Dogs love to pull; it’s in their nature. But is this behaviour something that they eventually grow out of, or is it a habit that will always need to be managed? In this blog post, we’ll explore the answer to that question and provide some tips for how dog owners can help their pets break the habit of pulling on the leash.
Dogs can be adorable when they’re small, but as they grow bigger, they can start to pull on the leash, making taking them for walks a frustrating experience. So do dogs grow out of pulling? And if not, what can you do to discourage it? Keep reading as we dive in.
Why a Dog Pulls on Leash
There are several reasons dogs pull, if you look at it from your dog’s perspective, a walk is usually the highlight of their day, so naturally, they get excited; your pooch pulls you down the street to the dog park and getting there is their reward. Unintentionally we are teaching them that pulling is OK and results in something positive.
The same applies if they see other dogs pull, get closer to the other dog and see this as a reward. As responsible pet owners, it’s our job to teach young dogs that pulling doesn’t get them what they want and teach them to walk nicely on a loose lead.
Other reasons your dog is pulling may be that the collar or harness is uncomfortable, they aren’t getting enough exercise and have too much pent-up energy. There is also something called thigmotaxis, an opposition reflex, meaning they have a natural response to pull against pressure, i.e. a collar and lead.
Dogs Pull Naturally So Have a Game Plan
Most dogs learn to behave on walks relatively quickly, and it’s best to do this as part of your puppy training. You will need to invest some time, have lots of patience and, of course, some yummy treats nearby.
Focusing on ignoring distractions such as strange dogs, people and traffic noise is mentally tiring for your dog, so these sessions need to be done in quiet places and only last a few minutes.
Before you start, you will need to gain your dog’s attention; this way, your dog learns that making eye contact with you is a good thing and will not be as easily distracted during leash training.
Do this by saying their name followed by the command “watch” or “look” if they respond, offer a treat as a reward; in just as few sessions, your dog should focus on you and you can now start teaching them to walk correctly on a lead.
Consistency is key
Like all aspects of dog training, it’s essential to be consistent. If you allow yourself to be pulled just once, all your hard work will be undone. Your puppy will once again associate pulling with getting them what they want and the behaviour will continue.
Training your dog to walk nicely on a lead isn’t hard, but they can get confused and you will get frustrated if you are not consistent.
Keep commands short and simple single words work best and get the basics down before moving on to more challenging things, tire out your dog a little before sessions, so they are less excitable and remember never to use harsh words or punish your dog if they don’t get it straight away.
What to do if you Can’t be 100% Consistent
As we’ve mentioned, if you want your dog to stop pulling, you need to be consistent, and some people struggle with this; their tone of voice changes, commands may differ. If you are struggling, a clicker is a fantastic training tool and, with a bit of practice, can be extremely useful in teaching many dogs to walk on a loose leash.
Begin by walking just a few steps keeping the leash loose; if your dog is calm and doesn’t surge forward, click and reward, if you get the timing right most dogs will respond to this training method after a few sessions.
Another alternative to get your dog to walk correctly on a lead would be to book some training classes with a professional trainer. This can be costly, but it could be the solution for pet owners who work or don’t succeed with training themselves.
How to Walk Your Dog Properly (So you Don’t get Hurt)
When walking your dog safely, the number one thing to think about is choosing the right equipment. Some owners prefer a harness as it puts no pressure on your dog’s neck like a standard collar and for some breeds such as small delicate toy dogs and brachycephalic dogs like Boxers, Pugs and Bulldogs, a harness is a must. To see good harnesses for dogs that pull, view our other page with a comprehensive list of different breeds.
If you choose to use a collar, make sure it’s a flat collar; never use choke chains or a prong collar; they hurt and do not work to control the behaviour.
The leash should be between 4-6 feet long; a long line won’t give you enough control and is best saved for recall training. Retractable leashes shouldn’t be used either; they can easily become jammed and can actually become dangerous if they get tangled around you or your dog.
Once you’re kitted up, it’s time to think about positioning. Loose leash training involves your puppy walking by your left leg with the lead slack.
This is not the same as walking in the heel position, which, although impressive, involves your dog being almost glued to your side; this isn’t feasible during casual walks as they should be able to sniff and explore their surroundings without yanking on the lead.
Loose leash walking
There are a few different methods that can be used to train your canine companion not to pull and you just need around 5 minutes 2-3 times a day and some treats.
The first one involves calling your dog back to your side when they lunge forward on the lead and rewarding good behaviour with a treat; they soon learn that by your side is the best place to be. Of course, this will be harder in busy areas with lots of distractions, but eventually, your furry friend will get the hang of it.
The second method is to stop in your tracks completely if your dog pulls; this is usually easier with small dogs; once the tension on the lead disappears, you can offer a treat and resume your stroll.
The third method is to change direction whenever your canine companion lunges forward. The first few times, you may not get very far and could end up going round in circles, but once again, in time, your dog will learn.
How to stop your dog pulling on the lead
Of course, if you have adopted an older dog who hasn’t had training, chances are they will pull. You can break out the treats and start training loose leash walking at any age if your dog pulls on the lead, but in this situation, you may need the help of a no-pull harness with a front clip or gentle leader to discourage the behaviour until Fido is trained.
You can learn how do no pull dog harnesses work through this handy article which will allow you to get the best results no matter what age your pup is.
A non-pulling harness works by directing your dog’s body towards you when they pull, which alters their gait and balance, making pulling uncomfortable and a head halter works in the same way but directs their head instead. Be aware that not all dogs take to head collars, though.
This video from Battersea shows you how to stop your dog pulling on a leash.
The truth is that dogs don’t grow out of pulling on the leash without training. It may take some time, but it is definitely worth the effort. There are things you can try to help your dog get past this behaviour. One way is by experimenting with different types of collars and harnesses (some might be more comfortable for your pup).
You could also work with a trainer or other animal professional specialising in behavioural modification techniques. Other options include using certain treats as rewards when they walk nicely next to you and not giving in should they decide to lunge towards another dog.
Walking with your best friend is one of life’s greatest pleasures but can be frustrating, embarrassing and even dangerous if you do not have complete control of your dog. Loose lead training is essential and there’s no better tie to start than the present.
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful and we’d love to know how you get on, so why not join the discussion on our social media platforms and good luck!