"What is the most important thing you want to teach your puppy?"
I ask this question to my students when I first meet them. One of the answers I often get is this:
How to walk nicely on a loose leash so I don't get dragged across town on dog walks.
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’ll work for you as well!
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 might dodge to avoid hitting the dog (or the owner). People might change directions to get away from a dog seemingly out of control. It might not sound so bad, but what if a child then runs out in front of a car?
Well, even if nothing as terrifying is happening, a dog pulling is still pretty annoying. And what's worse it will often cause the owner to think twice before walking the dog.
And what a shame this is! Think of how much joy they’ll miss out on, both the dog and the owner. So you need to address the problem, and luckily you can work on this. Just keep on reading and I'll help you.
Teaching your dog to be a good student
Working with puppies, I start everything off with a lot of attention games. I’ve written about some of the exercises I use in an earlier post, read more about it here in this post on how to get your dogs attention.
These attention exercises are about getting the dog to pay attention and waiting to be instructed. In short how to be a good student. And this is our foundation for all training to come - including loose leash walking. It can not be said often enough; A dog or a puppy paying attention to you is a dog willing to learn, willing to please you, eager to get the most out of your time together. Do not underestimate this especially when it comes to stopping puppies from pulling on the leash.
During dog walks, it will be apparent if you have not been training your dog to pay attention to you. Simply because there is so much interesting stuff going on for your dog during your walks. There are so many new smells, as well as cars, kids, and even other animals. For this reason, it is likely that your dog will be more distracted than usual, which demands even higher levels of attention training for you to be able to connect with your dog in these situations.
Establish the Treat Zone
When loose leash training my puppies, I continue the attention work and encouraging the pup to sit beside me instead of in front of me. I call this the Treat Zone. This is the first step. Because it’s important that your puppy knows that this is the best spot for praise and treats.
The reason that this is so important, is because if you always praise your dog and give her treats when she sits in front of you, then she will naturally start to associate being in front of you with good things happening.
Dogs are very intelligent and quickly learn to associate being in a certain position (like in front of you) with good things such as 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, we can take advantage of how easily puppies learn. All we have to do is teach our dogs that goods things happen when they stay next to us rather than in front of us. We are establishing the Treat Zone.
But how to do this? First of all, I make sure that when my puppy comes to me I move around so when she sits, I’ll be beside her and not in front of her. And when this happens, I’ll look down at her, praise her and give her treats. After a while, she knows she’s a superstar when she sits beside me - so she does.
In case she's about to sit down a bit out of position from the Treat Zone, I help her in position. I do this by luring her into the desired position by holding the treat over and a bit in front of her head until she sits just right. At this stage, she gets the treat and a lot of praise.
When this has become a habit of hers, I’ll start clapping my leg as well when she sits down. Soon this sound will equal sitting beside me. Now I can make her habit stronger, both by calling her and by clapping my leg - or both. This variation makes it more challenging and fun to train.
And this is important as I train this often, 3-4 times every day for 5-10 minutes. The sit must be a reflex, something she just does. I myself must also have a reflex to look at her beside me, keeping the 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 her during usual training and play - Voila!
Using our Treat Zone as a Tool - Building Good Habits
Now moving ahead, you must understand that many dogs pull just because we humans walk too slowly and because the dogs are excited. The puppies “walk” is often treading, so the slower you walk, the more likely your dog is to get bored and pull. Keep this in mind when you set your pace...
To take the excitement into account before training, I play with my puppies or let them loose in the backyard in order to have them let off some steam. This way it’s much easier for them to calm down and actually listen to me during walks.
Now as my puppy sits beside me and not in front of me, I usually start walking. Only, I walk backwards while my puppy is walking forward. In order to do this, I simply turn 180 degrees while my puppy stays put. This means that my puppy now stays at my right leg instead of my left leg. In my right hand, I have treats which I give her while walking.
Doing so, she is showing me a lot of attention. All I have to do is concentrate on not walking into something and praising her. Because she never tries to get ahead of me - there’s no point, all she wants is right in front of her… And the leash is loose.
Does the explanation make sense? No? OK, I've made a little video to show you 🙂
Of course, this is not fun when walking many miles with your puppy - and it’s not what it should be used for. But it’ll give your puppy a good understanding of where to place herself; just beside you with the nose at your leg. Not in front. Not behind. But right next to. And most importantly; the leash is loose.
When you have done this for a while, you can mix it up with taking a few steps forward. Just a few and then stop. Your puppy will be at your side, she has not yet thought of running or pulling. And as you stop and look at her she’ll sit because this is a habit you have you trained during your work on the Treat Zone. So stopping when you are out walking will give your puppy a habit of calming down and checking in with you. This is so important as it is your key to pause your puppy during your walks. It’s a tool...
