Do you ever see a person walking their well-behaved dog on a leash and wonder, “How can I stop my dog from pulling on the leash?” With the right tools and patience, you can learn how to leash train a dog to remain calm while walking on a leash. Soon, you and your pup will be the envy of the neighborhood.
Put Yourself in Your Pup’s Shoes
Imagine what wearing a dog leash is like. If I tied a rope to your neck, would you automatically stand next to me? Probably not.
What if it was a hot day, and there was a lemonade stand a few feet away, but when you walked that way, I jerked you back. Would you forget about the lemonade and happily follow me? I doubt it.
You might learn to stay close if I yanked the leash every time you moved away. However, I don’t think you’d like it very much.
If you’re wondering how to leash train a dog, the key isn’t to punish your dog for being in the wrong place. The key is teaching your dog where to be.
If you’ve experienced your dog pulling on the leash, you, like most people, probably jerk the leash repeatedly. Unfortunately, yanking on the leash tends to just frustrate or upset the dog.
Instead of jerking the leash back or telling your dog what not to do, focus on telling your dog what you want him to do and where you want him to be. This is the most productive way for leash training a dog.
Essential Leash Training Equipment
To begin leash training, make sure you have a dog leash, a dog clicker and some dog treats. Smaller treats, like Pet Botanics training rewards treats, work well because you can feed your dog many of them during your session. A pouch like ChuckiIt!’s treat tote is helpful to free up your hands so you can hold the clicker and the leash.
I recommend clipping the dog leash onto a dog harness instead of a dog collar. A quality front-clip harness, like 2 Hounds Design’s no-pull harness, can help prevent neck injury to pups and can assist you if the dog pulls unexpectedly.
How to Stop a Dog from Pulling
Start in a small space.
In the beginning, practice leash walking in a small, boring indoor space, like a bathroom or a hallway. Stand quietly near your dog holding a fixed-length leash by the handle.
Give your dog some slack.
Avoid absentmindedly wrapping the leash around your hand because that changes the leash length and makes it harder for your dog to learn how much room he has to move. Give your dog the full length of the leash. Your clicker, not the leash, will “do the talking.”
Teach your dog that staying close = reward.
While standing still, confirm that the leash has a nice curve to it, so it’s in a “smile-shape” or “J-shape.” Assuming it is, click your clicker. Then feed your pup a treat at his head height right beside your pant seam (the side where you want your dog to walk.) By feeding there, you encourage your dog to stay at your side—after all, why move away from where the treats happen?
NOTE: I feed the treat with the hand that’s on the same side as the dog. That way the dog doesn’t cross in front of me to get to the treat from the opposite hand.
Repeat this a few times so your dog learns that staying close pays well. Then take a small step forward and wait; most dogs will step forward with you.
When your dog steps forward, click and then feed. Repeat this process, gradually increasing how far you go with each step, until your dog steps forward with you each time. Click only when the leash is loose.
Move to a larger training space.
Once your dog is good at this in the small space, move to a larger space and practice stepping forward, clicking and treating each time your dog moves with you. Then practice in a relatively calm outdoor space, like your yard.
“All of that’s very well,” you may say, “but once we’re out in the real world, we’re back in ‘dog pulling on leash’ mode.” To prevent this, limit how far you go on walks for the moment.
Stop as soon as the pulling starts.
Only walk as far as you can while the dog leash stays in that nice smile shape. As soon as your dog starts pulling, turn around and go home.
You might walk up and down the front walk for several minutes at first, but as long as you keep turning around when your dog starts pulling on the leash, and click and treat every step when the leash is loose, your dog will learn to walk better.
Over the course of multiple walks, extend how far you go. I often ask clients to walk out to the sidewalk, turn right, go as far as possible on a loose leash, then turn around and go back to the door, then go out to the sidewalk again, turn left, and so on.
The key is to work within your dog’s limits. Once your dog is walking nicely outside when you click and feed every step, you can start to click and feed less often. With practice, you’ll be walking comfortably on leash together all over the neighborhood.
Leash training takes time, but it’s well worth it for your everyday walks together. For everyday use, I recommend sticking with a front-clip harness to help you deal with sudden pulling.
For very large dogs, consider using a head harness, like the Walk ‘n Train’s head halter. It also helps to click and feed dog treats more often in exciting situations and to keep your distance from known “hazards,” such as barking dogs behind fences.
Featured Image: via iStock.com/Photoboyko