I ask this question when I first meet my students: “What is the most important thing you want to teach your puppy?” One of the most common answers I get is this: “I’d like to teach my puppy how to walk nicely on a loose leash, so it doesn’t drag me across town on dog walks.” So, in this post, I’ll share my tips with you on how to stop your puppy pulling, so you can walk your puppy on a loose leash. It works for me, so I know it’ll work for you, as well.
Reasons to Learn How to Stop Your Puppy Pulling
A dog that pulls can be annoying, if not dangerous. Dogs of a large breed can easily pull away from or with their owner, causing all kinds of problems. Cars may dodge to avoid hitting the dog or the owner. People may have to change directions to get away from a dog who is seemingly out of control. It might not sound so bad, but what if a child then runs out in front of a car?
Even if nothing as terrifying as that is happening, a dog who pulls on a leash is still annoying, if not painful, for the owner. A dog who pulls can aggravate medical conditions like arthritis and back problems. What’s worse, it will often cause the owner to think twice before they walk with a leash with their dog.
That would be a shame. Think of how much joy both the dog and the owner will miss out on in their daily lives. Exercise is important for the health of both people and dogs, so you need to address the problem. If you don’t know where to begin, don’t worry. Just keep on reading to learn how.
Teaching Your Dog to Be a Good Student
When I work with puppies, I start with several attention games, and for good reason. I’ve written about some of the attention exercises I use in an earlier post, so be sure to read more about them here.
These attention exercises are about getting your dog to pay attention and wait for your instructions. Puppies need to learn how to be good students. In fact, this is your foundation for all training to come – including loose leash walking. I can’t stress it enough – a dog or a puppy who pays attention to you is willing to learn, willing to please you, and eager to get the most out of your time together. Don’t underestimate why you want to teach a dog this skill, especially when it comes to how to stop your puppy pulling on the leash.
During dog walks, it will be apparent if you have not been training your dog to pay attention to you. They will tug and pull because there is interesting stuff going on during your walks. There are many new smells and sights, such as cars, kids, and even other animals. All this can affect your pet’s behavior. For this reason, it is more likely your dog will be more distracted than usual. This means you’ll need to do an even higher level of attention training to be able to connect with your dog in these challenging situations.
Obedience Starts with “The Treat Zone”
When loose leash training my puppies, I continue my attention work and encourage my pups to sit beside me instead of in front of me. I call this, “The Treat Zone.” This is a key step because it’s important that your puppy knows this is the best spot to get lots of praise and treats.
The reasoning behind this step is important. If you always praise your dog and give treats when they sit in front of you, your pup will naturally start to associate being in front of you with good things happening. This policy will not work when walking them on a leash.
Dogs are intelligent and quickly learn to associate being in a certain position, like in front of you, with good things, such as food, praise, and treats. This can easily become a big problem during dog walks, as your dog will naturally gravitate towards being in front of you.
Fortunately, as a trainer and owner, you can take advantage of how easily puppies learn. All you have to do is teach your dog that goods things happen when they stay next to you, rather than in front of you. This is establishing “The Treat Zone.”
Here’s how to do this:
- When your puppy comes to you, move around so when they sit, they’ll end up beside you, not in front of you.
- When this happens, look down at your puppy while praising them and giving them treats.
- After a while, your pup will feel like a superstar whenever they sit by you, so they’ll want to do it as much as possible.
- In case your puppy starts to sit a bit out of position from “The Treat Zone,” gently lure it into position by holding a treat over and a bit in front of the head until your dog sits just right. At this stage, give your dog the treat and lots of praise.
- When it becomes a habit, start with a small clap on your leg when your puppy sits down. Soon, this sound will equal sitting beside you, which will make the habit stronger. This variation of calling and clapping your leg makes it more challenging and fun in terms of training.
Important: Be sure to train often – repeat sessions at least three to four times a day for five to 10 minutes at a time. Find a time when you have the privacy to focus on your pup. Sitting must be a reflex; something your dog does automatically. This means you must also have a reflex to look at your pup beside you, keeping eye contact often. Luckily, this is easy to work into your existing training schedule. Just make sure to focus on getting your puppy to “The Treat Zone,” before rewarding them during usual training and play.
Using “The Treat Zone” as a Tool to Teach Your Puppy Good Habits
Many dogs pull because humans walk too slowly and they are excited to be outdoors. A puppy’s “walk” is often treading, so the slower you walk, the more likely your dog is likely to get bored and pull. Keep this in mind when you set your pace, so you don’t have to follow your dog.
To take excitement into account before training, play with your puppy. You can also let it loose to run free in your yard for a while. This way, it’s much easier for them to calm down and listen to you during walks.
When your puppy sits beside you and not in front of you, start walking. Try walking backward while your puppy is walking forward. To do this, simply turn 180 degrees while your puppy stays put. This means your puppy will stay at your right leg instead of your left leg. In your right hand, have treats to offer your pup while walking.
