Stop your dog pulling on the lead
Going out for walkies is meant to be a fun activity and it is often the most exciting part of your dog or puppy's day! It's therefore perfectly normal that your dog has lots of energy and wants to go places faster than you. To make sure you're safe from being pulled over, it's important that you teach them to walk calmly, loose-lead walking and stop your dog pulling on the lead.
Why do dogs pull on the lead?
- Often we as owners have unintentionally taught them that if they pull, they get to move forward, which is what they want! We've been rewarding them for their bad-behaviour. Taking just one step forward when the lead is being pulled gives your dog a clear signal that pulling works.
- Your dog detects a distraction before you do and they've forgotten about you and want to go and interact with it. If you have a puppy, this could simply be a leaf blowing in the wind! For an older dog this could be a squirrel, another dog, runner, cyclist,...
This is the key to training your puppy or older dog and it will be well worth it when you're out on a relaxing, calm stroll with your favourite dog!
Step 1 - Introducing your puppy or dog to the equipment
- Choose a suitable lead and harness for your dog. We would strongly recommend a Walk your dog with love harness, which has a front attachment and essentially helps to steer the dog back to your side if they pull.
- Introduce the new harness slowly to them, particularly if they are a puppy:
- Let them sniff it, give them a treat (repeat again and again)
- Put it gently over their nose, give them a treat (repeat)
- Put it over their shoulders, give them a treat (repeat)
- Clip it shut, give them a treat (repeat)
Repeat these stages - it is not uncommon to spend 5-10mins on each stage and not always at the same time.
Stop - if your dog decides the harness is a chew toy then you need to stop the activity walk-away and start again when they are in a calmer mood and repeat step 1 again and again.
Patience - just keep repeating and they will get comfortable with the harness.
- Please do not try equipment that will "cure" dog-pulling as this is often based on discomfort or even pain for the dog in sensitive areas. This is unnecessary, unpleasant, confuses your pup and they will link walking with you as a painful and bad experience.
- If you struggle to stop your puppy chewing the harness or lead, bitter apple spray may help and is a safe bad tasting solution to reduce the fun of chewing their lead or harness.
Step 2 - On your walk
- Teach your dog that being near you and looking at you means treats!
- Find a quiet location with minimal distractions, it could even be your garden and reward your dog for simply sitting or standing next to you.
- Make sure you have high-value treats to start with that your dog loves, often these are strong smelling!
- Start moving and reward when your dog is by your side. You can "mark" their behaviour using a clicker or with a simple "yes" and give them a treat straight away. You want them to link "yes" with a treat because they will then look up at you ready to receive!
- Keep moving and treat lots and lots of tiny quantities, you can over time reduce the treating and some dogs respond simply to the praise ("yes") of their owners.
- Build up your walks to add distractions at a distance and see if your dog can remain focussed on you and your treats instead of wanting to play with a dog 20 metres away! There are suggestions on focus games in our resources section.
Remember to STOP
If your dog smells, see's or hears something and pulls. You need to stand firm and do not let them gain an inch. Ideally you would have detected the distraction before them and you could turn them away, got them into a sit-watch, find-it game or whatever works for your dog.
However, if you've lost their attention and they're pulling you can't move forward with them. Instead you need to choose the appropriate action:
- Wait them out, if they're just trying to get to a lamp post to sniff, they'll probably get bored and as soon as the lead goes slack, "click" or "yes" and reward and they should come to your side for the treat.
- Distract them, depending on their training, you could say "ready" in an excited voice, which is often the pre-cursor to a fun game e.g. throwing food for them to catch. You could try "leave-it" if they have been trained to leave things.
- Lure them away, for puppies or stubborn dogs you may need to get their favourite treat under their nose and lead them back to your side and mark and treat their behaviour when they have returned. To do this effectively, try to keep the lead as tight as possible as you lean towards your dog - remember they can't be allowed to move in the direction that they are pulling - once they are moving back towards you, ensure the lead is loose and slack again.
Emergency measures, sometimes you need to get yourself between your dog and the distraction and/or just move them away from it. It isn't uncommon for other dog-walkers to just let their dog say "hello" to yours even though it is too much for your dogs training. In these instances, if you can get yourself crouched in front of your dog, while keeping the lead tight until you're in position to distract them this could work.
Alternatively, an emergency turn where you bring your hand all the way down the lead to where it attaches to the harness, bend down and turn in your desired direction in a purposeful movement; your dog should follow. Please note: this is not "tugging" your dog violently, and instead using your body and body language to show your dog which direction you and them need to move!
The key to success is consistency, we often believe you need to be more stubborn than your dog! They will learn and this could take weeks, months or in Ziggy's case years to really master. Ziggy at 21months will still be distracted by nice smelling lamp-posts and any dog within 5metres of him!