This is so important as it is your key to calming down your puppy during your walks. It’s a tool...
And this tool you can use when out walking and your puppy suddenly think it’s a race! Or if a cat runs out in front of you. Or a car drives by. Or whatever else makes her pull.
Just stop every time your puppy pulls and she’ll learn that there is no point in doing so. She’ll even discover she gets the opposite of what she wants. Whereas a loose leash gets her going, so to speak.
But - and this is a huge but! You need to be consistent! If you allow your puppy to pull once, you must train her not to do so at least 10 times to offset what you once allowed. And there’s just no reason to let her pull that one time - she’ll get confused and you’ll get neck strain from walking her the next 10 times.
Consistency is Key - Are You Training or Going For a Walk?
Now you have all of the necessary tools for how to stop your puppy pulling the leash.
You have the attention training exercises, the Treat Zone concept, the start-stopping technique that is all designed to help you calm your dog down and let them know, that the best way of getting what they want is staying by your side and keeping a loose leash.
This being said you also need to know that training your puppy is a process. It never stops and if your puppy or dog is not getting better, she’s getting worse. She - like yourself - needs to be reminded and she also needs to practice.
Ok, so your dog now knows that when you stop, she stops.
She knows that if she pulls, you’ll stop and she’ll have to stop too. And you’ll stand still until she is calm. But as just mentioned, she needs to practice to get better at this.
This skill you can only practice in “real life”. This can be tough, as when we are out walking, that’s precisely what we want - to walk. Not to stop all the time! So even if we know this is the right thing to do, we have to fight not only our dog's wishes but also our own.
So it’s important that you decide if you are going for a walk or if you are training your puppy - before you walk out the door. If you just want to walk or you are in a hurry, don’t bring your puppy. Leave her home so you are not tempted to let her pull because you do not want to stop.
Fortunately, you can complement your outdoor training with this exercise at home: Take the best cookie, the one your puppy loves and place it in front of her, 15 feet or so out. Make her sit beside you and then start walking towards the cookie with a loose leash.
If she pulls, you not only stop, but you take her back to the starting point. Every time. Only if she walks calmly without pulling, you move forward. This way she learns that if she pulls it will have the consequence that she gets even further away from what she wants. And if she does not pull it will get her to her goal.
Always remember you have to be consistent. From the moment you start training this, you must never allow her to get what she wants by pulling. Ever. And for this reason, you can never use a Flexi leash because it rewards the puppy for pulling.
To vary this exercise you can replace the cookie with her favorite toy. Or her favorite person. Or another dog. Or another dog AND her favorite person. Or whatever it takes to get her excited.
Diversity in this exercise will teach her that no matter what is in front she should not pull. This goes for training outside as well.
I know, I know, even though it is simple it takes a lot of patience. But hang in there, it’s worth it, in the end, I promise 🙂
Monthy Python Silly Walks
So now you know how to walk your puppy, teaching her not to pull. But she IS a puppy and she’ll get distracted over and over again. And to be honest, even when she grows up to be a fantastic dog, she’ll get distracted too! So how can you help her to stay focused on you and what you want her to?
First of all, you must remember that our puppies love these walks. And some so much that when you take out the leash they’ll go nuts. It’s important to know that when your puppy is in that state of mind, she’ll have trouble connecting to you. So at first, you must stop your puppy from going crazy when you put on your shoes and take out the leash.
The way to do this is to put on your shoes and coat as if you were to go out with her. When she goes crazy you just go back into the house and sit down quietly for 5-10 minutes. Do this often in the beginning until she understands that her actions in the hallway make you go back inside. Even when she has calmed down when you start dressing up for a walk keep doing it once in awhile.
Ok, so now you’re ready to go and your puppy is paying a lot of attention to you, being in the right state of mind. How can you keep it this way?
Most importantly, you must not be boring! Don’t walk a straight line 🙂 Bring in a little Monty Python’s silly walks.
If you do not know these, check it out here:
Ok, maybe you don’t have to be quite as silly, but bring in some diversity in your walk. Walk at a different pace, take a turn once in awhile, stop without reason and so on. This will ensure your puppy’s focus on you because she can not predict what is going to happen.
Other tools on how to stop your puppy pulling
Besides the diversity, both in your walks and your preparation for walks, what else can you do to help your puppy stay focused?
You must also remember often to get her attention, asking her for a sit and reward her for this. Asking her for a sit gives her a job to do. Keep her sitting beside you, talking to her, getting the connection strong again before moving forward. When walking your puppy, you do not just go from A to B. You make lots of turns and stops and you pay a lot - A LOT - of attention to your puppy, because this is also what you want from her...
