have treats that compete with environmental rewards,” he said. “So don’t give some crumby, low-level treat when outdoors. Use the highest value ones you have and explore many more treats your dog goes crazy for.”
At first, you might even need to cook meat or fish and cut it up into little pieces to get your dog’s attention outside. Eventually, you can graduate to training treats once your dog is regularly giving you his attention during walks.
When you’re ready to walk, put all of your dog's treats in a training pouch and wear it with you outside, Harstein said.
Products to avoid
Hartstein strongly recommends against using any type of averse collar (which uses discomfort or pain as a way to teach), including electric, prong, spray or choke collars.
“They are all designed to inflict pain and do not teach your dog anything,” he said. “In addition, they cause tremendous emotional and behavioral fallout and are not humane.”
Finally, don’t walk your dog with a flat-buckle collar. “It’s not designed for that” and can be dangerous to your dog’s health, Hartstein said.
What is the best method for training my dog not to pull on the leash?
The best approach to getting your dog to walk on a loose leash is to reward him often when he’s doing it right.
Whenever your dog looks at you during your walk, give him a treat. Say his name, and if he looks at you again, he gets another treat.
When your dog’s walking by your side (where you want him to be) give him a treat.
If your dog pulls, immediately stop and call your dog back to you. Ask him to sit if he needs a reset, and give him a treat.
And be sure to watch out for distractions and avoid them as much as possible while he’s still learning.
“If your dog gets overly aroused at dogs, people, squirrels, etc., use environmental blockers such as cars, trees or bushes to block the stimulus that arouses your dog to keep your dog under their threshold of arousal and fear,” Hartstein said. “This will make your life much easier.”
If he’s reactive to other dogs, you may need to ask him to sit across the street from a passing dog and feed him treats as the dog walks by. Eventually, he may be able to sit on the same side of the street as a dog passes, and if you work with him long enough, he may be able to walk by a dog as you’re giving him treats (if they’re high-value enough!).
This process involves a lot of patience and a lot of treats —so cut down on his kibble at meals if he’s getting handfuls of hot dogs during walks, for example, to make sure he’s not eating too much. With time and consistency, you’ll have the well-trained dog other parents are jealous of!
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