How to Stop a Dog Pulling On the Leash: Tips & Tricks for Frustrated Owners
There are a few things that are a bit tricky to reinforce in a dog’s life, but none of them are as frustrating as teaching the dog how to walk nicely. Indeed, we all know that keeping the dog on the leash is sometimes a must. We never know when it will give in to its impulses and run away without saying goodbye. But how to stop a dog pulling on the leash without punishing it for its behavior? Well, that’s what you’re about to find out.
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The thing is — it’s very reasonable of dogs to find leashes annoying. Imagine how it would feel if someone had that much control over you. We all want to be as free as birds, and most of us actually are. But not dogs, at least not until they’re trained well. And, as you’re about to see, a dog might be pulling on the leash for a variety of reasons, some of which don’t have anything to do with you in particular.
Dogs tend to see impulses as wishes. If you’ve ever played that game Sims, you would know what we’re talking about. In their minds, everything they think — they immediately want to explore those ideas further. Whether it’s another dog that has just walked by or a beautiful flower they would love to smell — dogs give in to their impulses rather effortlessly.
However, pulling on the leash is a bit different than other impulse control problems. First, the dog might easily injure us by pulling too hard. Imagine having a huge dog pull you around the park because it has seen a friend. Can you even tackle it? Can you even stop it?
Of course, that’s not the problem with smaller dogs. But, smaller dogs do sometimes have a temper, and they might pull because they’re annoyed with someone. In any case, these situations, as well as dogs pulling on leashes in crowds, across a jam-packed street, etc., can put both our and the dog’s life in jeopardy.
Besides, self-control, which does involve not pulling the leash, is a rather nice trait to have. Nobody wants their dog to wreak havoc around the house or in the park. Likewise, no one wants to avoid handing the leash to their child because they’re afraid the dog might run away and drag the kid with it.
In the end, proper training helps structurize a dog’s life, not to mention give it a purpose. But before we see how to stop a dog pulling on the leash, let’s find out why it’s even doing it.
Why do dogs pull anyway?
They’re faster than us.
Let’s face it — most of us wouldn’t be able to outrun a German Shepherd or even a Daschund. Though dogs are generally smaller than us (most breeds anyway), they possess enough force and strength in their bodies to literally drag us around.
What’s more, all dogs have a problem with us being slow — not just the bigger breeds. The highlight of a dog’s day is going outside, peeing everywhere, and hanging out with its other furry friends. To have someone get in the way of that — well, it’s just horrible! They don’t want to lose any time, so they pull as hard as they can.
They’re seeking control.
On a more serious note, a dog that probably wants to stay the alpha in the household is more likely to pull on the leash. Such dogs love being in control of things, and you can bet they won’t allow anyone to restrict or otherwise limit their movement.
Many have tried explaining it nicely to such dogs that they have to listen, but the root cause is rarely addressed. Sometimes, the dog is acting this way because it’s anxious or scared. Other times, it’s because someone has maltreated it all its life — so it doesn’t want to allow that again.
Whatever the case may be, patience and consistency go a long way when leash training a dog. All you have to do is be brave enough not to succumb to pressure and hand over the leash so that the dog takes itself for a walk!
Everything else is much more interesting than we are.
It’s not that our dogs don’t like us — they just find other animals, nature and the general hubbub of our neighborhood far more interesting than us.
Most dog owners are, thus, encouraged to try to entertain their dogs during walks or while in the backyard. The dog will feel much more at ease with us if we show some general interest. Besides, they thrive on incentives. Whether they’ll get to play with their favorite toy for a bit or have a few sneaky treats — any high-value reward will make a dog more keen on us.
We’ve already lost too much control or have been rewarding bad behavior.
Really think about this now — what do you do when your dog pulls on the leash? Do you pull it back or let go completely? Do you find the action annoying yet haven’t tried to rectify it?
A dog goes through its formative years, or rather months, by picking up on our cues and learning from them. If we implement dog training in our daily routine, the dog is bound to figure out what it may or may not do. However, when it comes to pulling on the leash, we tend to struggle a bit, mostly because — what can we do except pull it back?
The main issue here is the fact that the dog knows pulling WORKS. It works every time because in most cases, we just give up! We have two choices. We can either pull the dog back or let it go and then try to heal our arm at home later. But, that’s a positive reinforcement of otherwise bad behavior, and if it goes on for a while, it will make rectification almost impossible.
Still, it doesn’t have to be that way. We did say almost, right? There are things you can start implementing right now. And if you do well, not only will you be able to avoid pulling, but you might not even have to use a leash at all!
