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                      Pulling on the Lead


Dogs pulling on the lead is a common problem that I’m often asked to help with, but it’s a relatively easy one to resolve with patience on the part of the owner. 


Dogs generally pull because they are excited, and if you think about it logically, you can understand why this is.  Most owners when walking dogs on the lead will tend to follow the same route when they leave their house, and will usually go to the same park to exercise them.  Dogs learn by association, so in fact from the moment you pick up his lead, the anticipation is already building up in your dog as he has made a pleasant association with you doing this, knowing that he’s going to be taken out for a walk. 


You’ve probably already realised that as soon as you start putting on the ‘doggy’ coat and shoes that you wear when taking him out that he’s becoming agitated with impatience for you to ‘hurry up’, so it's natural when you set off that he's going to pull on the lead.

Dog's paw print
Dog's paw print
Dog's paw print
Trail marks on a walk
Trail marks on a walk

Decide which side you want your dog to walk on; most owners tend to prefer the left side, so we’ll use this as a guide.  Hold a tasty treat in your left hand, and ‘lure’ your pup to your side by letting him know you have the treat in your hand. 


When he’s happily by your side, let him have the treat.  The next step is to take a step forward, again luring the puppy by letting him follow the treat in your hand.  As he moves forward and has remained by your side, let him have the treat.

Repeat this process so that you can eventually take several steps with your puppy walking by your side, ‘following’ you.  So that he doesn’t become reliant on the treat and start jumping up or nudging your hand, move towards taking several steps before you reward with the treat, and also begin to drop the treat to the ground between your pup’s paws.

Dog's ball
Dog's bone

When pup is happily ‘following’ you by your side, you can then pop his lead on.  Harnesses are much better for your pup and for adult dogs than clipping the lead to their collar; just imagine the pain he will feel if he does lunge forward, as the ‘pull’ will be around his neck.  This can not only cause pain, but sometimes even damage; slip leads are even worse.  With a harness, if he does pull then the weight will be evenly distributed as he’ll pull into the harness with his shoulders.  Make sure that your lead is of a reasonable length as well; if you have a short lead, this will naturally be made ‘tight’ as you start walking, because there’s no leeway.


Hold the lead in your right hand by hooking your thumb through the loop end so you have a firm ‘anchor’, and repeat the process of rewarding him for ‘following’ you on your left.  Having the lead in your right hand leaves your left hand free to encourage him into the correct position with the treat, and as pup already knows the game of following you, the lead becomes incidental.


Remember that the one ‘tool’ which we always have with us, even if we’ve forgotten our treats or toys, is our voice; puppies love to feel we’re pleased with them, so always remember to verbally praise your puppy when he’s getting it ‘right’. 

With adult dogs, it may well be the case that they’re already learned to pull on the lead, and as they are bigger and stronger than puppies it can make lead-walking a nightmare for the owner. 


Again, using a harness is much better for the dog than the use of a lead around the neck.  Choose a harness of the flat, webbing type; avoid the harnesses which ‘tighten’ around the chest of the dog as they pull.  This may well prevent him from pulling, but will also cause unnecessary pain to your dog, and we don’t want to create more problems by the dog learning to have an unpleasant association with the harness, particularly when around other dogs and people. 


Don’t forget to have a lead of reasonable length too, as mentioned previously; we want to put ourselves in a position whereby we’ll be successful, and a short lead is likely to go tight as soon as the dog starts walking, which defeats the object of loose lead walking.  Plus any tension you may be feeling will relay straight down the lead your dog when the lead is tight with the likelihood of creating additional problems.


Trail marks on a walk
Labrador pup pulling on lead

The mistake that most owners make is that as soon their dog starts to pull, they will tend to pull them back again, often muttering ‘Heel’ or similar, but then will immediately proceed to continue walking. 


Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop the pulling as the ‘reward’ for the dog is that you have continued to make forward movement, which is what he wants.  He simply learns to brace himself for the ‘Heel’ and then happily carries on dragging you down the street !

With puppies, it’s best to start training them to walk on a loose lead as soon as possible; puppies are very willing to please you, which makes them easy to train, and by keeping the training positive and ‘fun’, it’s just a game for the pup.  I begin training this exercise without actually putting the lead on them initially, and concentrate on teaching the pup to ‘follow’ me.  You can start this process at home where pup already feels comfortable, and where there are few distractions.

Dogs pulling on lead
Jane Smith & Poppy
Loose lead walking on harness

Apply the same process as with a puppy, and again practise this at home before building towards short ‘target’ walks outside. 


If your dog can’t help himself and does pull forward, then you can either stop walking and encourage him back to your side before making any further forward movement, or better still, simply do an about turn and walk in a different direction.  By mixing it up, he’ll learn to pay attention to you and where you’re going; don't forget to verbally praise him when he gets it right.


If you really cannot master loose-lead walking, then you could try a halti (headcollar) or similar to help you ‘manage’ the situation better, although training the exercise is advised.  But if you find yourself battling with an unruly dog every time you try to go for a walk, then please feel free to contact me for assistance.

Trail marks on a walk
Emma Snowdon & Jessie ~ 07.03.18