A dog pulling on the lead can be an extremely unpleasant and potentially dangerous situation to cope with.
With a little patience, understanding and perseverance, the good news is that this problem has an achievable solution. The bad news, if we can call it that, is that it’s going to require time and consistency. Let’s take a look at the reasons a dog will pull on the lead.
Why Does a Dog Pull on the Lead
When you take your dog for a walk, excitement levels will be at an all time high; the anticipation of all those exciting smells and places to explore. The moment you reach for their collar and lead, they know they’re just about to experience their favourite time of day, which means fun.
It stands to reason by investing some time and a little, but constant effort your dog can walk nicely on a loose lead which will allow you to walk anywhere with control and confidence.
In fact there are many benefits to your dog walking on a loose lead by your side. For starters, the relationship with your dog is improved as they’re paying more attention to you than their surroundings, reducing potential danger and making it easier for you to provide direction and guidance to your dog.
The equation is very simple; your dog wants to please you and provided we, as their pack leader, show them how we want them to behave, they are able to understand our requirements. Your dog is likely to love learning; training stimulates their brain and will also reinforce their position in the pack. These things tip the balance of success in our favour.
You can start indoors by putting your dog on a lead and without going outside of your home, move about as you normally would between rooms – that way, they go where you go and they can begin to understand their place within the family unit, which is to take their lead from you.
Another trick we can deploy is consistency. Maintain the same procedure – keep your training consistent so your dog does not become confused. Don’t worry if they don’t get it at first, like people, dogs can learn at different rates.
Be sure to heap lots of praise on them the instant they get it right. Reward or praise them the exact moment your dog does what you have asked of them, otherwise they won’t associate the action with the reward or praise.
The all powerful YES word!
Remember to treat and/or praise. Go armed with treats – they don’t have to be high value, it’s a token your dog will quickly associate with a desired behaviour. Do this until your dog has got it, then lessen the frequency of treats and if desired eradicate them altogether.
Dogs are thought to understand about 150 words of our language. That’s a lot of words, so you can afford to dedicate a particular word to a particular behaviour. The exact moment your dog walks on a loose lead, say ‘YES’ and treat them. Your dog will quickly learn that walking to your heel on a loose lead = praise and/or treat.
It’s also desireable for your dog to look at you, so practice saying ‘look’ – the moment your dog makes eye contact say ‘YES’ and treat them. Your dog will soon learn the word ‘YES’ means they have demonstrated a desired behaviour and ‘LOOK’ means make eye contact.
Keep the instruction word short. For example, say ‘look’ rather than ‘look at me’ – both will have the same meaning to your dog.
What word(s) should I use so my dog walks to heel?
Many people favour the word ‘heel’. There’s not a right or wrong word, but it’s more effective if you match the request to the action and use it consistently.
We use the word ‘close’. Whenever we say this, we are asking our dogs to move close to us. We use ‘close’ on and off the lead. Once you’ve mastered your dog to walk on a loose lead or to close on request, you should have your dog’s full attention.
You can introduce further requests or instructions with an attached word. For example, if you wish your dog to move to the left or right when they are walking on a loose lead, you can step to the left at the same time as saying the nominated word.
Bear in mind your dog does not necessarily know what you’re thinking, so we have to signal to them with actions or words so they understand what we want them to do.
Make the word appropriate to the request – you don’t want to confuse yourself with any word you’ll struggle to remember as this will confuse you and your dog. You don’t want to undo the good work yoou’ve already done!
Another benefit of walking them on the lead is that this usually involves some pavement walking, which in turn helps to keep their nails trimmed. This is a win, win.
How do I stop my dog pulling on the lead
Use your dog’s natural intelligence and desire to please you. Most importantly, be consistent.
Our two dogs are aged 5 years and 18 months respectively. We live in close proximity to a National Park and have hundreds of miles of moor and woodland nearby. We’re very lucky to have such choice, yet we tended to use our car to transport the dogs, before letting them run out from the car. Consequently, they had little time on a lead and didn’t understand how to walk on a lead. On the rare occasions they were on a lead, they would pull strenously, leaving us to conclude our lead arm must be longer than the other!
We decided to make more of an effort to lead walk them, also helping the planet by leaving the car at home.
Within 3 days, both dogs, who are usually in competition with each other to be the lead dog, were walking on a loose lead by our heel, with their focus firmly on us. How? Simple, it was down to consistency, reward and clear direction. And the winner is . . . .us!
Now, they both walk nicely on a loose lead by our side and we enjoy taking them out on a lead. We can go anywhere with our dogs, safe in the knowledge they will not ruin our experience. Priceless.
In the case of our two Dalmatians, pulling on the lead made it more diffucult on two fronts;
- One dog has to get there before the other, meaning they were both inclined to pull on the lead to catch up or stay ahead of the other one
- Being of spotty persuasion means that they are both competing for ‘pavement snacks’ making it imperative to be the dog to get there first
If you have two dogs, I assure you it’s still possible to train them. Firstly, you can use your dog’s capacity for learning by starting in your house or garden. Little and often works well, otherwise your dog(s) may become bored and this can lead (no pun intended!) to distraction. Work with one dog while the other one watches and alternate dogs frequently.
It was noticeable with our two that the other dog was learning by watching. When you are satisfied they are learning to walk closely on a loose lead, you can obtain a lead with two extensions of the same length, so you are not juggling with two leads. Alternatively, you can hold two leads but so you still have a hand free to reward your dog, it is recommended you hold the leads with one hand.
There is no recommended side for your dog to walk. Whichever side you choose, keep this the same, for consistency.
I have my dogs to my left as I tend to walk on the left hand side of any road. That way my dogs are shielded from any passing traffic. I also do this because I’m right handed and prefer my dominant hand to be free to treat reward my dogs.
Importantly, whilst some dogs have some road sense, you are far more aware of potential danger than they will be, so it is common sense to place yourself nearer to danger. Additionally, if your dog sees something on the other side of the road and tries to bolt across a road, you have a little more space and time in which to react protectively.
Tricks of the Trade
Of course, we didn’t do this alone, we had help from the various collars, leads, leashes and harnesses available.
Your choice of dog wear is yours alone. I favour a Halti lead and chest harness, both of which are readily available and inexpensive. The lead has two spring clips, and 3 strong D rings, so that the lead can be adjusted to a short, medium or longer length for close work, obedience traning or the longer length for recall work.
As the lead has two spring clips, you can attach each clip to two dogs. The lead is also made from soft, durable fabric and washes easily.
Dalmatians are strong dogs, so I like to do myself a favour by using a no pull chest harness; the Halti one is good. The spring clips can be used on the back of the harness, which sits on the dogs back and the other clipped to the chest part of the harness. This means that my dog is always safe and I have greater control should I need it.
Take the Lead
If you follow these steps, I’m confident you’ll soon enjoy walking your dog on a loose lead as we do.
If this fails, don’t worry
Firstly, don’t worry if your dog still pulls on the lead; there is plenty of help available.
- Local dog training classes
- Individual dog trainers for 1 to 1 sessions and/or animal behaviourists
- TV programmes
- DVD training
- On line training