6 Steps to Stop a Dog From Excessively Pulling the Leash

The longer that your dog has been pulling on their leash without you taking steps to train them out of this behavior, the longer it will take to re-train them. But it’s totally possible!

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Why do dogs pull?

Before you start training your dog, it’s a great idea to think about the reasons that they’re pulling on the leash in the first place.

  • Too much energy. Some dogs pull on the leash because they have so much energy or excitement that they simply can’t wait to get where they’re going! Whether that’s a trip to the dog park or the beach, an energetic dog simply might not have enough self-control to be able to remember their leash training when they’re excited and energetic.
  • Trying to reach something. Pay attention to if your dog only pulls on their leash at certain times. They might suddenly see another dog, person, or wildlife that they can’t resist chasing. At this point, training can be forgotten in their focus to reach this object of interest. In this instance, you’ll need to train using the trigger within your sessions; otherwise, your dog won’t understand what they’re being asked to do.
  • Lack of training. If your dog hasn’t been taught not to pull on their leash, then they won’t realize that this is something that you don’t want them to do! Many dog breeds will intuitively lean in toward pressure, especially those who historically worked to pull loads. Unless you train your dog that you don’t want them to pull, then don’t be surprised if they do.
  • Anxiety or fear. Some dogs pull on their leash out of anxiety or fear. They may be trying to get away from a certain place or be responding to the feel of the collar or harness on their bodies. These pups will likely need back-to-basics training to overcome their anxiety before you start any leash training. Speak to a professional trainer if you’re not sure where to begin.
  • Heavy or retractable leashes. Some leashes, including retractable types, can put a small amount of constant pressure on your dog’s neck. Over time, your dog starts to feel like this is normal and won’t necessarily notice if they’re pulling on their leash a little more as time goes by.
  • Walking on a tight leash. If you always keep the leash tight and with pressure on your dog’s collar or harness, then they will think that this is a normal sensation when walking and pull more as a result.

Once you’ve identified the reason that your dog is pulling on their leash, you can start taking steps to correct it. We’ve put together this guide with simple steps to get you started.

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1. Exercise

dog with leash exercise
Image credit: Candid_Shots, Pixabay

First of all, does your dog get enough exercise? How much time are they spending off-leash, using up energy, before you expect them to walk nicely on their leash without pulling? By taking the time before leash training sessions to allow your dog to run free and play games of fetch will give them a chance to burn off steam and use up that energy. Many dogs will find it far easier to concentrate on a training session after they’ve first had a good run.


2. Choose Your Equipment Carefully

There are plenty of different types of equipment available, and some will suit certain types of dogs and handlers more than others. If you’re not sure what type to pick, you can read some of our reviews, as well as chat with your dog trainer if you have one.

Our preferred combination is a back-clip harness and a martingale collar. Back-clip harnesses allow for an even distribution of pressure across your dog’s body and can be more comfortable than using a collar alone.

For stronger dogs, head halters can be an option to consider, but these don’t suit all dogs or all handlers, so make sure you are trained in how to use one before investing.


3. Find Your Dog’s Motivator

The best and most humane way to train your dog not to pull on the leash is to use positive reinforcement training. You may already be working with a trainer or be confident enough to use these techniques by yourself.

Positive reinforcement training uses a reward to motivate your dog. This can be a treat, praise, their favorite toy, or even just to keep walking. Finding the reward that suits your dog best will make training easier and keep your dog motivated to keep trying.

dog pulling leash
Image Credit: Candid_Shots, Pixabay

High-value treats are excellent for persuading your dog that being right next to you, without pulling on the leash, is the best place to be. You can use things like cubed cheese, hotdogs, cooked ham, or chicken. Using something of high value to your dog means they will be more likely to continue paying attention during your training session.

Make sure you keep plenty of treats on hand, as you don’t want to run out halfway through a training session. Be super generous, as your dog is learning not to pull initially, and then you can slowly reduce the number of treats as their training progresses.


4. Never Allow Any Pulling

Once you’ve decided to train your dog to stop pulling, you’ll have to be strict with yourself not to allow any kind of pulling at all. You can use a variety of techniques here, including walking a short distance while your dog doesn’t pull and then quickly rewarding them with a treat or praise. If your dog does pull ahead, simply stop and call them back to you. Some dogs need a small treat to return to, while others will happily come right back to your side.

Keep repeating this process, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t get far on your first few attempts. As your dog learns that to continue their walk, they need to stop pulling, they’ll soon start to pull less and less.

Remember that usually when a dog pulls, we let them walk faster and try to keep up. This just reinforces that pulling on the leash is a good thing to do because your dog gets to where they want to go faster! By switching this around and actively stopping the walk when they pull, the walking gets delayed.

For dogs who have been pulling on the leash for a long time, it can take a while to break this pattern. As long as you remain consistent with your training, you’ll both get there eventually.


5. Stay Patient

dog with leash looking up
Image credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

Training your dog can take a great deal of time and patience. Remember that changing your dog’s habits won’t happen overnight. It can feel frustrating to be repeating the same steps over and over again, but know that your training will be making a difference!


6. Call in The Professionals

If you’re using the correct equipment, following the above steps for reducing pulling, and still not making progress, it might be time to speak to a professional dog trainer. They can assess your training so far and may see areas for improvement that you haven’t noticed.

Many dog trainers will offer a single consultation to get you on track, or you can sign up for a course of sessions over a longer time.

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A Note on What Equipment Not to Use

It is possible to buy equipment that causes pain for your dog when they pull on their leash. These can be extremely uncomfortable for your dog and only appear to work because your dog is actively trying to avoid the discomfort that this equipment causes them.

dogs uncomforable with leash
Image credit: pasja1000, Pixabay

Prong collars, choke trains, and electric training collars are all examples of equipment designed to inflict some kind of pain on your dog. These items don’t really have a place in positive dog training, and you can achieve the same end goal of stopping your dog from pulling by using gentle equipment and positive reinforcement training techniques instead.

There are plenty of front-slip harnesses on the market, which are meant to be suitable for reducing pulling, but they can actually cause your dog’s weight distribution to shift, causing long-term musculoskeletal problems if they’re used regularly.

Patience and Commitment Are Key

With patience and commitment, it is totally possible to train your dog not to pull on their leash. Even small sessions of a few minutes per day will soon start to make a difference. Make sure you identify the trigger behind your dog’s pulling, and then you can start making a plan for how to train them not to pull. Future walks with a loose leash and a happy dog will soon be on the horizon!


Featured Image Credit: icsilviu, Pixabay