Is Your Dog Always Pulling on the Leash?

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Is Your Dog Always Pulling on the Leash?If you struggle with your dog pulling on the leash every time you take a walk, you’re not alone. It’s probably the most common problem dog owners complain about, especially for those people with larger dogs. I have to admit, I’ve been postponing writing this article for quite a while because it’s an issue that I’ve struggled with myself. But knowing what a huge problem this is for so many people, I thought I would share my experience, mistakes and lessons learned along the way.

Yes, I was one of “those” people you pass occasionally on your walks. The one with the dog that’s straining at the leash and hacking away while dragging their human along for the ride as they try to smile when people ask the dreaded “Who’s walking who?” question. It was so frustrating to see people with perfectly behaved dogs walking politely at their sides because we had tried so many different loose leash walking (LLW) techniques without a lot of success. I didn’t expect Haley to heel perfectly at my side, I just didn’t want to be dragged down the street. Here are a few of the techniques I tried.

Loose Leash Walking Techniques I Tried

  • Use high value treats – This is all about rewarding your dog to stay at your side rather than pulling ahead. I could have had strips of filet mignon hot off the grill and it wouldn’t have mattered to Haley. Besides, some dogs might not be motivated by treats.
  • Become a tree – The idea is to stop when the leash becomes tight, then don’t move again until your dog creates some slack in the leash. We tried this for a few weeks, but as soon as I would move again, the pulling continued.
  • Reverse direction – With this technique, you change directions while calling your dog to you when they begin to pull on the leash. This worked slightly better than becoming a tree, but it still wasn’t very effective in the long term. I’m sure plenty of people got a good laugh while watching me do this for a few weeks though.
  • Walk faster, but slow down if your dog pulls ahead – The idea with this strategy is that dogs like to walk a faster pace than us humans so they’ll be rewarded for staying closer. Haley would pull less at the faster pace but she was still pulling.
  • Make sure your dog walks behind you – This is related to the dominance theory of keeping your dog slightly behind you so you are perceived as the pack leader. I never bought into this theory but I did try keeping her close to me on a short leash. It didn’t help with the pulling issue.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since those early days and I’ve managed to figure out a few things through trial and error. I also discovered why some of the techniques I mentioned didn’t work very well with Haley. Before I get into the mistakes I made, it’s important to understand why dogs pull in the first place.

Pulling Dogs

Why Dogs Pull on the Leash

  • The biggest reason dogs pull on the leash is to get to where they want to go. Pretty simple, huh? The problem with letting them pull ahead to investigate an alluring scent is they quickly learn that pulling is rewarding.
  • Dogs often pull because of opposition reflex from the tension on the leash.
  • A dog’s natural pace is much faster than our walking pace. Dogs normally like to trot rather than walk slowly, so it takes some training to keep them beside us while walking.
  • We normally walk in a straight line and at a steady pace which isn’t natural for dogs. Dogs enjoy exploring their surroundings by chasing things or following interesting scents with their noses.
  • Fearful dogs may pull to get back home because it’s where they feel safe.

Even though Haley’s much better at walking nicely with me, even when passing other dogs on the trail, there are still times when she’ll pull a lot, like when she unexpectedly sees someone she knows and wants to greet them. She’s not perfect but she’s good 90% of the time and I can live with that. Looking back now, I realize some of the mistakes I made when she was younger and I thought I would share them with you.

4 Leash Training Mistakes I Made

Mistake #1 – Distractions
As a puppy, Haley walked nicely beside me when we practiced inside the house, but walking outside was a completely different story. I didn’t realize that she needed to be trained gradually in different environments with increasing distractions. After working in the house, I should have moved to the yard, then to a quiet park with very few people, etc. You get the picture. I was expecting too much from her to go from a quiet home environment to a busy street with many people and dogs.
Mistake #2 – Energy
I underestimated how much energy Haley had. She’s a very high-energy dog and it’s nearly impossible for a dog with excess energy to focus on training. I should have exercised her or played with her before going outside for leash training. A tired dog is less likely to pull hard on the leash and more likely to be interested in those yummy treats in your pocket.
Mistake #3 – Excitement
I didn’t fully understand the role of excitement in training. Not only is Haley high energy, but she’s also a very excitable dog. Even after strenuous exercise, the anticipation of experiencing all the sights, sounds and scents of the great outdoors caused her to pull on the leash with a lot of force. It’s almost impossible to train an overly-excited dog because you simply can’t get or keep their attention. I should have taken the extra time to train good door manners and to make sure she was calm before heading out the door or getting out of the car and I should have waited for her to relax more before trying to train her to walk nicely on the leash.
Mistake #4 – Persistence
Even though I tried many different loose leash walking techniques, because I didn’t fully understand all the factors that caused Haley to pull, frustration set in and I eventually gave up. I settled for less pulling instead of no pulling. It takes a lot of patience to train a dog to not pull on the leash, especially with a high-energy, excitable dog, but I gave up too early and settled for pretty good behavior.