By doing this, your puppy will want to give you a lot of attention as they search for your next move. Concentrate on not walking into anything while offering treats and praise. Keep your view on the path ahead. Your pup won’t want to get ahead of you because all they want is right in front of them and the puppy leash is loose.
If you’d like more information and a demonstration on how to do this exercise, here is a video to watch:
Stay in Control: Learn How to Stop Your Puppy Pulling
Of course, this exercise is not fun when walking many miles with your puppy and it’s not how you should use it. This activity will give your puppy a strong understanding of where to place themselves, which is just beside you with their nose at your leg. They will learn they don’t go in front or behind you, but right next to you.
Most importantly; be sure to keep the leash loose.
When you have done this for a while, mix it up by taking just a few steps forward and then stop. Your puppy will be at your side, because they have not yet thought of running or pulling. As you stop and look at them, your pup will sit because this is a habit you have you trained during your work on “The Treat Zone.”
Stopping when you are out walking will give your puppy a habit of calming down and checking in with you. This is important because it is your key to pause your puppy during your walks. It’s a tool you can use anytime, anyplace.
Use this tool when you’re out walking and your puppy suddenly wants to pull on the leash. Your dog may think it’s a race, or if a car could drive by or a cat could run out in front of you. Whatever the situation, just stop whenever your puppy pulls. Soon they’ll discover they’ll get the opposite of what they want. In time, your pup will learn that a loose leash is the better option.
Consistency is Key – Are You Training or Going for a Walk?
But – and this is a huge but – you must always be consistent. If you allow your puppy to pull just once, you must train them not to do so at least 10 times to offset that moment. There’s no reason to let your dog pull that one time. It will confuse your puppy and you could get neck strain from walking them the next 10 times.
These are all the necessary tools for how to stop your puppy pulling the leash. Be sure to use the attention training exercises and “The Treat Zone” concept. You also have the start-stop technique to help you calm your dog down. It also teaches dogs to get what they want, they must stay by your side and keep a loose leash.
Bear in mind that training your puppy is a process. It never stops, and if your puppy or dog is not getting better, they’re getting worse. Just like most people, your dog also needs a reminder and to practice.
When your dog knows to stop whenever you stop, if they pull on the leash, you’ll stop and they’ll have to stop, too. Your dog will know to calm down when you stop and stand still, but they’ll need to practice this skill.
Puppy Training: What About Real Life?
The skill of walking on a leash calmly can only happen in “real life,” but it can be tough. When you are out walking, that’s precisely what you want – to walk – not stop all the time. So, even if you know it is the right thing to do, you often have to fight your dog’s wishes, as well as your own.
Therefore, it’s important to decide if you are going for a walk or if you are going to train your puppy before you go out the door. If you just want to walk or you are in a hurry, don’t bring your puppy. Leave your pup home, so you are not tempted to let them pull, simply because you don’t want to stop.
Fortunately, you can complement your outdoor training with this exercise at home:
- Find the best cookie; the one your puppy loves the most. Place it in front of them, approximately 15 feet or so away.
- Make your pup sit beside you and start walking towards the cookie with a loose leash.
- If they pull, you will not only stop, you will take your dog back to the starting point.
- Every time they pull, go back again.
- Only if your pup walks calmly without pulling should you move forward. This way they’ll learn that if they pull, it will have the consequence of being even further away from what they want. And if they don’t pull, they’ll get to the goal.
Always be consistent. From the moment you start this training, you must never allow your dog to get what they want by pulling. Never use a Flexi leash, because it rewards your puppy for pulling.
To vary this exercise, replace the cookie with a favorite toy, a favorite person, another dog, or another dog and a favorite person – whatever it takes to get your puppy excited. Diversity in this exercise will teach your dog that no matter what is in front of them, they should never pull. This goes for training outside, as well.
Even though it is a simple skill for a dog to learn, it takes a lot of patience and consistency to teach, but hang in there. It’s worth it in the end.
Try Monty Python Silly Walks
You may know how to stop your puppy pulling, but they are a puppy, so they’ll be distracted time and time again. Even when your pup grows up, they’ll still have to deal with distractions. So, how do you help your pup focus on you and what you want them to do?
Understand that your puppy loves their walks with you. Some dogs love them so much, when their owner takes out the leash or slips on their walking shoes, they go nuts. It’s important to know when your puppy is in that state of mind because they’ll have more trouble connecting with you. At first, try to stop your puppy from going crazy when you put on your shoes or take out the leash. Here’s how:
- Put on your shoes and coat as if you were getting ready to go out for a walk with them.
- If your dog goes crazy, go back into the house and sit down quietly for five to 10 minutes.
- Do this often until your pup understands their actions in the hallway make you go back inside.
- Even when your puppy has learned to calm down as you prepare for a walk, practice occasionally.
So, now you’re ready to go. Your puppy is paying a lot of attention to you and is in the right state of mind. How can you keep it this way? Most importantly, you must not be boring, so don’t walk a straight line. Bring in a little Monty Python’s silly walks. If you don’t know about them, check it out here:
Maybe you don’t have to be quite as silly, but bring in some diversity on your walks. Walk at a different pace, take a turn once in a while, stop without reason and so on. This will ensure your puppy’s focus on you because they can’t predict what is going to happen.
