Does your dog take you for a walk instead of the opposite? Perhaps pulling so hard that their breathing is impeded in the process? Do you dread going for a walk, as a result, not only because you don’t want to be pulled all over the place, but because it seems to be causing undue strain for your dog, as well?
The good news is: you don’t have to live with this behavior until the end of days. With a little effort and know-how, you can train your dog to walk on a loose leash. Part of understanding how to curb this unpleasant behavior is examining why your dog pulls in the first place.
Doggie Logic: I Pull Because It Gets Me Where I Want To Go
Firstly, a dog is a quadruped designed for continual movement. Their natural pace is faster than ours, so they quickly find themselves at the end of a taut leash. They want to move forward towards more interesting smells, other dogs, or just for the natural urge to move, and being on a leash, no matter how normal it seems to us, is not normal for them. It’s something they learn to do as part of the life of a domestic animal.
Secondly, dogs pull on the leash because it works: they want to go forward (often towards some specific thing), so they pull forward, and affected by the momentum created, we relent by going forward with them. It doesn’t take a dog long to figure out that pulling gets it to where it wants to go.
The Oppositional Reflex: Pulling Back Only Creates More Pulling
To make the situation even more challenging, dogs have a natural oppositional reflex that is linked to their fight or flight response. This means that resistance on your end activates a “struggle” mindset on your dog’s end, resulting in a dog that will only try to pull even harder when you pull back, forcing you to give in. Uh-oh! Your dog just trained you!
Teach Your Dog That Pulling Won’t Work
So what do we do? The main secret to stopping a dog from pulling is to not allow pulling to get them where they want to go, and to teach them that they can go where they want (within reason!) when they don’t pull. The other part of training involves teaching your dog that when they are on leash, they must pay at least some attention to where the person at the other end of the leash is positioned and going.
Dog Training Tip #1: Start rewarding your dog for eye contact at home by practicing walking on or off leash in the house, where your dog probably doesn’t pull. Each time he looks at you, mark the moment with an upbeat “Yes!” and give your dog a treat. Whenever you go on a walk, do the same. This helps bring your dog’s focus back to you, plus it’s hard to pull if they’re looking at you!
Dog Training Tip #2: Teach your dog that pulling results in the stopping of forward motion. If your dog starts to walk in front of you on leash, stop dead in your tracks. When the leash becomes taut, wait for your dog to look back at you, and then mark the moment with an upbeat “Yes!” and encourage your dog to walk back towards you by walking in the opposite direction you were going. The quicker you do this, in the beginning, and the more fun you make it, the faster your dog will pick up the object of this game, which is to stay by your side in order to keep moving forward. If your dog walks in front of you again, do the same thing again. Do this as many times as you need to in the beginning to get the message across.
Dog Training Tip #3: Set your dog up for success by avoiding distractions they are not ready for. If you take your dog out to train, but they are pulling every which way, they are not going to learn, and you will just become frustrated. Back up a step or two and work at home, inside, with only a few distractions. Then work in the yard. Next, work in front of the house. Ensure that your dog has a positive experience and always remain calm.
Work On Your Relationship With Your Dog
Pulling on the leash can be a sign that your relationship with your dog could use a little tweaking. Do you demand attention from your dog without being aware of what kind of attention they enjoy? Every dog has preferences depending on their breed and disposition. Perhaps your dog is a Beagle and lives for following the scent of a trail, but you don’t let them sniff much on walks. This will make a Beagle very unhappy.
One way to improve your relationship is to consistently ask your dog to say “Please” to get what they want. On a walk, for example, you can ask them to sit and look at you before being allowed to take a long time sniffing something. Like any relationship, there is always a little give and take involved, so learn what your dog enjoys to do and allow them to do it as a reward for good behavior.
Alexandra Bassett is the owner of Dog Savvy Los Angeles, a dog training and behavior company based in Los Angeles. She has volunteered to train shelter dogs for over a decade and specializes in solving problem dog behavior. She lives in Los Angeles and is available for free consultations. For more information, call 213-294-1519.