4 Ways to Stop Your Dog Pulling on the Leash
4 Ways to Stop Your Dog Pulling on the Leash: And How Scentwork Helped Scout the Dog go from Constantly Pulling to Walking Perfectly!
Tired of the frustration and embarrassment of your dog straining and pulling manically on their lead?
Walks with your dog are supposed to be a joy - good for both exercise, mental health and a bonding experience.
But we also know that they can quickly become stressful if your dog starts pulling the instant you walk out the door. Not only can pulling on the lead make your walks a stressful nightmare - it also poses some serious health risks to both your dog and you.
So it’s no surprise that loose lead walking is one of the most common reasons why dog owners seek help from trainers. We know how important it is to you to train your dog to stop dragging you along, whether they are a pup who hasn’t learned to walk on lead yet or an older dog with some long-ingrained habits.
But how do you do this?
In this article, we will explore ways to stop your dog from pulling on their leash and share with you the story of Scout - a pup who went from constantly pulling to walking perfectly.
Why is your dog pulling on their lead?
You're trying to enjoy a nice leisurely walk in the park with your dog and the rest of the family - but they won’t stop pulling on their lead.
It’s easy to feel frustrated that they’re not walking nicely like other dogs, you might even feel angry or embarrassed because they’re showing you up.
But do you know what?
Going on a walk is probably the most exciting part of your dog's day, so it is understandable why they might pull on their lead. They want to get to the park, or another dog or an interesting smell faster, and if pulling on their lead allows them to accomplish this, then they will continue.
Pulling on their lead could also be down to fear or anxiety or just a lack of training (both can be rectified).
Whatever the reasons, it’s important to understand your dog's behaviour and what’s underpinning it before beginning training so that you can get to the root of it and stop them from pulling on their leash.
Speaking of getting to the root cause, I had a client with a young Boxer, Charlie. He would pull on the lead horrendously at the start of a walk but stop pulling on the way back to the car.
My client had sought help from another dog trainer, who said Charlie pulled at the start because he was excited and slowed down on the way back because he was tired. Their solution? Tire him out and do more loose lead training.
My client tried this, but Charlie still pulled like a locomotive!
When they came to me for help, we quickly realised that the ‘pulling on the lead’ problem wasn’t due to over-excitability.
Charlie was anxious!
He found the walk really overstimulating - so he pulled because his adrenaline was so high. He was fast and frantic because he lacked confidence.
And get this - Charlie was walking on a ‘lovely’ loose lead back to the car because he was relieved that they were heading back to safety 🙁
The ball play to ‘tire him out’ made him even more overstimulated.
The big mistake here was misdiagnosing the problem. You wouldn't believe how common this is.
It’s easy to mistake anxiety for excitement, confusion for stubbornness… which means you go off in the wrong direction with your loose lead walking training and make the problem worse.
If you suspect that fear or anxiety is driving your dog’s lead pulling, drop me an email and we’ll have a chat.
If not, read on!
Training techniques to stop your dog from pulling on their lead
If your dog is pulling on their lead, and you’re reaching the end of your tether - what can you do?
The good news is, there are lots of ways that you can train your pup so they walk calmly on their lead, without pulling, so you can both enjoy your walks together. Here are my 4 tips for getting started - be sure to read through to number 4 as it’s my favourite!
1. Positive reinforcement training
Contrary to popular belief, dogs are rarely behaving the way they do out of stubbornness. They are behaving the way they do because quite simply - it works! It gets them access to something they want more of or moves them away from something they want less of. It's so logical when you think about it, yet too many people aren’t aware that this is how dogs’ brains work.
If pulling on the lead allows your dog to get to another dog, a scent, the park or whatever it is they want faster, then you may be inadvertently teaching them that pulling has a positive outcome. So whether you know it or not, you might be encouraging them.
