Is your dog making walks miserable by pulling on leash like a mad man? This is one of the most common struggles owners have with their dogs. No matter the size or breed, many dogs tend to pull badly on leash!
In my career as a dog trainer, I have even encountered owners who had to have rotator cuff surgery because their dog was pulling so badly!
Luckily, there are ways to teach your dog (positively!) to walk nicely besides you. Today I will share the top 7 ideas I give to my clients to help with leash pulling.
#1 Don’t let your dog pull you
The #1 reason that dogs pull on leash is because it works for them. They get to go on a walk while pulling – they are not sad that they pull or even know they are doing anything wrong! Instead, pulling works great for them. If you truly want to change your dog’s leash pulling habits, don’t let your dog pull you around. In the beginning this will mean that you cannot continue your walks as you have been doing them. Your dog has an ingrained behavioral history of dragging you around – unless we change how we train him, his behavior will not change. While you retrain leash walking, you need to be extremely consistent and not let your dog pull you around.
#2 Turn around as soon as your dog pulls
Many dog owners have a general idea of how they can stop leash pulling by turning around as soon as their dog pulls. However, they are not very consistent in applying it. If you own a dog that pulls badly, you will have to turn around every couple feet in the beginning! Your whole walk may only be in front of your driveway, going up and down without ever actually making it around the block at first. That is completely normal. You need to be consistent and turn around as soon as your dog reaches the end of the leash. This is the most effective way to show him that pulling is not going to work anymore in getting to go for a walk!
#3 Don’t confuse pulling with reactivity
Dogs that are reactive and dogs that have poor leash manners can look similar. You should not confuse leash pulling with reactivity – these two behavioral issues require very different solutions. If your dog is constantly pulling on the leash regardless of whether dogs and people are around, he most likely has a leash walking problem. If he only pulls on leash when he sees people or dogs (combined with barking and lunging), then he might need to have behavioral training for leash-reactivity.
#4 Separate training and exercise
If you follow the recommendation to truly turn around as soon as your dog pulls, you will not make it very far. Perhaps you are concerned about your dog getting enough exercise when you are just walking up and down in front of your house – and you yourself want to get your 3,000 steps in as well!
It is crucial to separate training and exercise when working on leash pulling. It will be impossible to have your dog at the same time learn to not pull and walk ½ mile every day. You need to separate the two – training will be turning around as soon as your dog pulls. Exercise can be playing fetch in the yard, running in an enclosed area with other dogs, going to doggy daycare etc.
Do not attempt to mix training and exercise, because it will not work.
#5 Go for walks – many, many walks
The dogs that pull the worst are usually the ones that do not go for walks very often. They may only hit the road 2 or 3 times a week, making each outing a really special occasion! You should strive to “normalize” walks for your dog. The more often you take him on your training walks, the less of a big deal they will become. If you have 30 minutes every day to walk your dog, you will make the best progress if you walk him 4 times for 7 minutes each! As with everything in your dog’s life – rarity makes the walks a huge deal. If your dog gets to go on short walks all the time, they will quickly become “just another walk” and his overall excitement will be much lower.
#6 Use treats smartly
You can definitely use treats in your leash training process, but make sure you do it smartly. A big mistake I see is that owners stop when their dog pulls, then the dog walks back to them to take a treat and heads right back to pulling. This is not a behavior chain you want to encourage your dog to form!
Instead, use treats when your dog is already walking nicely by your side. He should only be rewarded for staying in the position, not for dashing back, getting a treat and pulling again.
You should also watch out to always deliver the treats by your side and not in front of you. Otherwise you can end up with an overly motivated dog who always tries to get in front of you and get a treat – this will make walking very tedious.
#7 Don’t walk with a super-charged dog
Every dog has times of the day when they are “super-charged”. These are the periods when they have the most energy, usually right after waking up and before going to sleep at night. Walking a wound up dog is going to set you and the dog up for failure. Instead, try to tire out your dog in some other way – by playing with toys or hiding treats around the yard for him to find. Take him for his walks when he has already taken the edge off his energy, this will make it much more enjoyable and successful for the two of you!
The Bottom Line
Retraining leash walking comes down to consistency. The most effective way is to turn around every single time that your dog pulls. While this is not fun at all and also won’t allow you to walk your dog on his usual path, it is the best way to show him that pulling won’t let him go where he wants to go. You need to stick to the plan and carry it out several times a day if you want to fix your dog’s leash pulling quickly and with lasting results.
While the retraining process can seem tedious, don’t give up – it will all be worth it when you can walk your dog without having your arm pulled!