- Wait before putting the leash on
- Freeze when your dog pulls
- Opt for a collar rather than a harness
- Avoid punishing your dog
- Make yourself the Alpha
- Get your dog in the correct position
How to stop a dog pulling on the leash #1: Wait before putting on the leash
Most dogs get way too excited when they even hear the sound of their favorite human taking the leash. It’s like this fairly basic item completely bewitches them. But it’s all rather logical.
Dogs are much smarter than we think they are, and they’re able to associate positive experiences with things and people. Thus, they will jump around as soon as they hear the leash because they know it’s walk time!
So why are we telling you to wait before putting on the leash? Well, it’s another form of bad behavior, or rather lack of impulse control, that you’re reinforcing when you don’t wait for the dog to calm down first. If it doesn’t calm down, the appropriate reaction will be — the dog won’t get to go outside fast enough.
Besides, to train a dog to do anything at all, you first have to tackle impulse control. And, if you haven’t guessed it yet, jumping for the leash is the first challenge before you.
How to stop a dog pulling on the leash #2: Freeze when the dog pulls (become a tree!)
Now, this one you might have already heard of, but it doesn’t hurt to reinforce the importance of “freezing” when the dog pulls on the leash.
This move works like magic over time; the dog will take the hint after a few freezes. It will understand that:
- We aren’t moving
- To go forward, we have to move.
The gist of this approach is that with enough freezes, the dog will have no other choice but to wait it out. What’s more, it will gather over time that something in its behavior is making us stop. And that’s not what dogs want. They want to keep going forward because there’s a whole new world waiting for them out there!
How to stop a dog pulling on the leash #3: Opt for a collar instead of a harness (but no choke chains!)
This one might be a bit controversial, but it’s necessary to mention the equipment that could make leash training a bit easier for you.
For starters, even though using a dog harness seems like the best possible idea now, consider how the harness is made. It doesn’t go around the neck of the dog, so there’s nothing that would create urgency so that the dog stops pulling immediately. Additionally, the harness goes around the body of the dog, giving it the ability to use all its strength to pull forward.
Of course, there are no-pull harnesses you could try if you think using a collar is too much. If you do, don’t worry — we won’t judge you. A collar is sometimes an unavoidable evil, but in the beginning, it’s necessary. Still, you have to make sure you’re not punishing the dog in any way, shape, or form.
That’s why we’d also refrain from choke chains. No dog deserves to be choked while out for a walk, or any time for that matter. Besides, these are supposed to be used by professionals only, as they can inflict pain upon the dog — and we definitely don’t want that!
Another thing you could consider is a head halter. However, although this seems like a fine idea for a bigger dog, know that a halter can very easily annoy the dog. In any case, it’s quite restricting and unnecessary if you listen to the other tips we’ve listed here.
How to stop a dog pulling on the leash #4: Avoid punishing the dog — it won’t get you anywhere
In line with what we’ve just discussed, we have to reflect on the issue of punishment.
Some people are quite forceful when it comes to dog training, and they believe that animals deserve neither our respect nor kindness. We hope you can understand that a pet is not an animal that’s in your home by accident. We always choose our pets, whether we buy them as puppies or pick them out from a bunch of poor dogs at the pound.
So why should we avoid punishment? For starters, it won’t get us anywhere, as the dog will only see the leash training as a rather bad experience. Furthermore, we could harm our relationship with the dog, especially if we resort to using physical violence. Even screaming at the dog doesn’t have a purpose — they cannot talk back, can they? They cannot say “sorry” or anything similar. So it’s a “giant against an animal” situation, and it’s just not how you should treat a pet.
Instead of using punishment, opt to make each experience a positive one for the dog. Don’t get frustrated immediately if it pulls on the leash when something distracts it. Changing the dog’s perspective regarding walks and leashes takes time, and you just have to be patient. So, instead of mistreating the dog, use incentives to your advantage. Treats will serve you well, especially while trying to keep the dog’s attention on you and not its surroundings.
How to stop a dog pulling on the leash #5: Make yourself the alpha by teaching the dog how to walk to heel
It’s important for the dog to realize that we’re in charge of the leash. However, to do that, we first have to learn how to get the dog’s attention.
One of the best ways to practice both leash training and having the dog focus on you is through teaching the dog how to walk to heel.