Also, you can help your dog by using the right collar. And the right collar can by very different from dog to dog. Some dogs are bred to be in the wild using all senses and run - a lot. Mine are. They are hunting dogs and highly sensitive to their surroundings. So when I train loose leash walking I use a chain collar. It helps my dog remember what to do. The collar makes a distinct sound when pulled. Also, this collar is a collar that tightens when jerked, so she both hears and feels a difference. I know some might think that this kind of collar is bad for the dog. And if you do use them, it’s very important you remember not to pull continuously. Consider this:
My dog feels the collar tightens because it’s loose all other times - except when I jerk slightly. I give the leash a quick slight jerk mostly upwards and only to remind her to come closer, go faster or slower or to sit. 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 be loose, hanging between us, so often she does not feel the jerk, but the sound will remind her.
Last, but not least you must remember to keep calm. It might seem as if you do not make any progress at all. And you might get irritated that your puppy does not get this right. But you never - never - bring it out on your dog. Not walking, not ever.
As in all other dog training, you have to control your feelings. You must understand and believe that your dog really does not mean to be naughty. Actually, she will love to make you happy. You just have to show her and teach her. Calmly. And with a lot of love and consistency 🙂
I do not correct her much. I don’t have to. Why? Because all the time when we train I do my outermost to keep her attention on me. I walk silly, I turn, I praise her, I make sounds and I run - and all this to catch her attention and keep her focused on me and our training.
To sum it up
I do not think that walking your puppy is a simple exercise. It takes a lot of work and it starts before you even get the leash on.
Actually, the answer to this often asked question can be boiled down to this:
Be sure to keep your puppy calm and connected to you at all times when you are out walking.
And there is not one but many ways to work on how to stop your puppy pulling. You might have to use most of them to get your puppy to succeed, but it is entirely possible. Remember it all starts with the puppy being able to learn. Teach your puppy to be the best student and you'll be halfway there.
When your puppy is paying attention and just waiting for you to teach her stuff, introduce her to the Treat Zone. Train often, giving her the most fantastic habit of sitting beside you instead of in front of you. When this has become a habit of hers, start walking. Walk backward AND forward. Take it literally step by step, asking her for a sit in between. Walk silly. Teach her to pay attention to you at all times, also when you are out walking. Be consistent - even when you are in a hurry. Remember you have to decide before going out: are you going somewhere or are you training your dog - often you can not do both at the same time...
Accept that even if she can loose leash walk most of the time she is still a puppy. She gets distracted. Help her to keep her focus by alway paying as much attention to her as you want from her. Choose the collar that is right for your puppy (check out Q&A about this) and keep calm. Be patient and consistent and you'll have a loose leash superstar by your side for the many years to come.
I HOPE YOU HAVE FOUND VALUE IN THIS POST!
If yes, please share. If not, please help me making this guide even better by telling your best training tip about pullers. Or by posting questions if you have not gotten the answer in this post or below in my Q&A section below. I would love to hear from you!
Is loose leash walking the same as heel?
Well, actually not. 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 she never pulls the leash. If your dog should go “heel” she should always walk right by your side. She should have her nose even with your leg, copy your pace, stop if you do and always pay attention to you. One is not more correct than the other, you just need to make up your mind which you prefer before you start training.
When is the best time to start training this?
When you put the leash on a puppy for the first time you must let her get used to it. But after the first two-three times, you should start training. Puppies learn best before they turn 16 weeks, so do not wait too long. This being said, it is 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 she wants by pulling. Stop or/and go back if she pulls. Help her 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 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 powerful dogs.
If this is not right for you and your dog, you can try a gentle leader. Or maybe a harness is the right alternative for you? You can buy a no-pull harness. Like the gentle leader, the no-pull harness will pull the dog to the side if she tries to pull, and this makes it harder for her to do so.
As you can tell, you have many options. What’s important is the collar/harness you use matches you and your dog.
How to correct my dog when it pulls
Actually, 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 her 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 - it’s all it takes. If your dog do not even notice your corrections, you might consider changing the collar.
Can I ask my dog to lie down instead of a sit?
Of course you can! 🙂 It does not matter what you ask your dog to do - what you really want is your dog to focus on you. If your dog is focusing on you because you ask her to do something for you, she can not easily focus on anything else.
How to get the dog not to pull towards eg children or other dogs
Well… as described on top of this! It does not matter why your dog pulls. You must use the same method to stop the pulling: never let your dog get what she wants by pulling. Stop walking. Get her attention. Be consistent.
What if the dog pulls to another dog coming towards you
Here it all comes down to how good you are to get you own dog’s attention. I would make the leash much shorter and go by the other dog, placing myself between the dogs. This is just another way to make sure I’m in the center of my dog’s attention. If the other dog is still interesting, I would talk to my dog and jerk slightly at the leash, reminding my dog to pay attention to me and to walk beside me.