Had I realized and remedied these four issues, I’m sure it would have been much easier to train Haley with any of the techniques I mentioned earlier. It’s not that the techniques don’t work, it’s just that there were things I wasn’t doing that made those techniques much harder. I should have exercised her first, made sure she was calm before beginning our walk, worked slowly to increase the distractions in areas while training, and I should have been more persistent instead of giving up so soon.

Happy DogDespite my mistakes, Haley’s a pretty good walker. She still walks out in front of me which is fine, but usually on a slack leash. She’ll occasionally come to my side and look up at me with a grin to see if she’s earned a treat. If she gets one, she takes it nicely then moves back out in front but not pulling. She also knows that the command, “This Way!” means we’re changing directions and she’s learned to yield to light pressure on the leash instead of reacting with opposition reflex.

Ideally, we all would have perfectly trained dogs that listen well and never pull but sometimes we need a little help. If you’re still struggling with walking your dog, here are a few tips and tools that might help.

Tips and Tools!

  • Ditch the retractable leash for a regular six foot leash. Unless a retractable leash is locked, it always has tension which works against a dog’s opposition reflex and the ability for them to know what a loose leash feels like.
  • Consider buying a treat pouch that attaches to your waist so you can easily give rewards at the right time while walking.
  • Avoid using choke or prong collars which can be dangerous for dogs that pull hard.
  • Head collars are helpful for dogs that pull hard because they cause the dog’s head to turn towards you if they pull. However, many dogs don’t like to wear them and they’re not recommended for short-nosed dogs.
  • A front-attaching chest harness is a great alternative which uses the same principle as the head collar. When the dog tries to pull forward, the harness causes their body to turn sideways towards you instead. A harness has the added benefit of taking the pressure off the dog’s neck.
Dog Head Collar
Dog Harness

If you have a dog that’s always pulling on the leash, I hope these tips and tools are helpful and hopefully you can avoid some of the mistakes I made with Haley when she was a young pup. Now, I’d love to hear your experience with loose leash walking and any tips you might have!

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42 Comments on “Is Your Dog Always Pulling on the Leash?”

    • My Tosa Inu male pulls on the leash when someone lets him. Snacks don’t work. Walking strategies don’t work. The only thing that works for me just fine is correcting him when he goes ahead of me or just at the moment when he starts to pull me. 2 or 3 corrections and he’s going politely next to me the whole walk until I unleash him in safe place. The biggest problem is my family who doesn’t understand that you must demand from our dog following – not pulling us on walks. They can’t do corrections, they prefer to be pulled arround than to work with dog and read his signals. Therefore I have no problems with our walks and everybody else has. I follow theories of Cesar Millan and by far they’re the best. Now, I am the only person in my family allowed to take our dog out of our yard – for his and our safety.
      For corrections I use his collar or my fingers on his neck (just like Cesar does).
      I have noticed one situation when my dog will follow you no matter what. I grab his favourite toy – squeeky ball and he follows me like proffessionally trained working dog. 😉 But you must understand it will not make you a leader. Tosa Inus need strong stabile leaders. Trust and communication are everything. Corrections are fine. Violence, frustration and aggression are not acceptable – just like with any other breed.

      • Ah yes, that can be frustrating when different family members don’t follow through or expect the same behavior from the dog. I’ve dealt with that too and I have to keep giving refresher courses in training. I like what you said about trust and communication and I agree there’s a big difference between giving a correction and being aggressive or violent.

        Sometimes “corrections” get a bad name but a correction can be something as simple as a look or even blocking a dog. The correction that works with Haley is when I snap my fingers. She knows to stop whatever she’s doing and look at me or come to me and I always praise her for listening.

    • Great post. We use a chest harness which I know protects her neck. The one interesting thing with the harness is that now she sometimes just stops and refuses to move. This usually happens when I get ahead of her. This is the latest thing I’m working on …I like your idea of a treat pouch

      • That’s interesting. I wonder why she stops sometimes. Maybe the harness feels slightly different to her when you’re in front or the leash position change has something to do with it. You’ll have to let me know if you figure out what’s happening.

    • We all have had our pulling times but they eventually worked out. Bailie is still a work in progress. She has gotten a lot better, but if a squirrel or wabbit is spotted, no hope. She will pull until the cows come home. I out grew that and now I race that direction but also stop pulling when asked. We hope she too will do the same pretty soon.

      • Squirrels and rabbits really trigger that prey drive, don’t they? Between you and Bailie, I’m sure you keep them on their toes, haha! ?