You see, all behaviour has a function to your dog, even if it appears ‘out of the blue’ or confusing to you – it’s working for them in some way. However, just as your dog has learned that pulling ‘works’, you can help them learn that walking on a loose lead works even better…
You can do this using positive reinforcement training, which involves giving your dog something they like (i.e. a treat, toy or praise) when they are behaving in a way that you want (walking calmly on a nice loose lead). This will teach your dog that a slack lead results in positive outcomes.
Here’s just one loose lead walking technique that uses positive reinforcement! We call it ‘Keep Up’. Do it with puppies, if you’re just starting loose lead walking, any time your dog starts pulling or gets distracted or when you first leave the house or get out of the car because it builds focus from the start.
Put a treat on the floor next to your shoe. Let your dog eat it.
As they do, change direction and walk away from your dog.
Let them catch up to you for their treat.
After a few repetitions, watch your dog so that the instant they look up at you after eating, say a marker word* and let them catch up to you for their next treat.
Gradually increase the number of steps you take before putting down a treat.
Instead of changing directions, now start to walk in a straight line.
*A marker word is a short, consistent sound or word used during training to communicate to a dog that they have performed the desired behaviour correctly. It serves as an instant signal that tells the dog they will receive a reward for their good behaviour. Common marker words are "yes" or "good."
Keep Up works because your dog is being rewarded for being close to you - plus most dogs really enjoy the fast movement involved as they catch up to you!
Start positive reinforcement training in your home or garden where there are fewer distractions. Then roll it out to quiet areas on walks and it will encourage your dog to stay by you rather than pull ahead.
We have a video guide for Keep Up as well as plenty of other loose lead walking techniques and an overall strategy in our Loose Lead Walking Recipe course inside Club Dogwood.
2. Use the right equipment
There are gadgets designed specifically to help you stop your dog from pulling such as anti-pull harnesses, however, these deliberately cause your dog discomfort, even pain, so we do not recommend them.
Traditionally dog leads are attached to a collar, but this isn’t the safest or most comfortable way to walk your dog. Attaching the lead to your dog’s collar can cause:
Thyroid damage and inflammation
Eye and ear damage
Neck injury (especially in smaller dog breeds)
Instead, we recommend the following kit:
Harness – Y-shaped and well-fitting
Leads – 2 metres and 5 metres
Treat pouch – on the same side as your dog so they don’t cut across you to reach it!
They are the safest, most secure and most comfortable way to train loose lead walking.
By using a different harness and lead specifically designated for training, you create a clear distinction between regular walks and focused training sessions. This helps your dog understand that certain behaviours and expectations are different during training.
As your dog demonstrates consistent positive behaviour with the new harness, you can gradually phase out the old gear and make the transition complete.
Handling a longer line can feel clumsy at first so practice in your garden or a quiet area on your walk. We have a long lead handling tutorial inside Club Dogwood, and our team of trainers and behaviourists will be able to advise you on the best equipment for your individual dog.
3. Ugly Walks
Some walking destinations are more distracting than others. If your dog reacts to people or dogs, struggles to focus on you when there’s something more exciting around, or cannot eat on walks (it often looks like not being ‘interested’ in treats they usually enjoy), the environment is too distracting or overwhelming.
Ugly Walks aid loose lead walking because there are fewer triggers to be distracted by and pull towards or away from.
Business parks, industrial estates, green spaces around retail parks, large car parks after closing, garden centres, industrial areas, and family and friends’ gardens are all good places to start looking for an Ugly Walk. Choose a place that is quiet, calm and not overstimulating.
Ugly Walks are not permanent – think of them as a practice ground to work on new training away from off lead dogs, loud noises and the judgemental stares of other dog walkers. Once your dog is able to focus on you well enough to listen to your cues and make progress with the loose lead walking training on Ugly Walks, you can start to extend the walk into busier environments again.
4. Scentventure Stations
Have you ever tried standing still every time your dog pulls on the lead?
Biggest. Waste. Of. Time. Ever.
Let’s be honest and real here: traditional loose lead walking training is boring!
