Dog Training: 5 Steps to Stop Leash Pullers in Their Tracks

Dog pulling his owner during walk

It’s a classic story: a dog goes on a walk, dog hauls owner all over the sidewalk.  By the time you get back home, your shoulder is sore and you are contemplating getting a gerbil instead.  Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like this.  

Whether you are just starting your journey of reforming a chronic puller or you have a long relationship with a dog who hauls you around the neighborhood, there are several steps you can take to convince them to cut it out.  Here are five steps you can take to help your dog improve their leash manners and stop running you ragged on walks:

Change Their Collar to a Harness

Unfortunately, the traditional buckle collar for pups is one that is most comfortable to pull against.  Switch your tug-happy dog to a chest harness, like this one, to discourage pulling.  Harnesses apply pressure to the front of the chest when the dog pulls, and, if you attach the leash to the front clip of the harness, pulls the dog to one side.  Your dog will dislike the feeling when they pull and will self-correct with time.  

For your own safety, use a two-point hold when walking your dog to minimize stress to your back from holding back your pup.  To do this, hold the end of the leash in one hand with your other hand mid-point on the leash, as demonstrated here.  This gives you more control over the leash and will minimize the effect of sudden tugs on the leash have on your spine.

Give Them Time to Exercise

Outside is the most exciting place for any dog to be, especially when they only get a few walks a day.  The smells, the fast-moving cars and people, the unique sensations on their paws – it is sensory overload.  It is basically like Willy Wonka’s chocolate room for dogs, and they don’t want to hear about walking calmly.  Before you can work with your dog to develop better leash manners, you need to let them burn off energy so the temptations they find outside are not so overwhelming. 

The best way to do this is with open area exercise, preferably in a space they can run to their hearts content without you fighting them every step of the way.  Search out local dog parks or fenced areas where your dog can stretch their legs, they will be much more receptive to training the next time you pick up the leash and in less of a hurry.  Once they have taken the edge off, practice leash manners by walking up and down the same sidewalk near your house.  With time they will be less stimulated on a sidewalk they are used to and will be better able to focus on what you want.

Don’t Give Them What They Want

When your rambunctious companion is pulling on the leash for all they are worth, you are inadvertently encouraging them by giving them what they want.  What they want is to go faster so they can sniff that tree (or catch that squirrel).  By moving in the direction and speed of their pulling, you are letting them know that pulling the leash achieves their goal.  

To stop this cycle, freeze whenever they pull.  Your dog, used to moving forward when they pull hard enough, will need to stop and wait for you to go.  Instead of getting what they want (going faster) your pup now gets the opposite (a total standstill).  The next time they yank on that lead, freeze and don’t move until they are calm and paying attention to you.  If you do this consistently, your pup will stop pulling on their own.

Motivation Makes Learning Faster (and More Fun!)

Now that you have both your leash and harness working with you and your dog is getting time to get out all the jitters, it’s time to make paying attention to you during walks fun.  By keeping your dog’s attention on you, they are more likely to keep pace and not move ahead.  Now it’s your turn to make them look! 

One way to do this is to find out what is your dog’s motivation.  Do they ignore a game of fetch if it’s close to dinner time?  Then food treats will keep your pet engaged.  Does your dog prefer toy-time to sneaking a sly snack? Bring along a tug of rope toy to play with while walking to keep your pet’s eyes on you.  Whenever they start to get ahead, be sure to draw their attention back to the toy or the treat.  When they have walked a few steps without pulling on the lead, reward them with a few bites at the toy or a treat.  This will create positive reinforcement for good leash manners, which is proven to encourage better behavior than correcting with a choke collar.

Remember, this is A Process

As smart as your little furry sweetheart is, your dog will not learn good leash manners overnight.  Using all the steps above on every single walk will help to train your pup faster, but inconsistencies in how you react to leash pulling will result in a longer training time.  Essentially, if you are only working on leash manners three days out of the week but walk with your pet every day, they will take much longer to catch on to training.  This is true also if you have hired a pet professional to help walk your pooch and they are not well versed in how to prevent pulling.  

One way you can speed up the process is to take many walks a day with your dog.  The more opportunities to practice leash manners, the less time it takes to learn the skill.  Remember to put the work in every walk, even if this means it takes you one hour to get to the next street.  As long as your dog is getting exercise in open running spaces, this won’t harm them. Also, remember to keep it fun. Your dog can tell when you are getting frustrated, which makes them frustrated as well.  Once you feel your patience starting to go, take a break and play fetch for a while.  Return to training when everyone is having a good time.

One secret weapon in your fight to instill good leash manners is to hire a pet walking professional who can continue training, even when you are away.  Many pets benefit from visits from pet sitters and dog walkers, especially if their parents work long hours.  Pet services, such as at All Critters Petcare Services, have professionals who know how to handle leash pullers and can work with your dog to learn better manners.  

No matter which steps you take, know that leash pulling does not need to be the daily trial that it is.  With a few simple tricks, you can start on the path to a less sore shoulder and a much calmer pooch at your side.  Want some help in your journey?  Contact All Critters Petcare to see how they can help you and your little tugger enjoy more peaceful walks. 

by Lauren Pescarus

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