    • Before going to a harness with a front ring attachment, I tried a Gentle Leader on Hershey. I wound up not liking it for a couple of reasons. It didn’t last very long! It started fraying at the clasp and snapped within a few months. The other reason I didn’t like it was because on a couple of occasions people assumed it was a muzzle. Hershey being a ‘pit-type’ dog they made the second assumption that if she’s muzzled she must be dangerous. Not the kind of image I wanted to promote.

      • I know what you mean, Erik. When they first became popular, I thought they were some kind of new muzzle too and a lot of people would have that impression if they weren’t familiar with dogs. I’m glad the harness works well for you. They make so many types now with really cool designs!

    • I used a gentle lead (chest ring) on Leo and now Jaxson. Twice I’m having much success. I’ve never been one who carries treats every time I go somewhere. #Iforget He will remain with the Gentle Lead (no muzzle strap) for several months and gradually I will go back to a regular collar and leash. This is a great post – very well written.

      • Thanks, Cathy! I kind of regret not giving the harness a try when Haley was a pup but they weren’t all that popular back then. It’s awesome that there are so many options now and I’m glad it worked well for Leo and now for Jax too. It sure makes those walks much more pleasant, right? ?

    • Dolly was a puller from day one, because of her nose. She follows it and nothing else. For her safety we do use a prong collar because she does not pull wearing it, and if she does it protects her neck from injury. Harnesses make dogs pull worse, especially Dolly, because all of her strength is in chest. I’ve tried Gentle Leaders, etc, with no luck, too difficult to use. I do have a front hook harness for Taffy, she walks pretty good in it but the harness is alway crooked because she won’t walk straight. I think it’s all a matter of what works best for you and your dog, not what people think is humane. Thanks for informative post.

      • I think you summed that up perfectly. It’s all about what works for each dog and if Dolly walks nicely and doesn’t pull when wearing a prong collar, then that’s a tool that works well for her. ?

    • I love your honesty. It takes guts to admit that the things you’ve tried in the past weren’t ideal/didn’t work. I’m glad you were brave.

      I had many of these problems with the pug. He’s 8yo, and I had pretty much given up on every taking him into a crowded space. He gets so excited that he’ll pull me right off my feet. But I invested in just ONE more class, and that made the difference. He started checking in before pulling, and if I had a treat, he’d eat that instead of running off. He’s not perfect now, but he’s a thousand times better. I’ll take it!

      • Thank you, Jean. Sometimes we learn more from our failures than our successes, so I hope someone else can learn from mine. I love that you continued to look for solutions and the last class did the trick!

    • All of our dogs pull when walking. At first. I’ve learned to…

      (1) have patience. If we haven’t been on a walking trail for a while (we stop during the winter) then they’re going to be over excited and pulling in all different directions to take in all the scents.

      (2) take two dogs at a time instead of all four. This makes it a lot easier for me to manage the walk.

      (3) change directions, stop, and use treats to remind them to focus on me. This usually turns things around for us quickly.

      The only thing that SUCKS is when someone allows their dog to greet our dogs without asking first. This is why we haven’t been on the trail for a while. We had a bad experience with an irresponsible dog owner and I haven’t been able to bring myself to go again.

      I’ll get over my fears soon. I hope. Luckily we live on 5 acres so our dogs do get exercise. But I know that they need more.

      Thanks for this post. I think I’ll leash up Rodrigo and take him for a walk on Saturday.

      • You’re so lucky to have plenty of land for the dogs to exercise and play. I’m glad you mentioned walking multiple dogs, they do tend to pull more when there’s some competition (or company), don’t they?

        I’ve had so many issues with other people and their roaming off-leash dogs. I walk Haley off leash quite a bit but I always leash her at first site of another person or dog. I wish other people would do that as well. I’ve learned what areas tend to have more inconsiderate people though, so we have our favorite trails. I hope you and the pups can find some great trails too and get back out there. Thanks for the wonderful tips, Kimberly!

    • Rita’s not much of a puller – just a bit at the beginning when she’s excited to get out, but she settles right down. We use a … forget what it’s called – I think it’s a “2 Hound Design” harness. Tried a Gentle Leader but even after training her to get used to it for 3 weeks, she still hated it. Wasn’t going to subject her to that thing, so in the donation bag iit went!

      • I think I might have heard of that brand of harness. Haley would hate the gentle leader head collar too. Most dogs aren’t crazy about anything around their mouths, but I guess some dogs do get used to it and don’t mind.

    • Bentley doesn’t pull too much unless there are people in their yards. He is certain that everyone is anxious to meet and greet him. Other times he does the “Forrest Gump” and just stops. LOL!

    • Thanks for sharing this Elaine. I think many people have tried all those methods. While some do work for some dogs, every dog is different. I remember with Mary as a puppy, I used changing directions. I’m sure our neighbors got a great laugh as we walked the same 10 feet back and forth for a really long time. She did catch on, but you are so right about getting rid of some of that extra energy before the walk. Hey they get 4 legs we only have two so yeah, they are going to walk faster.