Top Tools for How to Stop Your Puppy Pulling
Besides the diversity, both in walks and preparation for walks, what else can you do to help your puppy stay focused? Get your dog’s attention often by asking them for a sit and then rewarding them. Asking for a sit gives your pup a job to do. Make your puppy sit beside you while talking and make the connection strong again before moving forward. When walking your puppy, don’t just go from point A to point B. Make lots of turns and stops while you pay a lot of attention to your puppy because this is also what you want from them.
Another way to help your dog is by using the right collar. But, the right collar can be different from dog to dog. Some dog breeds are meant to be in the wild using all their senses and running a lot. My dogs are hunting dogs and highly sensitive to their surroundings. So, when I train loose leash walking, I use a chain collar. It helps my dogs remember what to do.
A chain collar makes a distinct sound when pulled. Also, this collar tightens when jerked, so a dog both hears and feels a difference. Some people think this kind of collar is bad for dogs, but that’s not true if you know how to use it correctly. If you use a chain collar, it’s important to remember not to pull continuously.
When I use the chain collar, my dog feels it tighten because it’s loose at all other times – except when I jerk it slightly. I give the leash a quick, slight jerk mostly upwards, only to remind my dog to come closer, go faster or slower, or to sit down. A normal collar will be tight around her neck all the time, especially if she pulls, but the chain collar will loosen up every time she walks normally beside me – and she does. I let the leash hang loose between us, so she often doesn’t feel the jerk, but the sound will remind her.
Last, but not least, always keep calm. It might seem as if you aren’t making any progress at all. You may even feel irritated when your puppy doesn’t get it right. But, you should never, ever take it out on your dog. Not when walking, not when training – not ever.
As in all other dog training, you must control your feelings. Understand and believe your dog doesn’t mean to be naughty – they love to make you happy. Just show your dog what to do and teach them calmly, and with a lot of love and consistency.
I don’t correct my dog often because I don’t have to. Why? Because when we train, I do my best to keep her attention on me. I walk silly, turn, praise her, make sounds and run – all to catch her attention and keep her focused on me and our training.
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FAQS on How to Stop Your Puppy Pulling
Is loose leash walking the same as heeling?
No, loose leash walkers are content if their dog does not pull. The dog can be a little behind or a little in front or sniff a bit, but they should never pull on the leash. If you want your dog to “heel,” they should always walk right by your side. With heeling, dogs should keep their nose even with your leg. They should copy your pace, stop when you do and always pay attention to you. One is not more correct than the other, but to avoid confusing your puppy, decide which you prefer before you start training.
When is the best time to start training on how to stop your puppy pulling?
When you put the leash on a puppy for the first time, you must let them get used to it. But, after the first two or three times, you should start training. Puppies learn best before they turn 16 weeks, so do not wait too long. However, it’s a life-long training; a work in progress and you can start it anytime you want. It just gets a little more difficult as your puppy grows older. Remember to be consistent when you do start.
What is the most important thing to remember?
Never let your puppy get what they want by pulling. Stop and/or go back if they pull. Help your dog learn faster by being consistent.
What type of collar should I use to prevent my dog from pulling?
In my opinion, the collar does not make the difference – you do. Never the less, the right collar can help make a difference. As I mentioned, I use a slip chain collar. The prong is a tougher version of this and both help you control even the largest, most powerful dogs. If you do not like chain collars, you can try a martingale collar. This is a lighter version and works roughly in the same way. However, it does not work as well on strong dogs.
If this is not right for you and your dog, you can try a gentle leader or a no-pull harness. Like the gentle leader, the no-pull harness will pull the dog to the side if they try to pull, and this makes it harder for her to do so. As you can tell, you have many options. What’s important is that the collar or harness you use matches you and your dog.
How can I correct my dog when it pulls?
The way you correct your dog is much more important than the collar or harness: A quick and light jerk of the leash will get you your dog’s attention. You do this not to cause your dog pain, but to remind them not to pull. Remember never to get irritated when you train your dog. The correction should never be more than a slight pop of the leash – that’s all it takes. If your dog doesn’t notice your corrections, you might consider changing the collar.
Can I ask my dog to lie down instead of sit?
Yes, you can. It doesn’t matter what you ask your dog to do. What you want is your dog to focus on you. If your dog is focusing on you because you ask them to do something for you, they can’t easily focus on anything else.
How do I get my dog to stop pulling towards distractions like children or other dogs?
It does not matter why your dog pulls. You must use the same method to stop the pulling each time. Never let your dog get what they want by pulling. Simply stop walking. Get your dog’s attention. Be consistent.
What if the dog pulls to another dog coming towards you?
Here it all comes down to how good you are at getting your own dog’s attention. Make the leash much shorter and go by the other dog, placing yourself between the dogs. This is just another way to make sure you’re always the center o your dog’s attention. If the other dog is still interesting, talk to your dog while jerking slightly at the leash, reminding them to pay attention to you and to walk beside you.