Teaching your dog to walk nicely on the lead

by Jenna Kiddie

How to Stop your Dog Pulling on the Lead

Our how-to guide and top tips for teaching your dog to walk nicely on the lead.

Puppies and dogs can understandably get really excited when they are out for walks with lots of fun things going on around them that they will be keen to explore. We need to show them how to walk calmly on the lead to ensure that their owner is safe from being pulled over! This is also a fantastic starting point for teaching puppies to be calm and polite when meeting new people and four-legged friends!

 Why do dogs pull on the lead?

Dogs pull on the lead for one very simple reason, because they’ve learned that’s how they get to move forward. When your dog pulls and you take one step in the direction they want to go, that gives your dog a clear signal that pulling works.

How do I stop my dog from pulling?

You’ll need to teach them that if they pull you stop walking, and that walking next to you with a loose lead means they get to move forward.

Teaching your dog to walk with a loose lead is not a quick process. It takes a great deal of patience and time, often several months, and there are no shortcuts. The good news is that the training itself is simple, although it does require a commitment from you. You should expect walks to take longer during this time, but if you can stick with it the rewards will be pleasant walks and a calm, happy dog who no longer pulls.

Equipment

A quick internet search will reveal a vast range of equipment marketed as a ‘cure’ for pulling, which can look very appealing, but is any of it any good? Unfortunately, some equipment causes pain or discomfort when the dog pulls (e.g. by causing tension in a sensitive area). This can be both unnecessary and confusing for your dog, who still needs the opportunity to learn that pulling is not a successful way of moving forwards.

Your dog should ideally be walked on whatever piece of equipment is most comfortable for them (i.e. a flat harness or collar). If you are at risk of losing control when walking your dog, you should consider other suitable options that do not cause pain, such as a front attaching harness.

Method

  • The second the lead goes tight, stop walking. Simply stand still, keep quiet and don’t move forward again until the lead is slack, then walk on. Don’t jerk the lead back – just stand and wait. If your dog does not turn back to you, try walking a couple of steps in the opposite direction to get their focus back.
  • Reward your dog whenever they are walking next to you on a loose lead. Keep some treats handy but out of the way (in a treat pouch, or pocket). You’ll probably need to use lots of treats at the start, but as your dog gets better you can cut down and eventually phase treats out completely. Remember to keep walking forwards as you give your dog treats to avoid stopping and starting.
  • Initially practise in quiet areas, walking up and down with no distractions so that your dog can get the hang of it quickly. It’s much easier for your dog to learn new behaviours in quiet places where they won’t be easily distracted. 

Key points

  • DO NOT REWARD PULLING. When your dog pulls on the lead, stand still and wait for the lead to become slack. Above all, do not move in the direction of the pull.
  • DO REWARD loose lead walking. Walk forwards with your dog and reward them when they are walking nicely by your side with tasty treats.
  • When the dog is in the right position the lead should always be hanging loose with no tension.
  • DON’T PUNISH when your dog pulls (don’t tell your dog off or tug back), positive reinforcement is much more effective.
  • Be 100% CONSISTENT each time you go out with your dog – this may take time will be well worth the effort and make walks even more enjoyable for you and your dog.

CHEAT ALERT! If you’re not able to be 100% consistent it can make things easier to have two different pieces of equipment – one to teach your dog pulling does not work, and the other to use when you don’t have time (i.e. if you’re running late for work or in a rush).

Use two very different harnesses, or a collar and a harness. Decide which you want to use in the long term (when they are no longer pulling) – this is your training equipment. Ideally this should be the new one that your dog has no prior association with. The other one you can use in the short term as ‘permission to pull’ when you don’t have time for training. Your dog will learn the difference between the two and that they can pull on one but not the other. But be aware it’s likely to take your dog longer to learn to stop pulling with this method.