      Many people that I have taught LLW to rush from walking inside the house and going right into too many distractions, it does have to be gradual so pet parents can see what their dogs are going to react to and they can be ready for it.

      This is a great post and you covered all the really important points on teaching your dog LLW. That’s the whole point “their dog” they are all different and will react different. Learning those differences are key to having control.

      I made sure to share this on my social media sites it will be so helpful to others having this issue. Thanks again.

      Good job Haley, I’m glad you got your walking under control its so much more fun for you and mom.

      • Aw, thanks so much, Suzanne! Great point about every dog being different and not all training methods work with all dogs. Your clients are very lucky to have such a wonderful trainer to help them with their training issues. Thanks so much for sharing the post! ?

    • Cocoa is best when we are running. It is like she knows we are on a run and does not have to stop as much and focuses on moving forward. Walking however she pulls more. Mainly if she gets a scent though and since she is a hound I totally understand. And then of course there is when she sees someone and we are working on this. The other day someone passes and was like you have your hands full. Yes, yes I do!!

      • Lol, I can relate to those kinds of comments. Cocoa sounds a lot like Haley when she was younger but Cocoa’s lucky she has runners to run with. ?

    • Yes, yes, yes to everything! What an excellent post, Elaine. I use(d) dog backpacks & a Halti (head collar with a padded noseband, I think it’s the British version of the Gentle Leader) as polite leash walking training tools. 4,5 years later, and my pups walk nicely on leash and don’t pull. I’ve also worked a lot with treat clip-on bags that held high-value treats to reward polite behavior outside.

      I found that the key to having well-behaved/balanced dogs is daily exercise, both mental & physical. If I didn’t provide that, Missy & Buzz would be out of control.

      • Thanks so much, Barbara! I’ve noticed the Halti’s on Buzz and Missy in some of your pictures and I’m glad they’ve worked so well for your pups. You’re so right about daily exercise too. A lot of people don’t think about mental exercise, but Haley just loves an interesting mental challenge. Her eyes light up anytime she gets a new puzzle or game to figure out.

    • Great post! Leash walking is my least favorite skill to teach and I’ve spent so much time on it. It can be so frustrating at times. I’ve been walking my dogs separately and they do a lot better but I don’t always have time for separate walks.

      • Thank you, Lauren. ? I agree, it’s my least favorite type of training too and we still have to work on it from time to time. I can imagine it’s especially challenging with Zoe and Phoenix when they’re together. Anytime I walk Haley with another dog, there’s a lot more pulling on the leash.

    • We have always used a training collar (choke chain) and our dogs do not pull and their throats are not injured despite being very strong dogs. This is a valuable training tool to teach loose leash walking if put on (not on the throat but high under the ears) and used correctly (a quick tug and release when the dog pulls) because it allows you to control the dog’s head. People go through all kinds of frustration because they are unwilling to consider training tools that actually work. I really hate to see it because some dogs never learn what is expected of them and then they just are not taken out to walk.

      • You make a valuable point, Linda. I’ve read some articles about how choke and prong collars can be used effectively and humanly as a training tool if people understand how to use them correctly. I have to admit, I’ve never tried either type of collar on Haley because I was worried it might hurt her and I remembered our Dalmatian hacking at the end of a choke collar when I was growing up.

        I think one of the biggest reasons these types of collars get a bad rap is that people looking for a quick fix for a pulling dog often buy them out of desperation and may not use them properly. Hiring a professional trainer would be a good option for those folks and it would probably be money well spent.

    • Another great post–thanks! I always learn something new whenever I visit your site. This post came just in time, as Sasha and I are making very slow progress while walking together on leash. I have to remind myself daily that she’s only been with me for three weeks, had no apparent familiarity with a leash before coming to me (she’s a rescue), and everything is new and potentially distracting.

      That said, we’ve done well in the house and the yard, and she’s doing significantly better when we’re on our street (a quiet cul-de-sac). Busier streets? Well, let’s just say we’re a work in progress!

      • Aw, it sounds like Sasha is doing great! It’s heartwarming to know you rescued her and I’m sure it brings you a lot of joy to watch her progress. There’s something special about overcoming a particularly challenging training objective and Sasha is lucky to have such a loving and patient teacher. ?

    • Great tips on loose leash walking! We are working on loose leash walking with Archer and he’s improved by leaps and bounds. He uses an easy walk harness and we started training him by walking backwards. It’s a different concept then we used with our other guide and service dog pups, but so far so good. I must say I have caught the neighbors staring at me as I walk around backwards with Archer in my wake!

      • That’s so interesting, Colby. I haven’t heard of the walking backwards technique and would love to learn more about it. I did have to laugh at the thought of you and Archer walking backwards, haha! It sounds like it works very well though.

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