A ‘pleasant walk’ turns into a frustrating battle of wits and strength because you’ve been told to:
Stop and wait until your dog stops pulling
Change direction every time your dog pulls
Tug or yank the lead if they lunge or bark :’(
This is a complete waste of time.
There’s a much better way that is actually… dare I say… easy?
And it doesn’t involve boring, repetitive exercises.
Instead, make loose lead walking easy and fun by incorporating a variety of ‘no-pull’ activities into your walk so that you’re training your dog to walk on a loose lead - even when you’re not directly training loose lead walking! We call these Scentventure Stations! Scentventure Stations are pauses on your walk where you practice quick, simple activities for bringing focus back to you, and increasing calm and connection so your dog chooses you over the other dogs, people, traffic, whatever it is that’s currently causing them to have a meltdown.
Seek out obstacles such as logs, rocks, signposts, steps, or low walls that you encounter during the walk. These natural or man-made structures provide opportunities for your dog to engage in physical and mental challenges. They can climb onto, balance across, go around, crawl under, or even jump over them.
They give you a break from pulling and develop interaction with your dog, so it’s not just you on one end of the lead and them on the other completely ignoring you.
Aside from aiding loose lead walking itself, Scentventure Stations also make your dog more engaged with you overall, so they help with other training issues such as recall, reactivity and focus around distractions.
Work together to strengthen your bond so your dog chooses to stay close to you. Think of Scentventure Stations as the means to create an umbilical cord of connection.
Standing still when your dog pulls is tedious and frustrating - for you and your dog.
Scouts training story
We believe every dog is a great dog - it’s just that some have learned bad habits. And that’s why we’ve created the Club Dogwood Training Community to retrain dogs who pull on the lead, dogs with poor recall, and reactive dogs.
Meet Alex, and her pup, Scout!
Alex was struggling to walk Scout, who had hit and miss recall off the lead and consistently pulled on the lead. Alex felt trapped, and it was making her miserable.
Upon joining Club Dogwood, she started the Loose Lead Walking Recipe course, and this is what she had to say:
‘’Before Club Dogwood, we had done various in-person dog training classes, which all had their benefits, but none were really addressing the ‘whys’ of what Scout was struggling with.
I had stopped enjoying walks with her as her recall had become a problem, so I didn’t feel comfortable with her being off-lead, but I couldn’t bear walking her on-lead because she pulled so much, so I was stuck between a rock and a hard place!
After we joined Club Dogwood, so many things started to make sense in terms of Scout’s behaviour, and, most importantly, a structured (and FUN!) way forward was on offer. We still have a way to go (but I’m totally happy we are on the right path and in the right place), but I now really enjoy our walks which are a mixture of on and off-lead, and we have a connection and partnership on our walks now which we didn’t have before.”
It’s been a pleasure seeing Alex feeling so much more relaxed and confident on walks, and Scout enjoying longer walks in nicer places - which of course she LOVES! Scentventure Stations were a BIG part of Scout’s progress - in fact, in the early days they kept Alex sane, giving her a much needed break from the constant pulling!
Need help training your dog to walk on a loose lead?
There’s no need to struggle alone!
Carefree relaxing walks are a HUGE part of the reason people choose to welcome a dog into their lives, and we want to help you ensure that those walks are enjoyable and stress-free.
And the good news is that they can be. Even if your dog has picked up bad habits, they can re-learn new, good habits with a little help and support.
You can follow the exact same training plan (personalised for you and your dog by our trainers and behavourists, of course!) that Alex and Scout used to go from dreading the next walk to actually enjoying them! It’s called The Loose Lead Walking Recipe and it’s available inside Club Dogwood. Guided by a team of dog trainers and behaviourists, you can turn your reactive, lead-pulling dog into one that loves walking calmly with you on your adventures.
And it’s not just for newbies! If you’re frustrated by your lack of success with loose lead walking in the past, this will be a big moment for you.