You’ll easily find many guides on this online, but let’s break it down in just a few basic steps here:
Step #1: Get the dog in the proper position
In most cases, the dog should walk on your left side. Still, if that doesn’t suit you, feel free to change it. The important thing is to use a cue so that the dog knows you want:
- a) its attention
- b) for it to follow the command.
Practice the commands
You can use any command that feels good, though most owners use “Right here.” Supplement that with a wave of the hand, a slap on your hip or with a treat. Over time, the dog will pick up on that cue and come near you, exactly where you want it to be.
As far as the leash goes, keep it loose. A tight leash will only reinforce pulling.
Step #2: Baby steps
Once you have the dog’s attention and you’ve successfully “lured” it to come and sit/stand beside you, it’s time to take your first step. Notice what we said — first step. Don’t start walking immediately and expect the dog to follow you perfectly. Walk to heel training takes time, so adjust to the dog’s pace.
After each successful step, give the dog a treat.
Step #3: Introduce speed and direction changes
Once the dog knows how to walk by your side, it’s time to take it to the next level by changing the speed or the direction. After each successful attempt, reward it. Make sure the dog knows it’s doing a good job — praise it a lot. Still, ensure it doesn’t go back to its old habits of pulling you.
How to stop a dog pulling on leash #4: Avoid distractions during the first few training sessions
As mentioned, dogs can get easily distracted, especially if they see something that’s completely new to them. Whether it’s a ball, a butterfly or another dog, they will try to get to it, sniff it out and decide if it’s a friend or foe.
But distractions can hinder our leash training progress, as we’ll have to make a lot of pauses. A dog needs continuous constructive training. There’s little chance they’ll be able to learn anything if something keeps interrupting them.
Now, impulse control is essential for this part too, but teaching your dog self-control doesn’t happen overnight. So, before losing all your temper and giving up, aim to keep your training sessions private. Don’t even have anyone from your family there, as the dog will most likely become transfixed with them. It should just be you and the dog, preferably in the backyard or in an empty area of the park.
Once the behavior has been reinforced plenty of times, you can then introduce distractions. But, in any case, go slowly and don’t overwhelm the dog. You’ll feel angry because it presumably hasn’t learned anything, and the dog will feel bad because of that.
Give your pooch the best chance by slowly introducing distractions and watching how it reacts to them. If it reacts, correct the behavior, and try again.
How to stop a dog pulling on the leash #5: Train for about 5 to 10 minutes every day — not for hours on end
Although it’s tempting to spend hours training the dog, we have to remember that dog’s don’t have such a long attention span. Besides, they will get hungry, want to have some fun, and cuddle.
In essence, dogs are a bit like toddlers; when they’re tired, they are tired, and nothing will make them listen to you then. So, instead of spending an hour teaching a dog how not to pull on the leash, aim for 5-10 minute sessions. In the beginning, you’ll do those at home, but later on, you’ll practice while walking the dog.
How to stop a dog pulling on leash #6: Change directions often
Another way of making the dog aware of the fact that you’re in charge is changing the direction.
Now, this one is sort of similar to the “freeze” approach. However, instead of stopping this time, you should simply turn around when the dog starts pulling on the leash.
Dogs want to go forward all the time — they don’t like going backward — so the pooch will instantly follow you. With many repetitions, this change of direction will tell it that it has to listen to you and display proper behavior. Otherwise, you’ll keep changing the flow of the walk!
How to stop a dog pulling on the leash #7: Tire the dog out before the walk
Finally, it goes without saying that pulling on the leash means the dog has plenty of energy. So, if you want to stop this sort of behavior, or rather curb it just a little bit, aim to tire the dog out before taking it for a walk.
Of course, the level of success you’ll have with this tip will depend on how old the dog is. As we all know, puppies and certain breeds have a lot of energy, so they might yearn for plenty of stimulation. You probably won’t have this issue with Bulldogs. On the other hand — Bulldogs will pull a lot harder than some other breeds.
So, before going for a walk, why not take a ball and enjoy a play session with the pooch? That way, by the time you get to the park, the dog will already be a bit tired, so it won’t be able to pull as hard as usual. In fact, it just might lower its guard a bit, which is a fantastic time to reinforce better behavior.
Although learning how to stop a dog pulling on the leash requires plenty of patience and consistency, we can all do it if we just try hard enough.
Never forget that a dog is still someone you’ve chosen as your best friend. With that in mind, keep trying to correct its behavior so that it can live a long and satisfying life. After all, you’ll help it learn how to walk beside you and relax, which will do much more for its socialization and general behavior than a plain old dog-owner tug of war.
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Most common problems that your dog may start.
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